Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Inspiring a generation

Screen shot: BBC coverage of the closing ceremony, 2012

Well, after seventeen days of a certain sporting event that we are not supposed to name (for some great background on censorship of the Games, see the latest issue of Index on Censorship), London is awakening from its post-party hangover and is feeling pretty good.

There were several times that the Games brought me close to tears. Oh, who am I kidding, I cried like a baby. From the opening ceremony, Seb Coe told us these games would inspire a generation. His words played out in symbolism, with a relay of young athletes carrying the torches to light a spiral of petals, each catching the fire from its neighbour, spreading out just like that spark of inspiration.

Equally we were humbled by the awe-inspiring athletes, with their dedication, skill and commitment. In the face of defeat, they were good humoured, mature, positive, looking to the future.

There is lot of talk right now on the legacy of the games, and what London needs to do. But the chief inspiration I want to share is what Seb Coe's own contribution has made.

An Olympian himself, Seb Coe has cut a respectable, likeable, knowledgeable figure during the past seven years leading up to the Games. His media appearances have been well orchestrated, yet at no point did his performances feel controlled. Rather, his communication comes across as incredibly genuine.

His speeches at the opening and closing ceremonies are strong examples. In a spectacle where a speech could, and in the past has, come across as boring and irrelevant, Coe spoke in a manner that was simple, yet powerful. I'm tempted, in fact, to do a little linguistic analysis to review what lexicon was chosen: his turn of phrase felt aimed at the common man, but also rang true to the international audience, and all praise to his speech writer for the masterful rhetoric.

So what next for Coe? The media are clamouring for everything from government to king - with the ability to win hearts with simple words you can see how running for mayor might not be a bad move. Even without knowing his policies you can see he has inspired a generation of Londoners.

So what does this, as a communicator teach me? That there is a huge opportunity here for those seeking prominence/profile to work on their public speaking. Obviously having a great speechwriter helps too, but it's delivery - honesty and pace, which comes across in those words chosen that really matters. Even without knowing anything else about that speaker, you take away a perception of their  abilities. Something for any potential leader to think about if they're seeking to inspire.