One of the key components of Adolf Hitler’s professional profile were, obviously, his oratorical skills. He was not just a gifted public speaker (of which there are a dime a dozen), but a genuine orator – one of the most powerful and influential in human history. A brilliant persuader of men who was able to move, influence and inspire (and thus manipulate) his audiences like no other man in modern history.
In 1941, Raoul de Roussy Sales, French journalist and historian, who compiled a book of extracts of Hitler’s speeches, wrote:
“He is essentially a speechmaker, and although today it is his deeds and his conquests that most impress the world, it should not be forgotten that he started as a soap-box orator and spoke his way to power.”
It was not the whole truth – in reality, Adolf Hitler worked his way to power by utilizing a comprehensive set of skills of a political entrepreneur – organizer, propaganda manager, organizational engineer, negotiator, political analyst, etc. but there is little doubt that his power of elemental oratory was his greatest gift.
Government informant who was present at one of the first speeches delivered by Hitler (to the audience of about 130) reported that the orator “held forth in an outstanding manner” and concluded that he was destined to become “a professional propaganda speaker”.
The key advantage that placed Adolf Hitler way about all other public speaker of the day (of which there were hundreds if not thousands) was a powerful synergy between the form and the substance of his speeches. All of them.
He made his audience believe (correctly) that he (1) understands all of their key problems, wants and needs; (2) knows how to solve their problems and satisfy their wants and needs; and (3) will do exactly that as soon as he gets the power to achieve these goals. In other words, that he was capable of doing what was considered the impossible.
Actually, he was able to instill in his audience much more than just a belief – faith. Unshakeable faith in “all of the above”. And it was exactly this faith – further propagated amplified by the Nazi press and other Nazi agitators that made NSDAP the largest party in the Reichstag; catapulted him to the position of Chancellor and ultimately gave him the absolute power in Germany.
He was an extremely prolific orator. According to Hitler’s biographer Joachim Fest (no fan of Hitler, to put it mildly) by 1922 “he began holding series of eight, ten, or twelve rallies on a single evening, at each of which he would appear as the principal speaker.”.
And during his political career that spanned over a quarter of a century (1919-45), Hitler delivered over 5,000 (!) speeches. 200 speeches per year, about four per week. A speech every other day, in other words. Very impressive, to say the least.
However, Adolf Hitler was much more than just a great orator. He was an outstanding planner, director, leader and manager of mass meetings. His speeches were carefully choreographed events from the beginning to the finish.
Events that included all components (carefully designed and skillfully implemented to maximize synergy) – lighting, music, images, rituals, even choreography (prearranged actions by specially selected and trained Nazis) – that produced enormously powerful emotional impact on his audience.
Adolf Hitler did not invent this comprehensive event design and management, of course. He adapted the technique that he borrowed from an entirely different world (opera) and from an entire different professional (composer).
From Richard Wagner. Who was a unique and genuinely great composer – and a rebel. A rebel who performed a genuine revolution – only in music, not in politics.
Unlike just about all opera composers of his time and before, Wagner wrote both the libretto and the music for each of his stage works and ultimately revolutionized opera through his concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk (“total work of art”).
He synthesized the poetic, visual, musical and dramatic arts (with music made subsidiary to drama) creating an immensely powerful synergy and thus producing an extremely powerful impact on the audience. Essentially creating the whole alternative world and immersing his listeners there.
It was this alternative (and enormously emotionally attractive) ideal world where he could escape from emotionally uncomfortable (to put it mildly) “real world” that made Wagner so attractive to Adolf Hitler. And it was exactly the world that he created during his events (mass meetings, rallies, parades, marches, etc.).
Hitler personally tested the acoustics of the meeting hall, determining the best places to stand, how loudly or softly he could speak and still be heard, the atmosphere, ventilation, and, of course, the layout of the rooms.
The atmosphere in the halls—impressively adorned with dramatic red, white and black swastika banners—was made genial with free beer, sausages, pretzels, folk singing, and music. Creating, obviously, very receptive listeners – and a positive attitude to the event (and thus to Hitler and his Nazi Party).
His major speeches were deliberately held in the evenings and the subdued lighting of the hallways and brightly lit stages, masses of flags, masses of uniformed followers and rousing martial music – all added to the effect before his carefully timed arrival.
He usually arrived a bit late (intensify anticipation) to the hall while the massed bands were playing the Badenweiler March (a very inspirational musical piece) to signal his dramatic – and almost royal entrance.
Then he would silently survey the audience for a full minute or more before beginning to speak, further heightening tension – and arousing even more eager anticipation in his audience. Then, slowly he would launch into his speech in a hesitant manner, carefully choosing his words and in an almost timid fashion like a child taking its first steps.
Three to five minutes into the speech, when he felt the moment was just right he would turn up the volume of his voice while at the same time being very mindful of the feedback he was getting from the audience.
After he’d carefully gauged the mood of the crowd he started talking slowly and quietly, feeling out the audience the way an actor would, adapting his manner and speech to its needs, building emotion slowly. His listeners sat motionless, eyes riveted upon him.
Once the feedback mechanism (two-way emotional and spiritual connection between him and the audience) was established he was able to sweep the audience off their feet with his free-flowing oratory which increased in tempo and passion to a crescendo.
15-20 minutes into the speech he would be swaying slightly, gesticulating with his hands and making different facial expressions to convey several moods with eyes flashing and fingers stabbing the air around him and by this time his audience were basically hanging on to every word and every paragraph he uttered would be greeted by loud cheers and applause.
He possessed a rare actor’s ability to suddenly throw on the extra “emotional generators” and become absolutely charged with energy. Before the end of his talk he had roused the people to a pitch of almost uncontrollable excitement.
He scattered party members throughout his audiences with orders to interrupt his speeches along prearranged lines to suggest spontaneous public (group) approval, later confessing that “these interruptions greatly strengthened the force of my arguments.”
Even those in the audience who were at first very critical or skeptical of his policies or ideas were swept away in the wave of emotion and frenzy which took over the hall and joined in the cheering and applause enthusiastically.
And often experiencing religious-style “awakenings” and “conversions” making his speeches akin to spiritually powerful religious sermons.
Kurt Luedecke, a 32-year-old businessman who later became a leading member of Hitler’s entourage (and wrote a book about Hitler), described the almost magic spell cast by Hitler’s oratory:
“The intense will of the man, the passion of his sincerity seemed to flow from him into me. I experienced an exaltation that could be likened only to religious conversion.”
After his speech Hitler never lingered on the podium but always left immediately thus strengthening the aura of mystique around him.
Although his oratory gifts became evident a full decade before his entry into politics and became radically more powerful during his mysterious transformation in the summer of 1919, he did not become a truly great orator overnight.
By Hitler’s own account, it took him two full years of hectic public speaking (he sometimes delivered three or even four speeches a day – occasionally in different cities) to perfect his speaking craft and become the unrivaled master of the art of oratory.
Hitler practiced his speaking tirelessly. He carefully rehearsed gestures, often in front of a mirror, to identify those that would provide the most powerful impact on his audience.
Hitler had his friends and party members (and later his official photographer Heinrich Hoffmann) take photos of him (or even film him) while speaking, so he was able to study how he looked and moved, and improve upon it.
Although he skillfully made just about all his speeches look spontaneous (to maximize its emotional impact on the audience), in reality they were not at all. He always wrote (dictated, actually) his speeches – for him, public speaking was so important that he would never trust anyone to write his speeches for him.
He would often work deep into the night, several evenings running, occupying up to three secretaries taking dictation straight into the typewriters before carefully correcting the drafts – which he could to up to five times until he considered the text perfect.
Although he was well-prepared for each speech, Hitler did not read out his speeches from paper (unlike most politicians did at that time). He usually had a few carefully prepared notes that he used as a guide making his speeches sound spontaneous.
And convincing his audience he was extremely serious and honest about his beliefs. Which was very true – and gave him a decisive advantage over just about all politicians who for the most part seemed to have had no fundamental beliefs at all.