This is what anime can teach you about Performative Speaking

This is what anime can teach you about Performative Speaking

July 15, 2020

“Mr. Crabtree, do you wish to speak?”

I snap out of it. I look up at the judge confused.

“Mr. Crabtree, do you wish to give any final thoughts?”

I had zoned out during the defense attorney’s closing arguments. I felt my heart beating too fast, my breath too shallow, and the sweat on my hands. I just kept thinking that I was going to fail.

It was the biggest trial of my career to date. Aggravated Robbery committed against two eighty-year-old women. The jury found the man guilty a few days earlier. At least I had succeeded in that phase.

Now the Judge wanted my thoughts on the appropriate punishment.

I could feel the weight of the moment. The victims were watching. My bosses were watching. It felt like the whole world was watching.

This was my first felony trial. After spending two years in misdemeanor, the lower-level offenses, I had finally made it up to what I saw as the big leagues. Real crimes. Real consequences.

The range of punishment, in this case, was 5 years at a minimum and 99 years or life in prison at the maximum. This was my first time giving a punishment speech. How do I ask for the right thing to get what I want? How do I convince this long-serving judge that I am right?  

At that moment as I looked up at the judge, I reached back into my brain and relied on my training. I knew words alone would not convince this judge. I needed emotion. I needed to recreate the same feeling those two victims experienced years before the trial.

As I stood a transformation occurred. I remembered my training. I remembered those hours of practice and preparation. I felt the lights shine on me and the anticipation of the room. The nervous, fresh-faced felony prosecutor faded away and the confident, well-trained competitor stood tall. It was time to duel.

I learned this from anime.

I learned this from Yu-Gi-Oh.

You can learn this from anywhere.

Performative Speaking and Yu-Gi-Oh

Performative Speaking is a philosophy that focuses on creating specific emotions, feelings, moods, or vibes in the audience.

The speaker uses other forms of art, culture, media, or pop culture that created that feeling in themselves as an example to structure and frame the speech.  

These personal experiences are used to recreate that feeling through performance tools such as structure, tone, volume, and body language.  

For me, I often use anime and Yu-Gi-Oh. Yu-Gi-Oh is an anime television show based off of the Japanese comic books. The show focuses on Yugi and his group of friends as they battle using playing cards that come to life with monsters. Each season focuses on some scenario where Yugi needs to save the world by winning a tournament to defeat the evil guys.

To begin with here is the intro and theme song if you are unfamiliar.

I am a huge Yu-Gi-Oh fan. Yes, you read that right. I have seen every episode multiple times.  My parents will tell you about how I watched it and make jokes to this day about it. My friends will tell you of the random text messages they receive about      Yu-Gi-Oh.  

If there is a Yu-Gi-Oh meme, I will be using it.

I cannot tell you exactly why I like the show so much. But, I can tell you that the show makes me feel something every time I watch it.

Why it works

This is why Performative Speaking works. For me, I can draw on Yu-Gi-Oh, The West Wing, or 80s synthwave music. For another person, it could be Ernest Hemingway, Picasso, and Mozart. Performative Speaking allows the speaker to find their personal experience with art and culture that resonates with the emotion they want to create in the speech.

Personal stories and experiences make each of us unique. That unique experience is a powerful tool. If I can use anime as part of my personal experience that shapes my Performative Speaking, I guarantee that anybody has the experience to do the same. They just may not realize it.  


Infinite possibilities exist as examples.

These infinite possibilities are critical to the philosophy of Performative Speaking because authenticity makes a great speaker. If I do not believe what I am saying, I will fail. If I try to be somebody I am not, I will fail.

If I am true to myself, I can succeed.

Be fake and I will fail. Be real and I can succeed.

This authenticity is why Yu-Gi-Oh works for me. Yu-Gi-Oh creates feelings and moods in me when I watch. I know that I can use this when speaking to do the same to the audience.

The most effective way to use this authenticity with Performative Speaking includes three parts:

  1. Structure and Framing
  2. Theme Development
  3. Setting the Vibe

Structure and Framing Issues

I can recall specific scenes that gave me chills. Made me angry. Made me believe in more.  These feelings are powerful. As I write this, I am thinking about these scenes because they speak to me on such a core level.  

When something speaks to me on such a deep level, I know I will be successful. All I need to do is transfer that same feeling to the audience. This feeling gives me the insight into how best to frame the narrative I want to deliver.

One of the most difficult parts about creating a speech is how to frame it. Most people fall into the trap of creating a purely chronological speech because that is the easiest and most familiar route to take. If given the choice, these people would choose a better way to frame and structure the speech. They do not fail because they want to, but rather they lack the tools and framework necessary to achieve the goal.  

As a trial lawyer, I saw this repeatedly in trials. A lawyer would get up and just tell the facts from beginning to end to the jury and ask them to do something. Their idea of emotion came from yelling. That was the entire emotional appeal. Yell. Scream. Get angry.  

In most cases, the jury reacted as though they were under attack. They did not know the lawyer yelling at them. They did not choose to be a juror. They did not want to be there. Most of all, they did not want to be confronted with an angry lawyer that yelled.

Those lawyers needed a better way to create structure and emotional appeal.

Theme Development

The best way to create structure and emotional appeal is to use a theme. When most people think of themes they think of political slogans or the classic “Ich bin ein Berliner” by JFK in 1963 echoing the famous boast from ancient romans of civis romanus sum (I am a Roman Citizen). These are great examples. I have also found incredible themes from pop culture, television, and movies.

Some of these can be found in Yu-Gi-Oh. Examples include “Light versus darkness”, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”, and “the power of friendship.” Do not be afraid to find inspiration from sources that seem odd to other people. Most of the time the audience will have no idea where the theme came from, but they will remember it.

Setting the Vibe

A great theme gives structure to a speech and begins to frame the speech. This starts the journey of Performative Speaking but to complete the journey, the audience will need more. They need to feel the emotion or the mood intended.

Anime does this by using visuals, sound, and tone. This two-minute clip from the show’s second season does a great job demonstrating these concepts.

The music at the very beginning is serious but uplifting. As the internal dialogue occurs with Yugi, you can see the difference in height and tones for the two different personalities.

One of them speaks about the power of the card, while the other speaks about the heart of the cards. This rational versus emotional point of view is useful to draw upon in Performative Speaking. Which of these two approaches will create the emotion or mood desired?  

The music changes as soon as the card is drawn. The sky changes. Lightning strikes.

At that moment the focus shifts onto Yugi. He stands tall against a blue background in total control.

As Slifer the Sky Dragon is summoned, the music changes again.

Serious. Ancient. Powerful.

Yugi’s voice is forceful and deep. He does not scream but the force behind his words “To summon the almighty Slifer the Sky Dragon!” creates chills.

His opponent trembles in fear. Wind pushing him back. A bead of sweat flowing down his face.

Why is this such a great example of Performative Speaking?

The changes in music demonstrate a deliberate decision to influence the mood. The tone of voice demonstrates a deliberate decision to create emotion. The visual representation demonstrates a deliberate decision to set the vibe.

I understand these changes and choices when I watch them. Because of this, I have a clearer idea of what made me feel a certain way. By understanding that information, I can then use the performance tools available to influence an audience in the same way.

Performative Speaking Using Anime  

This is exactly what I did in that first felony trial.

“Yes, Your Honor.  I am ready.”

I stood tall. I stood confidently. I spoke firmly.

I delivered my thoughts as a prosecutor and advocate for justice.

Until I switched everything.  

I stood small. I stood scared. I spoke softly.  

I delivered the thoughts of a victim who had lost everything.

I showed the Judge rational and emotional.  

I showed the Judge light and darkness.

I made the Judge experience a feeling.  

The victims never have to worry again.

55 years in prison for the criminal.

The nightmare was over.

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Performative Speaking uses storytelling ideas that incorporate other forms of art, culture, media, and pop culture to create the mood, feeling, or vibe in the audience to convince them of a position.

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