The Four-Minute Speech That Changed The Pope’s Life

I love reading behind-the-scenes accounts of major news events.  The Wall Street Journal did an excellent story detailing the events that led to the election of Pope Francis to replace the retiring Pope Benedict XVI.  What grabbed my attention in the story, of course, was how Pope Francis (still Cardinal Bergoglio at the time) transformed himself from an unknown to a leading candidate with a four-minute speech.  Here’s an excerpt from the story:

Two days after the dinner, however, something clicked. And it happened in the span of four minutes—the length of Cardinal Bergoglio’s speech when it was his turn to address the General Congregation. On March 7, the Argentine took out a sheet of white paper bearing notes written in tiny tight script. They were bullet-pointed. Many cardinals had focused their speeches on specific issues, whether it was strategies for evangelization or progress reports on Vatican finances. Cardinal Bergoglio, however, wanted to talk about the elephant in the room: the long-term future of the church and its recent history of failure.

The story continues:

The notes on Cardinal Bergoglio’s sheet were written in his native Spanish. And he could easily have delivered the remarks in Spanish—19 of the cardinals voting in the conclave came from Spanish-speaking countries and a team of Vatican translators was on hand to provide simultaneous translations in at least four other languages. But he spoke in Italian, the language cardinals most commonly use inside Vatican City and the native tongue of Italy’s 28 voting-age cardinals, the most of any single nation. He wanted to be understood, loud and clear.

The audience reaction:

German Cardinals Reinhard Marx of Munich and Walter Kasper, an old Vatican hand, perked up. So did Cardinals Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne of Lima and Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino of Havana, who promptly asked the pope for the notes of his address. For days they had heard speeches about “new evangelization,” a term from past popes that many cardinals used to honor their memory while disagreeing over what it meant. Suddenly, they were hearing someone speak about justice, human dignity. And it was simple, clear, refreshing. “He speaks in a very straightforward way,” said Cardinal George. “And so perhaps—more than the content—it was simply a reminder that here is someone who has authenticity in such a way that he’s a wonderful witness to the discipleship.”

Within a week, Cardinal Bergoglio became Pope Francis.  Lessons learned?  Tackle tough topics directly.  Use a language your audience understands.  Speak simply and authentically. Keep it short. And you might just change your life!