Learning from Sir Ian McKellen


Ian McKellen as Gandalf in Lord of the Rings/Hobbit franchise

Sir Ian came to the college to speak to our students today. His presentation was excellent, and provided a wonderful example of the speaker’s art.

He began with rapport building.  This was accomplished in two ways.  First as the student body was divided into two venues with him addressing the larger audience directly, and the others watching on live feed in the other hall, he made a point of going and seeing the smaller group in person before starting his main speech.  Secondly, he began his presentation with a purposeful scanning of his speaking space (which doubles as our exams venue), and then admonished study and revision, before stepping forward to the mic and announcing in his best Gandalf voice “Or You Shall Not Pass.”

Rapport built, he laid out his main message (human dignity and anti-bullying), making clear references to his theme, while interlacing it with personal anecdotes (which each had emotional appeal); and with rhetorical but direct questioning of his auditors’ own experiences.  As each point for consideration was made, he suggested how the audience both individually and collectively could make a difference if they applied the message.

This reinforcement of the theme with the personalised appeal strengthened his message as the audience was given a sense of responsibility and ownership.  He made the message their (our) own.

So what can we learn from Sir Ian?  Number one connect with your audience.  Secondly, make your message clear, and present it in a step by step developmental manner.  Thirdly, make the audience feel a responsibility or ownership of the message.
It was truly a treat, as both an educator and as a public speaker to see a master craftsman at work.


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