What can we learn from Sir David Attenborough?

This four minute speech is a masterclass in fundraising and how to engage an audience.

How does he manage to appear so natural, authentic and spontaneous?



Of course, experience helps.

He has been broadcasting for over 60 years. He is a trusted and respected public figure, and is one of the most loved broadcasters in the world.

He has developed a relaxed confidence and built up an emotional bank account with his audience that makes us want to listen and to hear more.

And in the fundraising scenario here, he makes us want to give generously, without hesitation, as well.

We should always try to learn from great speakers, and Sir David Attenborough is clearly up there with the very best.


So here are just some of the top takeaways from this four minute masterclass:


1. He builds an early connection

His first sentence establishes an immediate connection with the audience: ‘I wonder whether you feel the same as me?’


2. He makes it about the audience

He speaks for just over four minutes, and in that time he uses the word you or your 20 times – that’s an average of once every 25 words, or once every 12.5 seconds.

And whenever he brings up a new idea, he always includes the audience: ‘When you are 18 if you remember


3. He builds emotion by repetition

His first two sentences both start with ‘I wonder  , which, of course, helps to create a sense of enthusiasm and anticipation for his subject.


4. He engages them personally

For example, he asks them to remember a specific time in their past, to get them thinking emotionally and personally: ‘I wonder whether those years you spent here, in your teens, are perhaps the best remembered part of your lives?’


5. He has a perfect speed of delivery

This is a masterclass in pacing and pausing. The usual speaking rate is somewhere between 120 and 180 words a minute. Here, he speaks for just over four minutes using around 500 words, so that’s 120 words a minute. This speed allows for emotional pauses, giving the audience time to process his thoughts and feelings. This speed also makes him appear spontaneous, as if he is thinking what to say next, in a very natural way.


6. He builds on a sense of history

He makes the audience feel they are playing an important role in history: ‘It was a remarkable time [1945] and undergraduates, here, sitting where you are … ‘

He is very specific: ‘… here, sitting where you are’. This makes his speech instantly relatable and relevant.


7. He speaks with humility

He speaks with reverence of things bigger than himself: ‘It was here where I began to realise that the world was a much bigger place than I really understood until then.’


8. He has a clear call to action

He talks about the generous people who have given in the past, and then links it back to the audience in the room. His call to action is clear: But things have to be done. And thanks to so many of you here, things are being done.’


9. He rounds with a majestic triple tricolon 

A tricolon uses the powerful rhythm of three to reinforce a message and build emotion. Here, he uses it three times for even more dramatic effect:

‘… that wonderful feeling of:

(i) opening new windows, seeing the world and life, and understanding friendship and scholarship.

All those things we value so highly;

(ii) which are born here, and nourished here, and which you will never forget.

I thank you on behalf of 18-year-olds:

(iii) as you were, and I was, and as will be,

coming over the next decades.’


10. He ends with the four magic words

‘Thank you very much.’

The rhythm of those four words is just right. ‘Thank you’ is a little short and staccato, and ‘Thank you for listening’ sounds as if you have been wasting their time. But ‘Thank you very much’, works every time.

It is confident, respectful, and inclusive.


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