Wednesday, 7 August 2013

School Captain Election Speech 2011

The following is the text of the speech I gave at the election for school captain at my school. I was unsuccessful in obtaining the captaincy. That said, this was one of the best speeches I have delivered; in some ways, anyway. I'd like to think that it's been fairly well written and makes good use of rhetorical techniques to convey a very strong message. As far as the delivery went, it was spot on. I delivered the speech without notes and did not make the slightest of missteps (which is a unique event for me—possibly attributed to the short duration of the speech!). The speech, however, was at the same time a massive failure. Whilst it was technically very strong, it forgot the key element, and that was audience. This was an audience that saw me, correctly or not (I'd like to think not), as too much of a grand stander. They were sick of me being the guy up the front giving the speech, so something that emphasised some humility (not to call this speech in the slightest egotistical) would have gone a long way! Genuinely, by the time I had given this speech I had become far more humble and respectful of my class mates, something that I should have conveyed in the speech. Moral of the story, well-written, well-delivered...they both turn to shit when you've forgotten the key element: audience.

The speech:

Good morning year elevens and staff.
On Monday, we were all told that today is our opportunity to convince you why we should be your captains. However, I don’t really think that today is our opportunity. In fact, we’ve been convincing you since we started here at Western Heights.
A school captain must show initiative, that is, to actually get the job done. I have done this on numerous occasions. You wanted the voting system changed, so, a very small group of us got together and successfully petitioned to have the system changed for you.
A school captain must know their school. For years, I have helped you with your timetables, helped you with your subjects, told you who to speak to when something’s gone wrong and reminded you of when we have mufti days or days off.
A school captain must be able to speak in front of a crowd. Just last week, I was asked to speak in front of the whole school. Furthermore, of the 200 students in year eleven, only two people put their hands up to deliver the welcoming address at the formal, one of whom was me.
A school captain must be connected. That is, they must know the students and they must know the staff. Through activities such as LOTE day, Plain English Speaking and other fundraisers, I have kept in contact with all year levels at this school. They know me, I know them. They can put a name to my face.
I am very proud to say that next year, I will be working with one of the best leadership teams Western Heights has ever produced. But, if you want a captain who has worked tirelessly with you to get the most out of our school, and a captain who will continue to work with you to make 2012 the best year we’ve ever had...then “a school captain” must be me. Thank you

The analysis:

Now let's have a look at where it went wrong! Whilst the essence was realistically the major problem (I should have rewritten the speech) there were still a few "point errors" that could have made the difference—especially considering that I lost that election by one person's vote.

Stylistically, the opening sentence is a bit hard to follow: "we were all told that today is our opportunity to convince you why we should be your captains". I've made a simple but sloppy error here. At the start of the sentence, I've used 'we' to mean the students of the year level, but by the end of the sentence 'we' has thinned out to the candidates. Not a particularly big issue, but it kills the flow a little bit—you want people thinking about your ideas, not your words!
The second paragraph is much better, and along the right track, assuming that this construct could work. The audience is made participants in the speech, a useful technique. It promotes a connection between the speaker and the audience. Something I should have done more of as I said in the introduction!
Third paragraph is a little clunky. I've listed four items, when I should have gone for a tricolon (three clearly defined parts). In this case, it's a tetracolon, which is a little more clunky. There's a notion in rhetoric that things are best presented in threes. This is summed up in what is called "the rule of three". It's summed up in Latin by "omne trium perfectum", which essentially says that if it comes in three, it's probably going to be pretty bloody good. Normally I adhere to this instinctively, I haven't in this case. My best guess is that I went with the tetracolon precisely because it breaks that rule. In doing so, the style is a little clunkier but it conveys the idea that I've gone "above and beyond" in my efforts for the year level. Something I don't think my classmates wanted to hear, so I should have stuck with my rule of three!
In the fourth I should have kept up with the theme of doing it "all for you guys". I should have spoken for my classmates, for the school; not just been the twit who put his hand up to take the limelight. This was a major error that I made. I broke away from a key theme and exposed exactly what my classmates didn't like: grandstanding.
In the fifth, I've done it again. The speech took a shift after the fourth, something that held on. Why would I refer to my classmates, even in references to other year levels and stuff, as they? Why not go with you or even "we know each other"? It was a missed opportunity to connect with the audience, and more importantly, show an inherent connection with the school. Both paragraphs represented missed opportunities to transition from being a student who merely occupied to the school, to a member of the school community. There was a great divide between the top students at my school (something that became clear with our top three marks: 99.35, 98.10, 79.something), and this was an issue that I faced. Despite being warned by one of my teachers, I ignored that advice and missed those two key opportunities to pretend that the divide was merely one of scores and not a more intrinsic divide.
I was fairly happy with the last paragraph. If I had rewritten the speech to suit the occasion, most of this paragraph could have stayed. Apart from the parallel structure perhaps "a school captain is". Even though it was a very good rhetorical technique, it was perhaps a little too pretentious; delivering a crappier speech would have worked in my favour! It went back to the theme that I didn't deal with well: the connection. It was peppered with heaps of reference to 'you', 'our', 'we', creating the notion of a team, people in it together. As it happens, despite the conclusion, it was much too late.

This is a fairly good example, of the speeches I've given and still have in any case, of the importance of understanding your audience. I had been so ignorant in this case that I even refused to listen to the advice of a teacher who had told me exactly what I have told you in this: that I needed to tone it down. She told me not to write the speech for me, but to write it for them. She couldn't have been more right. Other than to my close circle of friends, and perhaps the staff (one of whom shook my hand and said it was the "best bloody speech he'd heard"), this speech was an inherent failure. Literature, by design, is all about context. Would we have been able to dream with Martin Luther-King without the dramatic backdrop the Lincoln memorial provided? Would Hitler been able to rouse a nation to war in a room devoid of his devoted nationalist allies? Would Ciccero's words atop the rostrum been as stirring if delivered on flat ground?
The answers to these questions is most likely no. Each of these speakers knew the importance of context, and audience. So much so that in Hitler's case, he very carefully chose his audiences.
That was an important lesson I learned at that election, something I much the wiser for. I had the logos (logical ideas of the speech), I had the pathos (emotion) but I lacked the ethos (connection with the audience). On that day, I found ethos and I have been fascinated by it ever since!


  1. *knew the importance of context.

    Nice blog btw, thoroughly insightful

  2. I'm utterly shocked that was the only mistake! The sad symptom of writing all my blog posts late at night, and probably a tiny bit of incompetence as well ;) Thanks for picking that up!

    That's very kind of you to say! Really glad people are reading it :)