Nelson Mandela: Inspiring Speech Writers Everywhere


Long speeches, the shaking of fists, the banging of tables and strongly worded resolutions out of touch with the objective conditions do not bring about mass action and can do a great deal of harm to the organisation and the struggle we serve.

~ Nelson Mandela

Of all the leaders and great orators in history, Nelson Mandela was one of the most memorable. His speeches were empowering, inspiring, passionate and emotional. Mandela’s legacy was built on a multitude of speeches, starting with the landmark speech on which his freedom rested to his speaking tour that eventually led him to win the presidency of South Africa in 1994. Mandela exemplified leadership, and left behind lessons for communicators and speechwriters everywhere.

Nelson Mandela's Lessons for Speech Writers

Be Concise

Have one, clear message. Speeches can be a method to solve a problem or introduce new ideas. One powerful idea can change someone’s life. Mandela conducted a four year speaking tour focused on ending apartheid and setting up a new government in South Africa. His message stayed focused. It remained in the minds – and hearts – of those who heard him. Mandela’s message was clear in every speech he gave. Keep your message concise and focused.

Be Relevant

Modify your message to stay relevant to your audience. Mandela was adept at customizing his speech to the audience. When Mandela gave a speech in Harlem, he related his hardships to those of the people in Harlem. In every speech he found a way to connect to each person in the audience. He never gave the same speech twice because each time he adapted his message to the audience he was addressing, but in each speech he retained his key message.

Be Passionate

Successful speeches are all about passion, emotion, commitment and conviction. Mandeladelivered emotion and passion in his speeches. His speeches began with his intent to say something important. He related to his audience, and that relationship had passion, emotion, commitment and conviction.

Whether you are speaking to potential investors or for a cause you care about, a great speech can inspire and motivate change. Nelson Mandela gave the world many examples of effective speech content and delivery. Delivering a speech with passion, conviction and sincerity can inspire, teach or effect change.

For More About Public Speaking and Speeches
Forbes: Elements of a Great Speech
Associations Now: The Leadership Elements that Made Nelson Mandela an Icon