Learn from one of the greatest U.S. speeches of the last 40 years

 In Body language, Delivery, Facial expression, Gesturing, Luminary, News, Owning space, Politicians, The Winning Voice, Voice

At the Democratic National Convention on 16 July 1984, in a speech of 7:49 minutes, New York state Governor Mario Cuomo delivered one of the greatest, United States, political speeches of the last 40 years

Cuomo’s affect throughout the speech was akin to a volcano, boiling under the surface, erupting intermittently. There were crescendos followed by a decrescendos, and punctuated, forceful gesturing.

Here is my analysis of Cuomo’s speech:

If you time pressed I suggest you just read the +++ segments below and then watch the clip aligned to the respective segment.

  • In the opening 60 seconds of the speech Cuomo has a still, calm torso, a determined countenance and a measured cadence paired with an energetic vocal tone. There is a hint of ‘winding up’ to a culmination.
  • 1:00 – 2:20 minute segment: Cuomo inserts a passage, with a quicker cadence and increased voice volume, that ends with enthusiastic audience applause.
  • 2:44 – 3:34 segment: Cuomo raises his voice volume and energy to high intensity and uses the rhetorical device of anaphora. That is; “Maybe… Maybe … Maybe …” (this string of sentences starting with “maybe” continues in the next segment).
  • +++ 3:06 – 3:52 segment: A powerful section. Cuomo’s delivery starts deliberately with extended pauses, with these words: “Maybe Mr. President if you stopped into a shelter in Chicago”. He utilises a brisk cadence, a loud voice tone and employs a karate chop gesture, finishing with these words “for a missile we couldn’t afford to use”.
  • +++ 4:59 – 5:05 segment: Cuomo’s uses a poignant metaphor “Those wagon trains won’t make it to the frontier”, and delivers another use of anaphora “some of the old, some of the young, some of the weak are left behind the side of the trail”.
  • 5:24-5:30 segment:

Note how Cuomo doesn’t rush, as he calmly takes a sip of water.

Not rushing, not being afraid to pause and feeling deserving of the time you’re taking, is senior behaviour.

  • 5:36 – 6:12 segment: Note the measured cadence as he punctuates individual words, and then builds – with a rapid tempo with increased voice energy and loudness – to a crescendo.
  • +++ 6:12 – end of speech segment: Cuomo uses alliteration “the lucky and the left-out, the royalty and the rabble”: He well uses a high to low, arm and hand, ‘slicing’ gesture paired with “cut this nation in half”. To wrap up the speech Cuomo finishes with a flourish, using the literary device of ellipsis “… are our problems, … is our future … is our struggle . . . is our hunger . . . is our failure…and … for the good of all of us … for the love of this great nation … for the family of America . . . . for the love of God…”


Own the Conversation

Implementation suggestion:

  • Note one aspect of the speech that resonated with you.
  • In the next seven days, in a safe interaction, intentionally use the aspect in how you present yourself and communicate your ideas.
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