Sometimes New Year's resolutions have unintended consequences. I started a
new exercise program with the usual results—which is to say, nothing much
yet—and needed something to while away all those hours on the treadmill. So
I began watching all the James Bond
movies in order, from the early, cool days of Sean Connery, to
the sentimental Roger Moore,
through that other guy,
then Pierce Brosnan
and finally Daniel Craig. More
than a half-century and twenty-three official films.
There's a lot of mayhem. A prodigious tally of explosions, an innumerable
body count, and a huge, huge pile of wrecked machinery, including an
astonishing number of expensive BMWs, Audis and of course Aston Martins.
All good fun. But what, if anything, did I learn about public speaking while
watching Bond save the world, drink his martinis (shaken, not stirred), and
finish off so many mad evil geniuses?
I learned three things that speakers can put to work immediately, upping
their game, perhaps even lifting it to Bondian levels:
1. Skip the preamble.
What was fresh about the franchise was that, rather than beginning with a
set of credits, Bond plunges us right into the action. We start with a
murder, at the very least. Frequently a chase involving some of those
expensive cars. Often, lots of big things are blown up in the process.
Bond starts with a bang, and you should too. Don't begin with an
introduction. Preferably, someone else does that for you, but if not,
resist the temptation to say, "Let me tell you a little about myself (or my
organization)." Nothing is more tedious for an audience. They care about
what's in it for them, not you.
Sorry. But that's the way it is.
If you must introduce yourself, do it after you start your talk proper. Do
the chase scene, then run the credits, just like Bond. If you hook your
audience first, it will tolerate those credits.
Also, don't start with an agenda. Can you imagine Daniel Craig beginning a
Bond movie with an agenda?
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2. There's eternal appeal in setting wrongs right and restoring
Bond is all about maintaining the status quo—but first a whole lot of
mayhem needs to ensue. It's that flow of starting with a wrong and finding
your way to the right that is so appealing to most people. Frame your
What is the problem, need or wrong that you want to solve, ease or correct?
Begin with that, and then move on to your solution. It's also the ancient
Greek insight into speech construction. So you might think you're smart
enough to outthink Bond. But Bond and the ancient Greeks? I'd say don't
3. Don't surprise us—fulfill our expectations.
One of the problems with modern storytelling and speechwriting is that
writers and speakers think they need to astonish us with a twist we didn't
see coming. That sort of surprise is highly overrated.
What the neuroscience shows is that people actually love the way
traditional stories fulfill our expectations. It's not the surprise we
want, it's the familiar pattern that gives us a sense of control and allows
us to say, "I knew that's where it was headed."
We love Bond, not because he astonishes us with something new each outing,
but because he doesn't. We can count on him to restore order every time,
and in our chaotic modern world, isn't that much, much more satisfying than
whacking us over the head with something we never anticipated? That's just
another day at work—who needs it in our storytelling and speeches?
Bond endures because he is a predictable force for order in a chaotic
world. Speakers, you have the opportunity to do the same. Help your
audiences feel more competent rather than less. Show them how something is
done. Tell them a secret to the way the world works. Help them with some
tips for coping with the modern world. They'll respond by rating you as
And there's nothing better than that.
(Just for the record, the best Bond line of all was uttered by Pierce
Brosnan in "The World Is Not Enough,"
when his co-star says, "I would have given you the world!" His reply: "The
world is not enough." Of course.)
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