What Makes a Good Speech

We have all seen or heard a good speech. We remember some of the words. We leave the room – or our monitor – thinking or believing something. Why? What worked in that particular speech? It might not be as simple as you think. Most good speeches contain the following elements:

A solid structure. There’s an opening that grabs your attention within the first fifteen seconds. There’s some overview of what will be covered – with no more than three main points. Goodness, we’ve all seen the statistics on retention – people simply cannot remember more than 5-10% of what they hear in a speech. So stop trying to squeeze it all in. There’s the body – with your three main points – along with some wonderfully crafted stories to illustrate your points. And there’s a conclusion that ties a nice bow around it all and reminds people what you just said.

Storytelling. People like to listen to stories, and they can help illustrate important points. If possible, tell personal stories that include references to people, companies or organizations in the audience. Stories also make your points more memorable, which improves retention.

Power of three’s. People recall points better when they flow in three’s. Think of this recent speech excerpt, “I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors.” (Excerpt: NY Times transcript, President Obama inauguration address Jan. 2009)

Brief sentences. When people listen, they need to hear brief sentences that contain sharp, clear language. How do you achieve this? Edit. Then edit again. Then edit again.

Visual support that enhances, not distracts. People still use Power Point slides with bulleted sentences that repeat their exact points. There is a lot of research that shows us, this doesn’t work. Simply put, people read when you show them a slide with words on it. If they are reading, they can’t listen to what you’re saying. Rather, use pictures that enhance what you’re saying, or a slide with one powerful word that you want people to leave repeating or thinking about.

Begin with the end in mind. My clients know, I never begin a speech without asking, “What is your desired outcome for this speech? What do you want your audience to leave thinking about you or your organization? What do you want them leave doing?” The best speeches have a very specific end in mind.

A flexible opening and personal connection point. If you can do it, listen to the speakers who come before you on the agenda. With everyone’s busy schedules, this isn’t always possible. Nevertheless, doing so can help you deliver an opening that ties directly to what people have just heard, which gives you instant credibility and connection to the audience. If you can’t be present, incorporate something from the day’s news or something you heard from an audience member while on break.

Finally, great speakers speak confidently, calmly, and with conviction. These tips can help you deliver an effective speech that connects with your audience, drives home your messages, and advances your winning presence!

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