SPEECHMAKER: Coach Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino)
OCCASION: Pre-game Team Talk. A big game looms at the end of a gruelling and momentous season in which all the players and coach have been through many trials and tribulations, ups and downs. Al Pacino’s character in particular as the central protagonist of the story has been through a lot by the time he comes to give the speech.
Date: The movie came out in 1999 but no particular date is given in the movie
Length of speech in time & words: 478 words; 4 minutes. As with all great speeches, it is short.
Audience: His (American) football team
Central Truth: That the difference between winning & losing is just a matter of inches. So they must all fight together as a team.
Type: Motivational Speech
Theme: Fight tooth & nail to gain every last inch on the pitch and in life.
Tone: I have always practised what I am preaching. Fighting for every last inch.
Specific purposes: To motivate his players to give everything to win.
General purposes: To foster a sense of team spirit.
Personal purposes: To show his players he is in the fight right with them.
Opening: 4 Stars.
“I don’t know what to say really. Three minutes to the biggest battle of our professional lives”
He takes a very low key beginning in terms of his tone and could probably have done without the initial preface ‘I don’t know what to say really’, but setting out the context ‘biggest battle of our professional lives’ already sets his whole speech up for a stirring battle cry.
The aim of an opening is to immediately engage your audience and he does this by tapping into the macho instinct his players have for battle.
Introduction: 5 stars.
The aim of an introduction is to get the audience ready for the Main Body of the speech. Here he does this by setting out the options that they have:
“Either we heal as a team or we are going to crumble… we can stay here and get the shit kicked out of us or we can fight our way back into the light.”
His introduction presents his team with the choice that he will go on to talk about in his Main Body. This is the perfect introduction as it perfectly creates the context for the rest of the speech and the main messages. By suggesting those are the only two choices, he allows himself to achieve the inevitable conclusion that they must fight together as a team.
Main Body: 5 stars.
So having set out the context and their choices, he goes on to say give them the reasons and motives for why they should take up the fight to win, rather than just amble along or give in. Here he uses himself as an example, talking about having wasted his money, how he is getting old and how with age things get taken away from you. He also introduces what will be the theme and central message of the speech.
“Life is just a game of inches”
He equates football with life deliberately to elevate his speech and the motivation to more than just another football game but about the essence of life itself. On the one hand such a grandiose principle might be said to be a little above a bunch of football players, but in the context of the movie and what has led them to that moment, it touches a nerve for all the players.
“one half step too late or to early you don’t quite make it. One half second too slow or too fast and you don’t quite catch it.”
With this statement he is reminding them of the consequences of not giving your best. Failure.
Then he moves to galvanise the team with the central message of the speech. Instead of asking them to be a team that fights, he boldly tells them that this is what they are as a team. This is classic inspirational and motivational speechmaking. The late Steve Jobs of Apple had a similar trick, which was referred to as the ‘reality distortion field’ ie you just tell your team that they are or are capable of being what you are trying to get them to be as though it is an undeniable truth and often they will live up to that standard.
“On this team, we fight for that inch. On this team, we tear ourselves, and everyone around us to pieces for that inch. We CLAW with our finger nails for that inch. Cause we know
when we add up all those inches that’s going to make the fucking difference between WINNING and LOSING between LIVING and DYING.”
Very powerful stuff.
Conclusion: 5 stars.
Now he moves to cement the spirit that he has evoked in his team, telling them it is the guy who will die for that inch that wins. Most importantly he asks them to
“look at the guy next to you. Look into his eyes. Now I think you are going to see a guy who will go that inch with you. You are going to see a guy who will sacrifice himself for this team because he knows when it comes down to it, you are gonna do the same thing for him.”
And during his speech all his players, even the ones who have resisted him up to that point in the movie, do look at each other and bond.
This is classic leadership and management. He gets his team to want to work for each other relying on the trust that is implicit in every great team, that the other guy will go the distance as much as you.
Closing: He ends the conclusion with a question
Your conclusion should be the point where your theme is really brought out, making this climax of the speech so that your audience are left with a strong impression of your central message. In this speech, the conclusion part of the speech is not particularly strong. It promises that the soldiers will be paid, which is no doubt important but not the most rousing aspect of the speech. To be fair, it does then build to its final climax, stating that they would surely have a victory, but it is still not as powerful a section as the Main Body
Closing: 3 stars
He closes with an invitation to his players rather than a battle cry.
“That’s a team, gentlemen. and either we heal now, as a team, or we will die as individuals. That’s football guys.That’s all it is. Now, whattaya gonna do?”
This is probably the weakest part of the speech and feels slightly like there might have been one or two more lines to it, that left on the cutting room floor.
On the one hand a low key closing is the mark of strong leader, because he takes his focus away from himself as the coach and onto the players themselves and asking them what they are going to do, gives them the chance to be the leaders themselves that he is asking them to be.
But following such an inspiration speech that focused on the importance of putting team above individual and using football as a metaphor for life, a stronger grander finish might have been expected. Nevertheless the calmness of the closing perfectly mirrors the measured tones of the opening, which gives it a symmetry that is the halmark of every great speech.
His tone is humble and low key initially. This is particularly important because in the context of the movie, his players do need to see humility where he has not shown it before.
But no Al Pacino speech would be complete without a bit of fire and he certainly varies his tone as appropriate througout the speech, which is important.
This speech is the perfect template for any motivational talk and team briefing:
- set out the context
- identify the options and consequences of the choices to be made
- talk up your team by telling them they already have what it takes
- invite them to take personal responsibility for themselves and each other
- ask them to go the extra mile and tell them why it counts
- show them you are right in the fight with them