Tips for a diplomatic speech

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Giorgio Guglielmino (The Philippine Star) - April 4, 2021 - 12:00am

How many speeches does an ambassador give in his/her career? Surely they are not counted in the tens but in the hundreds. There is no shortage of opportunities: convivial dinners, social gatherings, national days, greetings to colleagues who are leaving, book presentations, starting of projects, opening of constructions, inauguration of exhibitions/showrooms/typical restaurants/film exhibitions and so on and so forth.

It is therefore obvious that not being able or willing to invent something original and hopefully funny every time, diplomats follow three steps, always the same, always stereotyped and always a bit boring. Like a well-run car: the first gear is on and the car starts automatically.

First step: thanks and acknowledgments of the people present at the event.

Sometimes thanks are an endless litany. “I would like to thank….” and it continues with a sequence of names that sometimes last literally minutes and minutes. Woe to forget a personality of the public, a politician present in the room, any person who would feel offended if their name were not spelled out aloud. How simpler it would be to simply say “Thank you all the present people for being here!”

Second step: the basic concept (or: the quote).

After the thanks and the mention of the people attending the event, the good diplomat will amaze all listeners. In fact, on every occasion the diplomat is provided by the organizers with reports, brochures, boring files that illustrate the technical characteristics of the warehouses that are being inaugurated during the ceremony or of the activities of the NGOs in the country, or of the artist whose exhibition is about to be opened. Far from reading the substantial documentation that is delivered to her/him, the skilled diplomat randomly opens a page and memorizes a couple of lines. During the speech he/she will say that “as it is well described by the organizers, I agree with the fact that…” and at this point he/she quotes the two lines learned by heart. Amazement and admiration in the bystanders and organizers who think that the Ambassador spent the previous evening and night reading all the pages that had been sent to him. Bravo, a master stroke!

Third step: the future.

At the end of the speech, a consideration on the future is mandatory, which is always and in any case radiant. Whatever the state of things at the moment of the speech, it must always be said that thanks to the project that is inaugurated or ends, the book that is presented, the exhibition that opens, future relationships will certainly undergo a further step forward.

The speech always ends by saying “Thank you” which at the same time indicates that the speech is over and that applause is expected.

I remember one time I was at an opening (a teachers’ training course) in a foreign country not too far from here. Tired of the usual speeches and called to the stage, I spoke exactly of the above three steps by premising somewhat jokingly that these are usually the interventions of diplomats, mentioning the sequel in every speech. The audience enjoyed it. Then, putting aside the rhetoric, I spoke for a few minutes instead of my own experience as a teacher (I actually taught in a secondary school for four years).

It seems to me that the public appreciated my most sincere and less formal words. But what happened next was almost embarrassing. After me, another diplomat went up on stage and began his speech by enumerating all the personalities present, one by one “I would like to thank…” Why embarrassing? Because the audience at that point, with my words still in their ears, burst into laughter at his opening!

I felt a little guilty for the colleague, but heartened by the fact that the people present perhaps had a moment of lightness.

Public speaking is not easy. There are techniques. The Anglo-Saxons say that a joke must be present in every speech. I think that you should always talk a little about yourself with simplicity without being afraid of exposing yourself to the public. A little sincerity, a life experience, a flash of happiness enclosed in a few simple words.

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Giorgio Guglielmino is Ambassador of Italy to the Philippines.

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