What Tyrion Lannister can teach you about public speaking

Tyrion Lannister character in the Game of Thrones books and TV series is famous for his wit and sharp remarks. Public speaking is nevertheless not something that one would associate with him, unlike other characters in the show. Yet one of his defining moment is a speech delivered in the midst of the battle of the Blackwater. There’s a lot what we can learn from this speech.

Best humour is self-deprecating humour

Tyrion begins with “They say I’m half a man”. This sentence pokes fun of the fact that he is a dwarf and has been ridiculed as such for his entire life. There is a clever juxtaposition with “what does that make the lot of you?” which shames his audience of burly soldiers into listening to him. With just a single sentence, he manages to level the playing field between himself and his audience. An instant connection is built.

Pre-empt your audience needs

Anybody joining a military organisation will hear leaders pontificating about ‘honour’, ‘motherland’ and ‘glory’. These concepts are just as powerful as they are abstract. Instead of re-emphasising them and speaking about defending king and country. Tyrion pre-empts a likely response of “how does this matter now when the king left the battlefield?”. Instead, Tyrion opts for honesty and pre-empts this question by boldly saying “Don’t fight for your king, and don’t fight for his kingdoms. Don’t fight for honor, don’t fight for glory.” The audience agrees with him and the connection built earlier is immediately strengthened.

If seeking action from your audience use “you”

The next part explains the consequences of them not sallying out to in graphic terms. “This is your city Stannis means to sack. That’s your gate he’s ramming — and if he gets in, it will be your houses he burns, your gold he’ll steal and your women he’ll rape!” These few sentences are effective for a lot of reasons. Descriptive language and relatable terms are one. However, the main reason is Tyrion’s use of the word “you”. Without using the second person, this passage could sound like this:

“This is Kings Landing (name of the city) that Stannis means to sack. The gate is being rammed by Stannis’s soldiers. If they get in, houses will be burnt, the city will be plundered and women will be raped.”

Does this motivate you? Not really. This is because the consequences of inaction are less palpable in the minds of the audience. After all, it could be someone’s else house getting burnt or someone’s else suffering from the consequences of war. But using ‘you’ immediately paints images in the soldier’s minds of their own houses being burnt and their own sweethearts or wives suffering.

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