‘Everybody here knows Kimmie Belzer, right?"
Take a moment to think of an inspiring quote. Got one? There’s a chance it is from a politician or a civil rights leader. More likely, it’s from a movie. Cult classic or Hollywood heavyweight, movies have a talent for seeping into our societal consciousness and shaping our culture. A great movie speech, in particular, has the power to move, inspire, and captivate us in huge numbers.
But what takes a movie monologue from meh to memorable?
From scripted to something remarkable that we take with us out of the movie theatres and into our lives? The secret lies in persuasive presentation skills. Beneath the acting and cinematography are the tried and tested tools of public speaking that inspire and persuade. Who better to learn from than the ultimate smooth talker himself, the charismatic chancer, the wolf of Wall Street — Jordan Belfort, played by Leonardo DiCaprio.
'Sell me this pen'
When Scorsese’s American biopic hit cinemas in 2013, it caused a riotous stir. Covering the debaucherous greed of a Robin Hood-in-reverse stockbroker, it is an exhilarating, excessive film about excess. But what can the most entertaining film about loathsome, white-collared men teach us about public speaking? As it turns out, a lot.
If you’ve seen the movie, you know the scene. Right at the end of the film, Jordan Belfort (Dicaprio) challenges a conference room full of salesmen to sell him a run-of-the-mill ballpoint. Some list the benefits of the pen — “it’s an amazing pen... for professionals” — but that’s not the point of the exercise. What Belfort is looking for is a way to persuade the listener by creating supply and demand — the why.
Conveying a compelling why is the heart and soul of any great speech.
By laying out the why in a concise story, you tell it like it is. With no room for fluff, directness has its part to play in delivering a powerful, persuasive message. A speech or presentation that uses great storytelling and anecdotal metaphors can stir emotion in an audience. Stirring emotion can lead to empathy and listeners who empathise with the speaker are more likely to help them achieve their goals. Even if the goal is to elevate underhanded stockbroking, as is the case for Stratton and Oakmont, the initial 'penny stock' firm created by Jordan Belfort and Donnie Azoff that Wolf Of Wall Street centres around.
“The only thing standing between you and your goal is the bullshit story you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.”
Even in this digitalised and overstimulated age, we’re suckers for a good story. Whether it is a rags-to-riches account of benevolent Belfort (Dicaprio) writing a $25,000 cheque to stockbroking newbie, Kimmie Belzer, or the real-life cautionary tale of Jordan Belfort’s ability to play the system until he doesn’t (and winds up in jail, facing charges exceeding $110 million in securities fraud and money laundering. Yet, even the real Jordan Belfort has become an icon on the public speaking stage). A good story can hook, line, and sink us.
Nobel Laureates George Akerlof and Robert J. Shiller state that “Great leaders are foremost creators of stories.”
Which makes sense, given our innate fascination with organising experiences and information into narratives. We love to be told tales that depict the common ground between us. A simple anecdote can unite a diverse crowd of listeners — much like how the room full of brokers in Wolf Of Wall Street collectively hang on every word that is spoken, cooed or shouted by Dicaprio’s Jordan Belfort. Like a conductor orchestrating his ensemble, Belfort is a master of storytelling. Colouring his words like complex musical notes, lavishly laced with profanity, to elicit the exact emotional response he wants from his audience.
“Without action, the best intentions in the world are nothing more than that: intentions.”In a movie centred around Jordan Belfort’s ability to deliver a persuasive speech, it’s not easy to pick the most memorable moment.
But as far as a rousing speech that perfects the use of anecdotes and storytelling goes, it’s got to be the ‘show must go on’ speech, delivered to his Stratton Oakmont posse when rumours have begun to circulate that he’ll step down as head of the firm, having been made a formal suspect by the FBI for his illegal stockbroking enterprises. It is a stellar example of how a why can be delivered with powerful results.
In his speech, he first tenderly leads them by the hand through a tale that reaffirms how much he believes in each and every one of them. He uses the anecdote of the time he wrote Kimmie Belzer an advance cheque for $25,00 when she was hard on luck to edify the importance of each employee’s ability to keep pushing for success and transformation (for the good of the firm). And then, just when you think the mighty have fallen — his tone lowers for dramatic effect as he prepares to step down — his manner changes and he declares that he is, in fact, not leaving. It's a moving, motivational speech that sends everyone into a wild flurry of cheers and applause.
Storytelling, anecdotes, and colourfully using tone and volume — that’s how you capture your audience. Bravo Mr Belfort, bravo.
I’m sure many of you have been hearing rumours lately — about me, about the future of this firm, and that’s what I’d like to talk to you about today. Five years ago when I started Stratton with Donnie Azoff, I knew the day would eventually come when I’d be moving on. It’s truly with a heavy heart that I tell you that day is here.
Thank you for that and for your years of incredible loyalty and admiration. The point is though, that under Donnie’s leadership, along with Robbie Feinberg and Nicky Koskoff moving into key management positions, this place is gonna be better than ever! And the fact that I’m gone won’t stop me from giving Donnie advice, not that he needs any…
Before I go, there’s something I want to remind you all, and that’s this – Stratton Oakmont is bigger than any one person, even me. Especially me. You guys are Stratton, each and every one of you, and that is why it’s sure to remain the best brokerage firm in the f****** world!
See, the very idea of Stratton is that when you come here and step into this bullpen for the first time, you start your life anew. You have a place here and no one can take that away from you! Stratton Oakmont is America! Give me your tired and poor!
The very moment you walk through that door and pledge your loyalty to this firm, you become part of a family, you become a Strattonite! It doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn’t matter where you’re from! Whether your family came over on the Mayflower or on a f****** inner tube from Haiti!
Everybody here knows Kimmie Belzer, right?
In case any of you weren’t aware of it, Kimmie was one of Stratton’s first brokers, one of the original twenty. Now when most of you met Kimmie, you met her the way she is today – a beautiful woman who drives a brand new Mercedes. A woman who lives in the finest condo complex on Long Island. A woman who wears $3,000 Armani suits, who spends her winters in the Bahamas and her summers in the Hamptons!
But that’s not the Kimmie I met. The Kimmie I met was broke. A single mom on the balls of her a**. Three months behind on her rent with an eight-year-old son. She came to me for a job and when I hired her she asked for a $5,000 dollar advance so she could pay his tuition.
And what did I do, Kimmie?
You wrote me a check for $25,000!
Because I believed in you. Like I believe in each and every one of you!
I love you, Jordan!
You know for years I’ve been telling you guys not to take no for an answer, to keep pushing, to not hang up the phone ‘til you get what you want. This deal I’m about to sign, barring me from the securities industry, barring me from Stratton, my home… What the f*** is that? I’ll tell you what it is, it’s me being a hypocrite. It’s me taking no for an answer. It’s them selling me, not the other way around!
You know what? I’m not leaving. I’m not leaving… I’m not f****** leaving!