Delivering sizzling speeches

A speaker should not only know his content but also gauge his audience before he addresses them.

A FRIEND of mine recently asked me to give her some advice on presenting a speech at a conference. She was to introduce the keynote speaker at the conference.

I asked her to jot down some ideas on paper and show them to me. She came back 20 minutes with the paper where she had scribbled: “A very good morning ladies and gentlemen …”

When I asked her if there was more to the speech apart from the introductory line, she shook her head saying there was none.

“If it was a presentation, I would know what to say … I could show some slides and talk the audience through the beginning, the middle and the end.”

But a speech isn’t a presentation. There are usually no powerpoint slides to fall back on which means that you, your words, and the way you deliver them are the focus of attention.

Most people who are asked to prepare speeches at short notice tend to start writing the script from the beginning to the end. Rather than waste your time writing the introduction which starts with “good morning ladies and gentlemen …” on a piece of paper, you should first set out your objectives.

Imagine that you are delivering the speech to introduce a keynote speaker (similar to what my friend had to say at the conference), and imagine that the conference is about the “The changing role of women in the Asian workplace”, what would you do?

What would you want your audience to know in your speech? What do you expect them to do and how do you expect them to feel and even react after your speech? Remember that you are introducing the keynote speaker.

In this case, do you want the audience to know the credentials of the speaker who is going to speak?

Would you want the audience to be prepared to listen attentively to the speaker?

Lastly, you would want the audience to feel confident in the ability of the person that they are about to listen to.

Once you have decided on your objectives, you need to brainstorm the content of the speech. This will stop you from trying to write the script from beginning to end.

In this case, you would need to get details of the possible content for your introduction to the keynote speaker. This may include: publications that he has written, his greatest achievements, words to describe the speaker or even some other details about his background.

When you brainstorm, you must not put the content of your speech in any order. In fact, you will notice that as you write the introduction for the keynote speaker, you can play around with the order of the content so as to add impact. Once you have done this, check that each of the points you have brainstormed is compatible with the objectives you have listed.

Creating impact

Great speeches use words to create impact. Here are a few tips to make your speeches sizzle.

Why not use an image to add flavour to your speech? Many great speeches use metaphors which repeat throughout the speech. Take this example. Although not known for his rhetorical genius, George W. Bush’s speech writers often used metaphors:

“… and as hope kindles hope, millions more will find it. By our efforts, we have lit a fire as well — a fire in the minds of men. It warms those who feel its power, it burns those who fight its progress, and one day this untamed fire of freedom will reach the darkest corners of our world.”

Here the metaphor of fire is used repeatedly to illustrate the point. Of course, you might not be delivering political speeches, but you can still use metaphor to spice up your speeches and give them more flavour.

Antithesis in a speech is where you deliberately put contrasting ideas together to add effect to your message usually in one clause.

For example:“They promised freedom and provided slavery”. This is a great way to grab attention and make your speech more memorable.

Repetition of a grammatical unit: the same word, phrase, sentence structure, or even paragraph structure is a popular stylistic tool used in speeches. Perhaps the most famous example of this is used in the I have a dream speech by Reverend Dr Martin Luther King Jr, the famed American civil rights leader in Washington DC.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day, even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

The repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of a line in a sentence of a speech can make your language more memorable.

by Alex Commins.

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