Elements of a great speech

1. you have a point and you make it (see Start at the end)

2. you know your audience and you meet their needs – use words they use, tell stories they can tell, pause when they need you to pause and give them what they came for.

3. you have a story and you tell it – use the basic narrative tools of: characters, actions, and time to draw people in, create tension, sustain tension and  resolve tension.

4. you work your humour and your personality into the speech the same way you work them into a conversation with your brother, naturally

5. you use rhythm like you aren’t afraid of it

6. you stand and deliver – no apologies, no second thoughtsPicture 2

Watch the simple 5 minute story that connected Barack Obama to millions of people and you will see how he has done all of the above.

A great speech is:

60% knowing what needs to be said and knowing the needs of the people who are going to be there to hear it

30% writing, so that what needs to be said is right there on the page

10% getting what’s on your mind, and on the page into people’s hearts

= 100% lasting impression

It could easily take 20 hours to write a 20 minute speech, or 2 hours to write a 2 minute speech. The question is how long a life does the speech have once it has left your lips.

Colin Moorhouse, taught the speech writing course I took last year.  When I start writing, I refer back to his 5 elements of engagement and I ask myself these 5 things:

  • event: why are you speaking? what are the expectations of the crowd? who is in the room? what do they need?
  • story: what will connect dots and connect hearts?
  • language: how can this be said, so that it resonates with the listener, and falls easily off the lips of the speaker
  • humour: Colin’s kind of funny, so I think about the things I learned when he was being funny and I think about where humour could be used to best effect.
  • oratory: what is the speaker’s natural rhythm, personality, how comfortable will s/he be? How can I approach the speech to make it easy for that speaker to deliver?

I had the pleasure of co-writing speeches for a candidate in this past election. I’m not going to pretend we wrote the Case for Confederation but it was remarkably satisfying to figure out what her constituents needed from her, and then to hear her deliver it. The experience moved speech writing back up towards the top of writing pleasures for me.

What are you favorite speeches? Share. Inspire. Send links.

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