Great speeches in Kevin Rudd’s leadership challenge

Public speaking is your core opportunity to demonstrate leadership qualities.

There were some great speeches in the recent leadership challenge, and some not so great speeches. Overall, they tell a fascinating story. They explain a lot about leadership communication and public speaking.

I’m not going to address who’s right or wrong, who lied or betrayed, etc. By simply looking at each speech, we see principles that determine how well each leader is able to connect with their audience.


Kevin Rudd speech 1

The ‘I’ll be a candidate’ speech

This is a great leadership speech by Kevin Rudd. Watch it (here) and observe 3 things:

  1. Structure
  2. Public Speaking Style
  3. Message


1. Structure:

Chunk Structure image

You can see a clear chunk structure and all the benefits this brings. Here’s an outline:

INTRODUCTION: I will be contesting the leadership for 3 reasons:

1: REQUESTS FROM COLLEAGUES. A petition… Many MPs want me to contest the leadership…
Key point: “For the nations sake, I believe it’s time for this matter to be resolved.”

2: AUSTRALIA WANTS A CHOICE: Ordinary Australians have been asking Rudd to contest… They are fearful of Abbot getting elected…
Key point: “We on course for a catastrophic defeat unless there is change”.

3: FEAR OF AN ABBOT LANDSLIDE: Last time the Liberal party had a majority it was bad… People want a real policy debate…
Key point: “Australia faces many new, difficult challenges”.

WRAP-UP: Rudd then accepts that this decision is a backflip on his previous promise not to contest the leadership, recaps the 3 reasons for doing so and adds a chunk on bringing unity back to the party with ‘no retributions’.

FINAL MESSAGE: “I love this country and am doing what I honestly believe to be in the best interests of Australia.”

There is no question this is a well-structured leadership speech with all the vital key points addressed. And it’s delivered with life and sincerity.


2. Public Speaking Style

Rudd’s public speaking style fits well in the great speeches category. He is chatty, charming(!) and relaxed. This is saying something, because towards the end of his time as party leader he was anything but charming. He seemed arrogant, forced and frustrated.

Maybe it’s easier to be relaxed as the challenger. In any case, in this speech he looks accessible, reasonable and confidently in control.

This conversational speaking style is what people liked about Rudd before he became leader the first time. But, as I noted in an article 2 years ago, once he became leader the chatty public speaking style disappeared and the forced, controlling style took over:

In the beginning he seemed strong and in control with his slow, forceful sound bites. But after a while it seemed forced (fake) and robotic and we found it difficult to connect with him and easy to believe the negative stories.

The same is true for Julia Gillard. After she assumed the leadership, her public speaking style became more forced. (Who is advising them??)

This overly-produced public speaking style, that is so common, fails to connect with people. We’ve seen this recognition in the United States with the success Barack Obama.


3. Message

He opened with a strong message:

“These are the 3 core reasons I have changed by position…”

and closed with one:

 “I honestly believe to be in the best interests of Australia”.

An both messages answer the key questions in the mind of the listener.


The ‘Ballot to end speculation’ speech

Julia 1

Watch it here or here. Technically this wasn’t a speech by Julia Gillard, it was a Q&A with a journalist. However, the core components were certainly prepared and delivered like a leadership speech as the questions were answered.

The message is clear and this speech shows strong leadership in calling for the loser to resign from politics.

However, it’s not one of her great speeches as she looks wooden and tense. She sounds defensive and tries to emphasis everything, which defeats the purpose of emphasis. The natural variation in the voice of a relaxed person is not apparent here. When you’re in a fighting stance, you tend to push your words out instead of letting them flow out.

Some argue that there was bullying and outright treachery unfairly directed at Julia Gillard which could explain her defensiveness. Maybe. But again, this article is focused on the message, structure and style of the speeches – and their impact – not the reason they occurred.


The ‘I cannot stand idly by’ speechKevin Rudd speech 2

Rudd’s acceptance speech is also well-structured and delivered in a natural, confident style.

The message gives him, and the party, a clear purpose:  “…can’t stand idly by and and allow an Abbott government to come to power by default.”


The revelation speech by Julia Gillard


Now watch Julia Gillard’s speech accepting defeat.

WOW. So much more comfortable. The body armour is down and we can connect.

This is what we want to see from a leadership speech.

Here she looks happy to be speaking. Her gestures are genuine and naturally follow her thoughts and ideas rather than being imposed as part of a routine. Both her voice and movement are free – they no longer follow the measured, orchestrated form that creates a barrier between speaker and audience.



While many of Julia Gillard’s speeches were ‘Robotic and rehearsed‘ it’s clear that she is able speak in a natural style that allows us to connect. Unfortunately, we didn’t see this very often in the last 2 years.

And Rudd’s confident, chatty style of leadership speech appears compelling at the moment. I wonder if it will last…


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