TLDR: Al Pacino’s “Inch by Inch” speech from Any Given Sunday pushed the team towards unity and victory like few other speeches have. Pacino’s great message was made even better by the use of several literary devices including repetition, contrasts, and tricolons.
So What? Modern-day communicators can use the same elements to make their messages even more powerful and memorable.
It can be argued that Al Pacino’s “Inch by Inch” speech in the film Any Given Sunday is the best four minutes of the movie. It’s so good, in fact, that not only does it eclipse the film itself, but it has earned a place as one of the great sports speeches of any movie.
How does Pacino achieve this feat? Word by word, with a few well-known literary devices and speech tricks thrown in. There are definitely lessons that great communicators can learn to use for their own speeches, especially if they’re trying to get struggling teams to miraculously work together.
Ride the Roller Coaster
One thing the speech does masterfully is take its listeners on a roller coaster ride of emotions. Pacino starts by relating the ups and downs of being a football player on a team like the Sharks. Every one of the players has lost pieces of themselves to the game, so as their coach, he finally admits that he, too, has lost relationships, money, and quality of life to football.
Instead of bemoaning his losses, however, he uses those losses to urge the players to fight for every “inch” they need to win. He builds this theme to a crescendo and brings it back down to the level of team divisions, then up and down again until the team is pumped and ready to do the thing he asks, which is to be a united group and fight for the “inch” they need to win the game.
Being able to get your audience on the roller coaster with you isn’t easy, but if you can, it’ll motivate them to take the next step you want them to.
Create Tricolons to Make Words Memorable
Tricolons are groups of three similar phrases used together to create memorable images and drive home your point. The speech uses tricolons at least four times, each emphasizing something specific to motivate the team.
First, Pacino’s character Tony D’Amato describes what he lost to football: his money, his family, and his own self-respect. He then tells the team where they can find the inches they need to win “in every break of the game, every minute, every second.”
Third, he tells them to “fight” for the inches, to rip everyone around them to pieces, and to claw with their fingernails for the inches. Finally, he tells them that being a team is to go that inch together, to be someone who will sacrifice himself for the team, and to know others will do the same.
These tricolons strengthen the communication by fleshing it out and giving it support and evidence so it’ll be more memorable and convincing. Tricolons are powerful communication techniques in speeches and written communication alike.
Use Repetition to Bring Clarity and Unity
Pacino’s use of inches in his speech was a powerful unifier that created a visual in the players’ minds. Pacino wasn’t asking them to run a marathon; he was asking them to fight for an inch. They didn’t have to give themselves completely over to another person’s opposing viewpoint. They just had to move an inch closer so they could be unified.
They didn’t have to win by a mile; they only had to win by an inch. Pacino made the path to team unity clear. He also made the path to winning clear and achievable, as he put it into terms his team could understand and made it easy to do what he asked of them.
Use Contrasts to Define Terms
The speech by Pacino used easily-understandable contrasts to get his listeners to think along his terms. Losing was “hell,” but they could climb out of hell “inch by inch” and get to the light (winning). They could give their best efforts as part of living or they could lose (a form of dying).
These contrasts defined Pacino’s terms in unmistakable ways and left his team with little choice about what they needed to do (win, live, and be in the light). Using contrasts in this way makes your language more powerful and shows your audience the right path with clarity and purpose.
A Compelling Message
You’ve probably heard and seen many artfully constructed communications over your lifetime that fell flat for one simple reason: the message was not compelling. The “Inch by Inch” speech is still remembered today as it has a powerful message about achieving greatness and the worth of doing so.
Not only was its message applicable to that moment in the film, but it’s also inspired other people and teams to find those needed inches and fight for them one by one until they achieve success. It’s great to use techniques in your communication that emphasize your points and make them more memorable, but if the points themselves are not worth the time, they’ll fail to be remembered long enough for the receiver to take the action needed.
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