Speechcraft

Speechcraft

Although public speaking in larps shares similarities with public speaking in the “real world”, there are some important differences. Mainly, while speeches out of game generally are constructed to persuade listeners to agree with the speaker, a speech at a larp should also aim to create play by either adding to drama or steering overarching narratives. In addition, in larps one will rarely be held accountable for one’s speeches later on. In other words, don’t be afraid to use big words and steer towards drama. Thirdly, while a real-world speaker can elaborate and take their time, in larps you do wise to keep it brief. Players have all manner of things to attend to, so anything over a few minutes is pushing it.

There are two main skills connected to speechcraft; Writing and Performing. The greatest speakers master both of these, but it is common for even the most famous orators to employ speechwriters.

Writing

When writing a speech, study those whose shoulders we stand on. Resources on great speakers are readily available and no matter what character you want to create, there will be someone to emulate. For instance, when I played Hardestadt, the host at Convention of Thorns, the emotional bids in my opening speech were heavily influenced by one of Barack Obama’s speeches during the 2008 primaries. When I played Senator Komatsu at Odysseus, my bids for unity and resilience were inspired by the dramatic stylings of Winston Churchill. There are as many ways to write as there are writers. I will focus on what are arguably the three most important techniques to apply. Shakespeare gives us a masterclass in the opening lines to Mark Antony’s speech at Caesar’s funeral;

Friends, Romans, Countrymen Lend me your ears I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.

Friends, Romans, Countrymen: Rule of three

By using the rule of three we present something as complete and final, as opposed to arguable, as arguments come in twos. A great example is Lincoln’s undying: A Government of the people, by the people, for the people. We are not invited to take a stand on whether the government is more of or for the people. It is all three and that is not open for discussion.

Lend me your ears: Imagery

By employing imagery in our speech, we seek to bypass rational scrutiny of our argument. Great examples include Mandela’s Road to Freedom, Thatcher’s The lady’s not for turning, and Dr. King’s I have a dream. Imagery speaks to our hearts, not our minds.

I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him: Contrast

Using contrast forces the listener to pick sides. Rather than wait for an opponent to present their argument, we create a contrast ourselves, one that will put our own argument in a better light. Examples are Kennedy’s Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country and Elizabeth I’s I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king…

Performing

As a general rule, take time to pause and breathe. This is both helpful to counter your own anxiety and will also prime your listeners into understanding that you are someone important whose words are worth waiting for. Study how great speakers do this without letting go of the intensity in their performance. One of the greatest ever at this is Barack Obama, who will often pause for a considerable length of time, yet seem to always be on the brink of delivering his next profound insight while doing so.

The principle of contrast should underline your performance, be it your body language, your voice, or the emotions you project. In moving your body, shift your attention across the room and use gestures and movement to underline your words. Contrast can be found in, for example left vs. right, high vs. low, and small vs. large.

In using your voice, try to change volume, pitch, speed and intensity to make your arguments stronger. These are also the essential building blocks for instilling emotions, which you should also try to offer in contrasting pairs. Make them cry vs. make them laugh. Make them fear vs. make them feel powerful. If you want to learn more, projecting your voice and how to use a microphone are useful and highly trainable skills, and there are many resources available.

In a hurry? Keep it quick and easy:

First rule:

Focus on other people’s play ahead of your own. You are playing a visible character, and this is a performance. Know the drama, understand the narrative and insert yourself into it. Steer the narrative towards something that will create drama and play.

Second rule:

Emotions are more efficient than logic. Choose emotions that are already present in the audience, or in direct opposition to those. Use grand words and don’t shy from showing emotions of your own.

Third rule:

Less is more. Know what you want the audience to take away and focus intently on that. While a ten-point structured argumentative speech looks great on paper, those that focus on a single sound bite are more efficient in swaying the audience.

Fourth rule:

Know your pronouns. Use “we” to create a sense of unity, “them” to conjure up an image of a common enemy, “you” to reach out to your listeners, and “I”/“me” to position yourself, e.g. in control or to show humility.


Authors

Kjell Hedgard Hugaas
Kjell Hedgard Hugaas is a northern Norwegian larp designer, organizer, writer, and trained actor. He has been active within Nordic larp communities for about two decades and contributes to larp conferences on a regular basis. His design work tends to be quite political and often addresses societal issues. In his daily life, he works as a technical advisor in local government, works with local, regional and national trade unions, and is a part-time lumberjack.
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