Why it Worked: President Zelensky's New Year Speech

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I'll be honest, I hadn't watched it. But when Alastair Campbell described it as 'one of the best pieces of communication he'd ever seen' it became a must-watch.

He was right.

It is a masterclass on how to inspire hope. Something that, as leaders, we all find ourselves needing to do around this time of year. So to kick off 2023, I've spent some time working out exactly how he did it in the hope that you can take some of the techniques and use them to inspire your own audiences this year.

Make it about them, not about you

Count the number of 'I's you use in your next presentation (I call this the 'I' test).

Zelensky used it 6 times. Here they are collated together.

"I am proud of you all, our warriors! I want to say to all of you: Ukrainians, you are incredible! I admire you all. I want to thank every invincible region of Ukraine.  I thank you. I want to wish all of us one thing – victory."

How about that for a display of gratitude?

Compare that with the number of times he used the word 'we.' 49. Such a simple way to create a sense of unity.

Give the Gift of Transcendence

The job of every great leader is to provide perspective. To lift our audiences out of the day-to-day so they can see the big picture.

"This is the year when Ukraine changed the world."

I can only imagine hearing that as a Ukrainian would fill me with a huge sense of purpose. It only takes a sentence.

Remind people of the moments that have mattered

Zelensky brings back to life 30+ significant moments of the war. Not with a full-blown story, but with a word.

"The morning of February 24. Hostomel. Bucha. Irpin. Borodianka. Kharkiv. Mriya. Kramatorsk Station. Toy. Chernihiv. Mariupol. Drama Theater. The word "Children" written..."

What a powerful way to make as many people as possible feel seen. I love the way he groups big cities, with objects and buildings. It gives the 'big' and 'small' moments equal significance.

Quiet leadership

There's a misconception that inspirational and motivational speeches need to be paired with an extrovert, larger-than-life delivery. Not true. Zelensky is rooted to the spot for 17 minutes. He barely gestures. His face is serious throughout. He speaks softly. Yet, through the use of short sentences, piercing eye contact and powerful rhetoric, his message lands.

Communication is a transference of feelings. Set the tone you want your audience to embody.

You don't need to understand Ukrainian to sense his calm, his belief and his passion.

Be yourself

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