An analysis of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s speech

It is part of the UK’s political tradition, that outgoing and incoming Prime Ministers give respectively a farewell speech and an inaugural speech. Let’s have a look at Boris Johnson’s speech delivered yesterday on the steps on 10 Downing Street.

Boris Johnson's speech

Purpose

The likely anticipated purpose of this speech, was to inspire the British people to look forward to Boris Johnson’s leadership as PM. This is obvious based on elements of the speech’s content. Firstly, the word “we” is used 40 times, which is almost ~2.5% of the speech’s word count. Secondly, there are strong appeals to patriotism and the “awesome foursome that are incarnated in that red, white, and blue flag”. There’s even a rhetorical device to add emphasis that the country’s best days are ahead, and that “doubters, doomsters, gloomsters” are wrong. Thirdly, is there is a direct appeal to the British people itself using “you” towards the middle of the speech. This is accentuated by repeating “My job is …” followed by for example, “to make your streets safer” etc.

Overall, the purpose is clear but as we’ll see later on, this purpose is not well supported by the content and delivery.

Delivery

The delivery is very forceful and even aggressive at times. The lectern is even banged when Boris speaks about opportunity for all regardless of race or sexual orientation. Boris only makes eye contact with the audience half of the times. When he does seek to make eye contact, the looks are mostly spread towards the middle of the audience where TV cameras sit. His passion for the country shows through towards the end. The pace of speaking is very fast at ~150 words/minute.

Overall the delivery of the speech comes across as slightly aggressive and bombastic at times. For an inspiring speech, a powerful delivery is a must-have. There is however a fine line between powerful and aggressive. Unfortunately, Boris Johnson crosses this line a few times here. For the purpose to be met, a slower delivery would have enabled him to project more gravitas. Adding some of the humour he is famous for would also have helped build a better rapport with the intended audience. Boris Johnson came across as a Prime Minister in a hurry so far and the delivery adds to this perception.

Assessment

In my opinion, this is a speech that has a lot of potential for further improvement. But as far as a first impression goes, the speech feels as if it is aimed at a Conservative-leaning audience rather than at the British people as a whole. The numerous references to Brexit, free-enterprise and British unionism; will by their nature appeal more to Conservatives than to the electorate as a whole. This is a victory speech to the followers and not a uniting speech for the nation as a whole. This aspect is especially apparent in the delivery. Yet, even as a victory speech, adding more stories would have made it better still.

I won’t comment on the political aspects themselves. However, anther thing that stands out is that the speech is weak on facts and proposals. Other than free-ports and removing gene-modification restrictions, the address is short on specifics. Unlike JFK’s speech that we looked at yesterday, this speech is unlikely to stand the test of time as a memorable speech.

Boris if you want some tips the next time you’ll speak just get in touch ?.

2 thoughts on “An analysis of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s speech”

  1. Me personally, I despise Boris Johnson immensely. However, some of the things mentioned as weaknesses are not necessarily things I view that way. Rather, I view them as being part of his personal style (e.g. his animated delivery). Regarding slowing down to project gravitas, traditional wisdom says this is what one should do. Me personally, I think someone who affectedly slows down their voice in this way sounds extremely pompous (Margaret Thatcher being a quintessential example). It is almost as if they are saying, “I am going to unnecessarily take up more of your time projecting my message and you are going to listen to me because I am such a jolly interesting person”. I personally find it easier to engage with speeches delivered at a “conversational” pace.

    The concluding paragraph says you won’t comment on the politics. People often evaluate speeches through the prism of a person’s political views, i.e. they are good only if they share the speaker’s political views. I remember the gushing about Barack Obama’s “yes we can” catchphrase (“three simple words: – how inspirational!”). However, I have no recollection of anyone saying this about the “Dare to dream” speech (https://bit.ly/2xPdNAE), which included many examples of good speechwriting practice: –
    1) Motivational language (“dare to”)
    2) Using the “language of tomorrow” to indicate to supporters that tomorrow belongs to them (“the dawn is breaking on an independent United Kingdom”)
    3) Regular use of triads (“We fought against lies, corruption and deceit”)
    4) Regular use of anaphora (“We have fought against the multinationals, we fought against the big merchant banks, we fought against big politics”)
    5) Directing the speech at the downtrodden (“A victory for real people, a victory for ordinary people, a victory for decent people”), but without any sign of dumbing down for such people
    6) Use of emotive language to appeal to people’s better instincts (“honesty, decency and belief in nation”)
    7) Use of a dramatic climax, including dramatic pauses (“Let June the 23rd go down in our history as our……..Independence Day!”)

    I didn’t think the speech was perfect. The part about “without having to fire a single shot” was a very unfortunate choice of words and is open to debate, since Jo Cox’s assassin expressed support for Brexit. However, in my view, the negative aspects are strongly outweighed by the countless examples of adherence to good practice.

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  2. A conversational speaking pace is between 120 and 150 wpm. At c160wpm Boris Johnson is exceeding it. Margaret Thatcher sounded pompus as a speaker not just because of her pace but also because of how she modified the pitch of her own voice. Its obvious when comparer her earlier speeches with her later ones. We can actually argue that instead of developping her own speaking style she tried to fit-in with an idealised speaking style, mainly used by men at the time.

    The “Dare to dream” speech you refer to is rhetorically very good and another good example of a victory speech delivered to supporters. Especially as it was very likely delivered on the fly with limited preparation.
    Would I call it inspirational? Yes based on the technicalities of the speech.

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