What Makes A Great Speech 2.0

We wrote about this topic a few years ago, and thought we’d look back and see if our tips remained strong. And in the past few years, we have written, watched, and listened to hundreds of different remarks. So we challenged ourselves … What worked well? What didn’t? Funny part is, our tips remain in tact despite different vehicles, venues, and speakers. The tried and true tips remain, so here is a very similar list to what we published in 2009!

Great speeches contain the following key elements:

  1. 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. The statistics on retention are startling. People simply cannot remember more than 5-10% of what they hear in a speech. (And, no, it doesn’t help the situation to have more slide support.) So don’t try to squeeze it all in. Write the body – with your three main points – as well as some personal stories to illustrate your points. Conclude by reminding your audience what you just told them. Primacy and recency are still drivers of success.
  2. Storytelling. From the time we are infants, we listen to stories. They come in the form of fairy tales, fables, or scripture. We are wired to learn morals and life lessons by the stories we are told. In speeches, it is very effective to weave in personal stories that include references to people, companies or organizations in the audience. Stories also make your points more memorable, which does improve that 5-10% retention.
  3. Rule of Three’s, which we often refer to as the Power of Three’s. In oration, this builds on the widely accepted notion that people remember points better in combination of threes. “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)
  4. Brief sentences. When people listen, they need to hear brief sentences that contain sharp, clear, pithy language. How do you achieve this? Edit. Then edit again. Then edit again. (Yes, that’s a rule of three.)
  5. Visuals that enhance, not distract. People still use Power Point slides with bulleted sentences that repeat their exact points or contain far too much text for people to read. This is problematic for two main reasons. First, if you show a slide with a lot of text, people will read it. This means they’re reading, and not listening to what you’re saying. We’re causing a competition of the senses. And second, it’s confusing. Pictures and graphics that are illustrations of your main points will truly enhance your speaking points. They will aid retention, and give people something on which to reflect after the speech has concluded.  Beyond graphics, also consider a slide with one powerful word that you want people to leave repeating or thinking about. Think … Hope. Trust. Future.
  6. Begin with the end in mind. I never begin writing a speech for a client 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, and they are written to achieve the desired outcome.
  7. A flexible opening and personal connection point. If you can do it, listen to the speakers who come before you on the agenda. This can help you deliver an opening that connects to what people have just heard. 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, leave no stone unturned in the area of logistics. Understand the audience profile, agenda, room (and stage) set-up, and speech support. We will write a separate piece on these areas of speech preparation because it warrants its own post. So, here, we’ll leave you with this … great speakers select a format that plays to their unique style. If you want to talk from a stool with notes in hand, but have the ability to roam the stage with a lavalier microphone … just ask! The format you select can send powerful messages to your audience about your personality.

These tips can help you deliver an effective speech that connects with your audience, drives home your messages, and advances your Winning Presence. Happy speaking!

Scroll to Top