Macarons and speeches

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I translated and worked on a speech one of the Members of Parliaments I teach held in Paris. It was a brilliant speech and was a resounding success. As a thank you, Lotta brought me some macarons all the way from Ladurée Paris in a beautiful gift box. I was absolutely delighted. I finished the last one today – ooh chocolate!


I tend to work a lot with speeches. Sometimes I write them. Other times I translate them. Or I rewrite them. The people I work with, I have been working with for many many years. I know them. They trust me. They know I care about them and that I will make the speech sound like them, using the words they can say and giving the exact message they want to give.

Speeches and Speaking Notes

People who deliver speeches seldom write them themselves. Swedish speeches are often sent to a translator (who in most cases does not know the person or their style) for direct translation. Or the task of translation is given to someone in the organisation who is known to have good English.

The person who is giving the speech seldom reads it aloud before delivering it in front of an audience. The audience he or she is addressing will most likely NOT be composed of native English speakers, and will definitely contain people with English that is not very good.

The problems that arise here are:

  1. the speech does not sound personal and natural
  2. it has way too many words
  3. it is full of words the speaker is unable to say
  4. the sentences are too long and impossible to deliver naturally
  5. It contains complicated words which could easily have been replaced with simpler ones (efficacy, catastrophe, reciprocity, legitimacy, unanimity)
  6. it contains simpler words with difficult pronunciation (threaten, strengthen, analysis, eligible, applicable, adaptation, vulnerable, negotiation, consultative, debt, ideological, agenda, legislation)
  7. it often says the same thing several times in different ways to stress a point but loses it along the way
  8. it is written by several different people so the style chops and changes
  9. everyone concentrates on the speech and not the questions that will be asked afterwards.

Below is a whopper of an opening statement given by someone who could not manage the words. He had not written the speech, which was full of long sentences, complicated words, word pairs – you name it, it was in there:


Mr. President,

Let me begin by expressing the Indonesian delegation’s great pleasure in seeing you presiding over this crucial Special Session of the General Assembly devoted to imparting a renewed thrust and vitality to the implementation of Agenda 21. We are fully confident that, given your consummate leadership and diplomatic skills, you will guide this Special Session to a successful conclusion. Let me also express our sincere appreciation to the Secretary-General for his informative and insightful opening statement. And, it is my sincere hope that this Special Session will provide us, the international community, with a unique opportunity to take the implementation of Agenda 21 onto a new and higher plane of achievement.

Five years ago, in Rio de Janeiro, President Soeharto stated that , in an era of pervasive change and profound transformation, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development stood out as a major milestone for mankind, and that no one could deny that the world was facing increased danger of environmental catastrophe, of diminishing quality of life and a grave threat to the long-term survival of the global ecosystem. Now, five years later and twenty five years after Stockholm, regrettably the alarm bells continue to sound loud and clear on the growing threats to sustainable development and the fact that these are being further compounded by new and emerging trends.The euphoria and optimism that characterised Rio in 1992 have long since given way to disappointment and uncertainty. The expected implementation of Agenda 21 and the other substantive outcomes of the Conference are still far from being realised.

Notwithstanding such disappointments, we fully recognise the continued validity and efficacy of these outcomes. Consequently, we see no alternative to the global partnership that was forged in Rio for effectively promoting sustainable development. We are therefore firm in our conviction that no attempts should be made to reopen Agenda 21 or any other of the substantive outcomes of UNCED during this Special Session. To us, the basic challenge is clear. We must first and foremost analyse what in fact went wrong with the implementation of the Rio outcomes and secondly, what can be done to correct it. This meeting is therefore of crucial importance for measuring the level of our commitment and resolve to reverse the downward spiral into development stagnation and environmental catastrophe.

Mr. President,

As was repeatedly emphasised at UNCED in 1992, the predominant sources of environmental degradation in our planet result from both unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, mainly in the developed countries, and from pervasive poverty and under-development still rampant in the developing countries. Thus, as far as the developing countries are concerned, environmental sustainability can only be effectively achieved by strenuously combating poverty and under-development. But, to do so successfully would require the mobilisation of new and additional financial resources, technological capabilities and enhanced human capacities over and above those already committed toward development. This would obviously constitute a formidable task for most developing countries. It was in Rio that a significant breakthrough was made in this regard. UNCED successfully forged a global partnership which heralded a new era of international cooperation the inseperable linkage between the environment and development.

Regrettably, however, that promise was short-lived. The realisation of the Rio commitment on substantial new and additional financial resources has fallen far short of expectations. While, on the one hand, rapid globalisation and accelerated liberalisation have presented us with new opportunities for increasing FDI, albeit unequally distributed, on the other hand the weakening global partnership has manifested itself in dwindling ODA resources. It is therefore important that financial resources and funding mechanisms committed to in Rio should be fully adhered to and seriously implemented.

Likewise, the Rio promise on the transfer of environmentally sound technologies has remained largely unfulfilled. Whie the transfer of such technologies through the market has, to some extent, been facilitated by globalisation, experience shows that it is not in itself adequate. Hence the continuing need for international cooperation as stipulated in Agenda 21 to build the economic, technical and managerial capabilities of the developing countries, which requires a long term joint effort by enterprises and governments supplying and receiving technologies together with the systematic training of craftspersons, technicians, managers, scientists, engineers and educators.

Mr. President,

We would certainly be far more assured if the outcome of this Special Session would in fact further strenghten the integration of the environment and development. In this context, I strongly suggest that we should not seek to renegotiate the already carefully formulated provisions and hard-won consensus in Rio. Nor should we try to reprioritize the issues of Agenda 21. Such renegotiation and reprioritization would, in our opinion, distort the balance of interests painstakingly crafted in Agenda 21. In addition, we should guard against the introduction of new and extraneous issues beyond the Rio consensus which would run counter to our efforts to secure sustained economic growth and the sustainability of development.

At the very core of the development process today is the compelling need to eradicate poverty from the face of the earth. The achievement of environmental goals greatly depends upon success in this process. We therefore fully agree with the report on the need for time-bound targets for the eradication of poverty. Indeed, in Indonesia, where we are already implementing such targets, the results have proven to be promising. In this context, we have incorporated poverty eradication programmes into our current five year Development Plan. These include the Special Progamme for the Most Backward Villages (IDT), the Programme for Family Welfare Savings (TAKESRA), and the Programme for Family Business Welfare Credit (KUKESRA).We believe that these programmes will help to eradicate absolute poverty within the targeted timeframe.

In fact, we have incorporated many of these experiences as priority projects within our South-South cooperation programme.

Indeed, in Indonesia, we have translated many of our commitments and pledges made in Rio into concrete actions. As agreed upon at the conference, we have established a Post-UNCED Planning and Capacity Building Project as a follow-up mechanism which was invested with the responsibility, among other things, to develop a comprehensive national strategy for sustainable development. The process of formulating this strategy has involved over a thousand participants nation-wide, has taken two years to complete and has focused on integrating economic, social and environmental development into a single policy package to ensure that sustainable development will become a reality in Indonesia. The launching of this strategy, which is called the Indonesian Agenda 21, marks the end of an intensive period of consultation and analysis on charting Indonesia’s path to sustainable development. At the same time, it also represents the beginning of a critical period of adjustment in which the new development paradigm of sustainability will be introduced to all levels of Indonesian society and into all activities of daily economic life.


Before concluding, let me briefly refer to what we consider to be an environmental issue of great importance, that of forests. As major multi-functional resources, forests, including their role as vast reservoirs of bio-diversity, carbon sinks, renewable sources of commercial timbers and energy, are significant assets for achieving sustainable development. The challenge of promoting the sustainable development and management of forests is a formidable task and yet it is also a critical one. My delegation thus sees the merit in the early elaboration of a legally binding instrument on the sustainable management of forests. The elaboration of such an instrument should be carried out through cocnsensus so as to reflect our firm compliance with the existing conventions including, in particular, that on Biological Diversity, the Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention to Combat Desertification. We firmly believe that only through such a legally binding instrument can we ensure sound and sustainable forest management that is predictable, non-discriminatory, rule-based and transparent.

In conclusion, Mr. President, we certainly hope that this Nineteenth Special Session of the General Asembly will impart a renewed and decisive thrust to the implementation of Agenda 21. Only then, through a reinvigorated global partnership, can we jointly enter the new millennium on a more optimistic and confident basis for our mutual benefit and common future. And, only then can we be secure in our hope that the planet that we hand on to our children’s children will be a more peaceful, prosperous and truly sustainable one.

Thank you.



How to write a good speech

  • keep your sentences short and simple. You should be able to comfortably and slowly read the entire sentence in a single breath. If you cannot, make it shorter.
  • remove extra words. Examples of redundancy are: the reason is because, completely surround, fill up, most fatal. There are also plenty in the speech above.
  • do not use clichés: when all is said and done, at this point in time, at the end of the day.
  • never use a big word when a short word will do.
  • the longer your sentence, the harder to keep control of your grammar. Another reason to keep it short!
  • short sentences are not baby sentences. It is actually very hard to write a short excellent sentence.
  • read it aloud. This will alert you to words you cannot say and sentences which do not flow as they should.
  • ask someone else to listen to your speech.
  • ask someone else to proofread all of your documentation. This will alert you to anything that is confusing and pick up spelling errors you might not have noticed. You know what you mean. Other people might not.
  • run your document through a spelling checker. Be careful of the grammar checker though – do not automatically change anything you are not sure of, just because the grammar checker tells you to!
  • if you do have ‘problem words’ that you absolutely cannot pronounce, find a suitable synonym – but make sure you know what it means!
  • has pronunciation help if you have seen a word but never heard it pronounced.
  • practise the English required to deal with difficult questions, questions you are unable to answer and keeping things on track, time-wise.
  • signpost clearly so that people know at all times where you are in your speech.
  • jokes and idioms usually do not go down well with multicultural audiences. For example, do not talk about ‘the snowball effect’ to an African audience as they have probably never seen snow. At the very best, people will not understand what you are saying; at worst you will insult them.
  • be aware also of the existence of false friends. Words such as aktuell, hus, kontrol, VD, gymnasium, bransch, baksida, konsekvent, högskola, examen all exist in English, but with a different meaning.
  • use active language to make your speech seem more personal and direct. ‘We are working on….






Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

3 thoughts

  1. Janet, if you like Ladurée macarons, then you can order them online. They are delivered in a cute box within 72 hours. The choice online may be less important than in the Ladurée shops in Paris, but you still get a large variety of their products.

  2. It all sounds like church I know that does not have a reading rota, someone is asked to read the passage from the Old Testament just before the service starts. Unless you know it you can’t follow it.

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