What makes Jacinda Ardern such a persuasive speaker

Jacinda Ardern showed herself to be a leader gifted with the ability to communicate with emotional impact. Tony Spencer-Smith
Tony Spencer-Smith

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With her careful choice of simple, powerful words, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern showed herself to be a leader gifted with the ability to communicate with enormous emotional impact. There is a lesson there for everyone who wants to use words to create a deep and meaningful effect.

When she learnt of the Christchurch massacre, she described it as 'one of New Zealand’s darkest days'.

When she spoke of the man behind the slaughter of 50 Muslims in two mosques, she said he had sought notoriety. 'That is why you will never hear me mention his name. He is a terrorist; he is a criminal; he is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless.'

When she announced sweeping new gun control laws, she said: 'On March 15 our history changed forever. Now, our laws will too.'

Ardern was reacting to the horrifying killing of 50 women, children and men by a right-wing extremist, and she did not resort to clichés. She used words to react to the massacre in a deeply empathetic way, eloquently expressing the grief of the survivors and the shock of the nation.

She avoided the slogans so common in political discourse. She refused to fan the flames of division and went out of her way to say that the people of New Zealand were not chosen for this act of terror because they condoned racism, rather because they represented diversity, kindness, compassion and a refuge for those who need it.

She said: ‘And those values, I can assure you, will not and cannot be shaken by this attack.’ All leaders, not just politicians, can learn from the skilful way she used words. Everything she said was clear and concise. There was no room for misunderstanding.

Ardern pulled no punches in taking on the powerful gun lobbies and banning semi-automatic weapons. She utterly condemned the massacre and the mind-set of the man who carried it out and did not dwell on this but but rather on the forces that unite people.

When she addressed the first meeting of Parliament after the attack, she started with the traditional Arabic greeting. 'As-salamu alaykum,' then looking up to the public gallery added, 'peace be upon you, and peace be upon all of us.'

Commentators in many countries are now hoping that their leaders will follow suit and switch over to similar clear, compassionate and authentic communication.

First published . Last updated 8 Apr 2019. Disclaimer: The views, information, or opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the University of Newcastle and its employees.

About Tony Spencer-Smith

Tony Spencer-Smith loves words. He has worked with them all his life – ever since he published his own magazine while still in primary school. He moved on to become a prominent journalist, an award-winning novelist and a corporate writer and editor. In his training, he inspires others to share his enthusiasm for the power of language. Tony is one of Australia’s top corporate writing and editing trainers. In over a decade he has helped thousands of people from blue chip companies, government and not-for-profit organisations to upgrade their communication skills.

The broad experience he brings to his training includes being Editor-in-Chief of Reader’s Digest magazine in both Australia and South Africa; a senior newspaper journalist; and a corporate editorial expert who has written speeches, brochures, reports, websites and internal communications for top clients.

His children’s novel The Man Who Snarled at Flowers won the biggest literary prize in South Africa, while his latest book The Essentials of Great Writing was published in Australia in 2009.

Trainees leave Tony’s classes with a comprehensive set of writing and editing skills to raise their writing to the next level.

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