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The Power of Carefully Chosen Words

This past Saturday, UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson—best known for her role as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films—delivered an impassioned introduction to the HeForShe campaign at the UN Headquarters in New York. Since then, Watson’s speech has received heavy circulation on social media and been hailed by the press as “powerful,” “game-changing.”

I couldn’t agree more. Watching Watson use her star power as a vehicle to promote global gender equality reminded me that each of has an opportunity and responsibility to stand up for the causes we believe in, whatever those may be. By following a few basiccommunication guidelines, Watson showed us how to do it effectively.

She knew her audience.

Watson made clear from the very beginning that her speech was intended for the men and boys who could become advocates for change. She appealed not just to their sense of right and wrong, but also to the impacts of gender inequality on men’s lives as they suffer the consequences of “being imprisoned by gender stereotypes.” She explicitly invited them to “step forward” and become part of the solution. She even went so far as to explicitly address one of the questions stirring in the back of their minds when she said “You might be thinking who is this Harry Potter girl? And what is she doing up on stage at the UN.” The fact that she’d reflected on this question in advance demonstrated just how much thought went into crafting these remarks.

She expressed the difference between the world today and what it could be.

Speakers can create powerful emotion by creating a clear contrast between “what is” today and “what could be” tomorrow. Watson did this perfectly when she called for a society where she’d be “afforded the same respect as men” (and what this would mean in terms of pay, rights, and political representation) but then pointed out that “No country in the world can yet say they have achieved gender equality.”

She made it personal.

The best speakers know how to use stories from their own life to add emotion to the story. Watson showcased this ability when she outlined her own journey to becoming a feminist, starting with being called “bossy” for wanting to direct a play at age 8. She even admitted to her own “nervousness” about the speech towards the end. This hint of vulnerability made her seem human and relatable, important traits for any speaker to emulate.

She called for clear action. 

It’s not enough to make the case for change; great speakers know that they need to make sure the audience knows when and how to act. Watson spoke to this from the beginning when she said “I am reaching out to you because I need your help. We want to end gender inequality—and to do that we need everyone to be involved.” After making the case for men to join her movement, she added urgency to this plea by ending with a reminder that anyone and everyone can be part of the change. No audience member could walk away without asking themselves, “if not me, who, if not now, when.”

Emma Watson’s speech wasn’t perfect. At times, her nerves showed and a close watch reveals her looking down at her notes quite a few times. But that’s not what people noticed or what got written about in the news the next day. Her powerful words and well-thought-out message clearly conveyed the level of preparation and thought that went into this speech. I’m excited to see what comes next from this up-and-coming powerhouse as she grows into her own shoes as a powerful voice for women’s rights.

Watch the speech:



Read the full article by Nancy Duarte on Linkedin

About the Author


Nancy Duarte

Nancy Duarte is CEO of Duarte, Inc. and the author of Resonate, Slide:ology, and the HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations. She has a passion for teaching others about the power of persuasive presentations to drive change in the world.