King Willem-Alexander addressed the Netherlands in the speech from the throne during Prinsjesdag. What can you learn from the king and his copywriters? Ten concrete tips.
What went well?
1. Link start and end of speech
Make sure your speech is a whole. That is difficult in a speech from the throne, because it is a collection of official texts from all kinds of different ministries. Yet at the end a sense of coherence arises, because in this speech from the throne the beginning and the end are linked.
It begins with the phrase “’Every age is a transition time,’ wrote historian HW von der Dunk.” And it ends with “When every time is a transition time, social change is a constant.” Such an overarching theme gives a sense of coherence, simply by connecting the beginning and the end.
By connecting the beginning and the end of the speech, you create cohesion
2. Organize your reading text
If you choose to read a text from paper, make sure you have your text well organized. If you don’t, your speech will be chaos. That’s not good for your audience’s trust in you and not for your confidence.
The (entourage of the) king has done well. The Speech from the Throne has only 2500 words, which normally fits on 5 A4 sheets. Why then does the king have at least 20 sheets on his lap? Because it is printed in a large, easy-to-read font with lots of white lines in between, so that it is easy to read aloud. The pages are arranged in order, with page numbers on each page, so that even if they fall, they are easy to put back in place. While speaking, he always puts his finger under the leaf so that he can then easily place it at the bottom of the stack. All things that make reading the speech effortless.
Always number the pages of your reading text, if you drop it then no man is overboard.
3. Emphasize Important Words
The king emphasizes important words in the text. In the sentence “These major international developments may feel abstract and distant, but they are not”, he emphasizes the word ‘feel’ and the word ‘being’. That helps us to understand the sentence.
It is an excellent interpretation of the sentence. He could also have chosen to emphasize “abstract and distant” and “not”, but those abstract words make it harder to understand the sentence. ‘Feeling’ versus ‘being’ are (also literally) more emotional and less abstract and therefore come to us more easily.
What went reasonably well?
4. Practice your text and movement
You can’t just emphasize a text just like that: to do this properly you must have read, analyzed and made notes in the text beforehand. That requires preparation. Just like making the right movements, such as changing paper here, regularly looking into the room or sitting up straight throughout the speech. You have to practice that too.
At the beginning that goes well, but towards the end of the speech you see the king looking up from paper less and less and even physically collapse slightly. You have to practice to counter that. Practice a lot.
Practice not only your speech, but also your movements, however minimal.
5. Give examples for abstract concepts
In general, I recommend using as few abstract terms as possible in a pitch or speech. You want your audience to be relaxed so that they can easily absorb the content. If you become abstract, vague or difficult, that relaxation disappears.
If you do use abstract concepts, give an example to make it concrete. That occasionally goes well in the Speech from the Throne 2021. For example, when Willem-Alexander explains what he means by the term ‘overstrained housing market’: “How will affordable housing become accessible again for everyone and especially for starters?”
Make the abstract tangible by giving examples.
What can be done better?
6. Use an autocue
Reading a text is boring, because then your audience has very little to look at. It doesn’t make you shine, you hardly make hand gestures and you sit (or stand) still in one place. Moreover, during the speech from the throne it was clearly visible that it is very difficult to maintain (eye) contact with the audience, because your eyes have to return to the paper in your hands time and again.
The Speech from the Throne is a text that is almost impossible to remember, because it is delivered too late, with too abstract text and too many separate messages. Fortunately, there is a solution for this: an autocue/teleprompter. Then you can read aloud, but you have your hands free to move and your eyes look into the room or the camera. So that’s my tip for the next speech from the throne: give the king an autocue.
Tip for the next speech from the throne: give the king an autocue.
7. Present standing
It is not just the reading of paper that makes this speech from the throne so static. Reading standing up from behind a lectern is up to that point, but presenting sitting down is really the pinnacle of immobility and thus dullness. Unless you are unable to stand due to pain, there is really no reason to sit in a fixed chair. No, ‘tradition’ is also not a good excuse, certainly not if the content of the speech (the speech from the throne) itself is also super boring.
NB: I’m not talking about presenting in a wheelchair here: a good presenter in a wheelchair moves just as much as a speaker standing and walking on a podium.
Presenting in a wheelchair is like presenting on foot.
8. Change text if you stumble upon it
The king stumbles over the text several times. Why does a text not come out of your mouth nicely? That can be fatigue (after 20 minutes of reading the speech from the throne, for example), but often it is because the text does not suit you. Because it’s a word that you don’t use often, or because you don’t quite agree with the wording.
For an example of a particularly annoying moment when you stumble over your words, see this video in which Willem-Alexander tries to convey an apology to Indonesia on behalf of the Netherlands:
How do you avoid embarrassing situations like this? If you stumble across the same text two or three times while practicing, change the text until it makes sense for you. And you know it knocks when it flows out of your mouth.
Avoid embarrassing situations by changing the text if you keep stumbling over it while practicing.
9. Drink water, avoid tasting
If you listen carefully, you will hear that King Willem-Alexander regularly makes a smacking sound while reading. This is a normal stress response when presenting, where your body produces less saliva. Because processing food is not a priority when you are under stress. As a result, your mouth dries out a bit and you start smacking. You can prevent this by drinking water while presenting. It is not for nothing that public speakers always have a pitcher of water next to them.
Pro tip: drinking water is a perfect way to build in mini-breaks in your speech and immediately study your cheat sheet (because you put it next to your can of water).
Pro tip: Drinking water is a great cheat time.
10. Avoid difficult words
If your audience is all of the Netherlands, as with the Speech from the Throne, avoid difficult words, such as ‘multilateral world order’, ‘community of values’ and ‘polarising’. about how you do that, Frankwatching author Olaf Geysendorpher wrote an article, which I like to refer to.
The most important tip from that is: use the website ishetb1.nl to check whether a word is understood by most Dutch people. Such a word is called a ‘B1 word’.
Bad example does not follow
Conclusion: while I’m not a fan of reading speeches, the king gives a nice example of what reading should sound like if you do it anyway. Overall the speech from the throne 2021 is a great source of tips because of the many examples of what not to do if you want to let your audience hang on your every word. Do you want more tips about the Speech from the Throne? Look at my whole live analysis of the Speech from the Throne.
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