I now have a new addition to the mix: Brayden Harrington's two-minute address at the Democratic National Convention.
Did you see this speech? It's striking because Harrington is only 13 years old, and "a regular kid" as he puts it. Nevertheless, here he was addressing a national audience on the last night of the virtual convention.
It's striking because Harrington stutters.
How effective was he? So powerful that even though the point of his speech was to tell a positive personal story about his experience with Vice President Biden, he did such a masterful job with it that Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, congratulated him for it on Twitter.
I try not to get political on Inc.com, and I have worked with clients across the political spectrum. (Usually, they're not giving political speeches, of course.) So, I'm going to focus here on Harrington's speech as opposed to his political endorsement.
Here's why Harrington was so successful, and why I think I'll be pointing to his example for years to come. (I've included video of his entire speech at the bottom of this article.)
1. He displayed strength through vulnerability.
This is by far the hardest thing to do in any kind of communication: to open up authentically and vulnerably, but in a way that leaves your audience respecting your struggle, as opposed to pitying your circumstances.
In fact, this is such a hard target to hit that very few speakers even have the courage to try.
Just think: I'm sure you've heard a very small number speeches about some esoteric topics that struck you as quite good afterward. Yet, you've also sat through many presentations about things that should have been interesting or even crucial -- but were almost interminable.
The disconnect? It's literally that: the lack of an authentic connection.
Harrington got past all of that. Of course he benefits in this regard from being just 13, and having the courage to stand up and speak. But more than that, his entire speech was about struggling with his stutter -- something that he quickly says has bothered him for his whole life.
He laid it all bare in a way that could only make people root for him, rather than pity him.
And then, he did something even more powerful.
2. He showed, rather than told.
Harrington stuttered during the speech itself. He struggled, as the audience watched, with three words and phrases in particular:
- "We stutter..."
- "Vice President"
- "about the future"
I've now watched this speech 20 times. One of my favorite moments is when Harrington fights through the phrase "about the future," but then a a second later, nails the similar follow-up phrase, "about our future."
I know that this is a special kind of example, where the subject of the speech is visible in the delivery itself. But at another point, Harrington talks about how he learned from Biden how to mark up a text to help get through words that he might otherwise have trouble pronouncing.
Then Harrington paused and held his prepared remarks up to the camera, so the audience could see.
The best speeches aren't just auditory; they're visual. Heck, they sometimes incorporate smells, tastes, and feelings. But as a very simple trick, smart speakers try to have props or other simple things for the audience to direct their eyes toward.
3. He got off the stage.
In writing speeches and talking about them, I think the phrase I've said most often is simple: "We need to cut."
A good speech is almost always a short speech. Harrington's remarks ran just 224 words.
Just to connect it to history, the Gettysburg Address was 271 words. I often talk with clients about Steve Jobs's speech at Stanford. That one runs 2,255 words -- but it's divided almost perfectly into three short stories, about 650 words each.
Now, Harrington was given only two minutes to speak, and so this advantage was built-in structurally.
But it was a true advantage. Even after a great speech, I don't think many people have ever uttered the words, "Gosh, I wish that had been longer."
Finally, I know that Harrington's remarks were prerecorded (if this wasn't clear, the video cut away a few times to show pictures of him and Biden, so there was clearly some production involved). Of course, that was an advantage that not every speaker has in real life.
That said, I can tell you from personal experience that it often takes quite a few drafts and rehearsals for grown ups to craft and deliver a speech that they're truly proud of.
Yet, a 13-year-old boy managed to do it in his national debut. Watch the whole thing and learn. It only takes a couple of minutes.