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Words That Changed the World

A celebration of the power of oratory, presented by Cody Keenan, Barack Obama’s director of speechwriting, and Philip Collins, Tony Blair's former speechwriter and Times columnist, with Emily Maitlis in the chair.

For 15 years, Intelligence Squared has vigorously championed the spoken word. The finest speakers from across the globe have come to our stage — to argue, to move, to persuade and change minds. Their speeches epitomise the vital role that public speaking plays in our lives. To celebrate the power of oratory, we held this major event which showcased how great speeches have swayed the course of history and demonstrate how, more than ever, we need them to help define our values and who we are.

Barack Obama’s director of speechwriting, Cody Keenan, shared his experience of helping craft the presidential speeches that moved the hearts and minds of millions around the world. Alongside him was Philip Collins, Tony Blair’s former speechwriter and Times columnist, whose new book argues for the importance of speeches in protecting and promoting democracy. With Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis in the chair, Keenan and Collins unpacked the tricks and techniques that have been used by the most brilliant orators down the centuries and which are still working their magic today. Bringing this all to life were star actors Carey MulliganJeremy Irons and Simon Russell Beale, who performed extracts from remarkable speeches – some familiar, others that will surprise – from different continents and eras.

What is it about a great speech that can give voice to people’s intense but unarticulated feelings? What is that special alchemy of words and personal charisma that makes us as susceptible to dangerous demagogues as to the morally uplifting oratory of a Mandela, a Martin Luther King or a JFK?



Emily Maitlis

Lead presenter of BBC Newsnight and one of the UK’s best known broadcasters

Lead presenter of the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme Newsnight. She presents general elections for the BBC and covers US politics for the programme from across America. She has won plaudits for her longer form interviews for Newsnight, for which she has interviewed Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Clinton and the Duke of York. 

Cody Keenan

Speechwriter for Barack Obama

Speechwriter for President Barack Obama during his eight years in the White House. Between 2013 and 2017 he was the president’s chief speechwriter, helping to craft Obama’s State of the Union Address, the Selma 50th anniversary speech, and his farewell address in Chicago. In 2017 Obama asked Keenan to continue their partnership and today Keenan is collaborating with Obama on his forthcoming book.

Philip Collins

Former speechwriter for Tony Blair

Philip Collins is a columnist for The Times, where he has pioneered the analysis of major speeches, and is the Founder of The Draft, a writing company. He was chief speechwriter to UK prime minister Tony Blair between 2004 and 2007 and has subsequently written for and advised a range of senior politicians, CEOs and charity bosses. He is the author of five books, including two on the arts of persuasion and rhetoric: The Art of Speeches and Presentations, a how-to guide, and When They Go Low, We Go High: Speeches that shaped the world – and why we need them. Philip was previously Director of the Social Market Foundation, Chair of Demos, and worked in finance.

Jeremy Irons


One of Britain’s best known actors who has enjoyed success in film and on television and stage. He shot to stardom in the early 1980s when he played Charles Ryder in the TV series Brideshead Revisited, and won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance as Claus von Bulow in Reversal of Fortune. Other film highlights include The French Lieutenant’s Woman, The Mission, Dead Ringers and Damage. He is the voice of the evil lion Scar in Disney’s classic The Lion King and starred opposite Bruce Willis in Die Hard: With A Vengeance. Irons received a Tony Award for his performance in Tom Stoppard¹s play The Real Thing.

Carey Mulligan


One of Britain’s brightest stars on stage and screen. Her film credits include her breakout starring role in the film An Education, for which she won the BAFTA Award for Best Actress and was nominated for an Academy Award; Suffragette, in which she starred alongside Meryl Streep; and the lead role in Far From the Madding Crowd. On stage she played alongside Bill Nighy in the revival of David Hare’s Skylight, and received a Tony Award nomination when the play transferred to Broadway.

Simon Russell Beale


One of the most acclaimed stage actors of his generation. He won an Olivier award for his performance in the title role in Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya in 2003, and has been hailed for his countless Shakespearean roles, including King Lear, Macbeth, Prospero and Hamlet, as well as Richard III and Iago in productions directed by Sam Mendes. He played King Arthur in the Monty Python musical Spamalot, and is currently starring as Beria in Armando Iannucci’s film The Death of Stalin. He has twice won a BAFTA award, for his performances in A Dance to the Music of Time and The Hollow Crown.

Jade Anouka


Award-winning actor who starred in the Donmar Warehouse’ recent Shakespeare Trilogy of Julius Caesar, Henry IV and The Tempest where she played Mark Anthony, Hotspur and Ariel respectively.