Greta Thunberg – leading with words and actions

Leading with words and actions

I am fan of this determined girl for a variety of reasons. First she speaks, speaks, and speaks. She uses her voice to spread her ideas and beliefs. She is not afraid to take the tribune or stage in spite of her young age and the fact that she must often speak in English, which is not her native tongue. And now she is sailing across the Atlantic to be fully carbon zero. She is taking risks for her beliefs and backing them up with action. With so much respect for her qualities, it may seem petty to ask, “Is she a rainbow speaker? Does she use all the colors of my Speak-the-Rainbow™ concept?” No one can deny the world media is listening to her. Is it enough or can she still improve as a speaker and in what ways? To find out, I studied the speech which she gave in 2018 at the COP24 summit in Katowice, Poland, entitled “You are not mature enough to tell it like it is.”

You can watch and read it here:


The first word to the title “You” is one of the main keys to this speech. In my Speak the Rainbow™ concept , “you” is used when speaking with hope. However, Greta has another use for it which we discover as the speech progresses.

The first four sentences of the speech set out who the speaker is and what she represents. These sentences establish Greta’s background and place in the world. By telling us she is a fifteen-year-old school girl from Sweden she connects her audience to her unique Blue Vision of the world and its problems. We come to hear her perspective and throughout the speech she will come back to this point that she is speaking as one of the “children” of the world. In fact, she repeats the word “children” four times as this word symbolizes both the struggle and hope.

Her second paragraph reinforces this vision by expressing that, like Sweden, herself and other children may be small people capable of making big changes in the world. These words lead us to the key word in the paragraph “imagine” which connects us to our Purple Soul as it opens up our mind to the world of imagination. She adds some Green Hope to this when she says “imagine what we could all do together if we really wanted to”.

In fact, Greta Thunberg uses predominantly the tools of hope in her speaking as she constantly says “you”, “we”, “your”, “our” and “us” as well as “will”. In this short three-minute speech, Greta says “you” fourteen times and “we” twelve times. It is interesting to note though that she opposes the “we” and “you”. Greta treats the “we” as a distinct group which has different values and goals than the “you”. This is a very smart technique which gives her speech a powerful edge as this opposition creates conflict and the audience is being asked by Greta to take sides. Those in the audience must ask themselves if they are on the side of the “you” or the “we” in this conflict.

Greta also cleverly uses the tools of hope to build her main point that “there is no hope” unless world leaders start focusing on what needs to be done. Greta thus uses essentially green tools to plant the seeds of “no hope” unless change.

Greta evokes her beliefs and Blue Vision again in the speech when she says “I don’t care about…. I care about…” And when she says, “I will be 75 in 2078” she reminds us again of her youth and the future.

As a young speaker, her voice is not full of Orange Energy and her body language communicates shyness rather than power. And there is little Yellow Joy in her words as she accuses the wealthy and powerful for not saving the earth’s future. She does not ignite strong Red Emotions though stories, but she does trigger emotions by using words like “scared”, “suffering”, “crisis”, “burden”, and “sacrificed” which she uses twice. Throughout this speech her language is simple. She does not rely on Indigo Depth to convince her audience by employing large words or abstract concepts or use science, data, and jargon to connect.

All in all, her speech does lack a few colors of my Speak-the-Rainbow™ concept. Her speech works because it is not long and she connects by using a limited palette of Blue Vision, Green Hope, Red Emotions, and Purple Soul.

Greta Thunberg has a very quiet voice on stage and yet her simplicity and the unusual use of Green Hope has a powerful effect. She certainly has extended her Blue Vision and message of hope for real change from Sweden to the world. And I admire her for doing so much to raise awareness about climate change as a speaker so young. As she goes forward, her speeches may evolve and she may add other colors to her speaking. I know I will be watching with interest to hear what she has to say and how she will say it.

As an aside, Speakola is an excellent resource for students of public speaking as the video and text appear together on the same page.

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