Speaking Like a Pro: Making an Effective Speech
Public speaking is an essential part of diplomatic activity. A diplomat should know how to reach out to the audience, deliver a speech, chair a meeting, or address the press. An experienced diplomat knows how to tailor a speech to the audience’s needs and interests, which words to use and which would best be avoided.
Achieving remarkable results in public speaking may seem an unattainable goal, but it is indeed far from that. With a little bit of luck, or rather some useful tips and regular practice, anyone can master oratory.
Here are some tips on how to make an effective speech:
- Think of the target audience and tailor-make your speech according to their age, professions, or interests.
- Be considerate and make your speech short enough so as to hold the audience’s attention, and interesting enough so as to hold it till the very end.
- “A good speech should be like a woman’s skirt; long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.” Winston Churchill
- Write a speech, making use of the oratory techniques listed below. You can see the striking difference between the draft speech and the edited one. Take your time to write and edit.
- “All good public speaking is based on good private thinking” Scott Bercun
- Start your speech strong! If you make an effective introduction, the chances are the audience will stay with you till the end. You can open the speech with
- a quote, e.g. “Give me liberty or give me death!” Patrick Henry
- a rhetorical question, which can be thought-provoking or startling, e.g. “Why should we care about others?”
- an anecdote, e.g. “On my way to work this morning…” or “My phone rang. It was…”, etc.
- an example
- a visual prompt, such as an object, e.g.a toy gun to open a speech on gun control, or a picture, or a slide.
- Involve the audience. This invites partnership and develops a sense of togetherness, e.g. “Imagine…”, “Let’s step back in time…”,etc.
- Invent a powerful ending. It is the last words that linger and leave the audience thinking. Choose one of the following ideas of a close:
- use the title of your speech to close it. In this case you will need to think of the close at the very beginning, and only then write the body of the speech;
- make a circular close by restating the thesis. Use the classical essay structure: “Tell them what you’re going to say — say it — tell them what you have just said”
- make an invitation to action, e.g. “We’ve heard what we have to do. We’ve seen what we need to do. Now is the time to do it and together we can. Do it!»
- Record yourself and listen to the recording. This will help you understand when to pause and for how long, how to intone properly.
- Practice the speech beforehand in an empty room or in front of your friend/your parents/your dog/ a mirror, etc.
- Blindly follow the ready-made speech text without considering the interests or the tastes of the people listening to you.
- Keep it too long! (The ninth US President, William Henry Harrison, is known for the longest inaugural address ever. He spoke in front of the audience in the cold wind for more than two hours, developed pneumonia and died soon after).
- Use dull, bland language: the words good, bad, interesting, and very are taboos.
- Start by
- playing down the importance of your message, “I don’t know if this’ll be of any interest” or “The subject might not interest some of you…”
- telling a story or a joke that doesn’t relate to the subject, just for the sake of it
- a very long introduction (if the whole of your speech is to fit within 10 minutes, introduction should take 1-2).
- General truth presented in a general way, e.g. “Most people drive too fast.”
- Be afraid to sound too personal. People are empathetic creatures.
- Finish off by saying “That’s all’, “This is all I wanted to say…”, etc.
- Be afraid to forget something and to improvise! Remember that the audience do not judge you as you do yourself.
- Read out from your notes! This is a crime against oratory.
Details always matter, and making a speech is no exception. There are a number of techniques which will help you come up with a great speech. They can be divided into two major groups: the ones that you use while writing a speech and the ones that you use while delivering it. What these techniques have in common is that they are all aimed at making a speech emotional, touching, and powerful.
While writing a speech you can make use of the following oratory techniques:
• EMOTIVE, STRONG LANGUAGE aimed at evoking emotional response to the subject is more than welcome in speeches. e.g. “One hundred years later the life of the Negro is still badly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.” (Martin Luther King)
• LIST OF THREE is widely used as an oratory technique as it has long been proven that the rule of three affects our perception making us notice and memorise things much better when they are grouped in threes. It is a combination of brevity and rhythm that works wonders. Lists of three can be found in advertising slogans, speeches of famous politicians, e.g. “reuse, reduce, recycle”, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. This is one of the oratory techniques that you should learn, practise and master.
• CONTRASTIVE PAIR contains two parts which are in opposition, e.g. “You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.” Richard Branson, “You’re either with us, or against us.”
• PARALLELISM is the use of the components of a sentence that are grammatically the same or similar. This adds balance and rhythm to a speech, e.g. “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills…” (Winston Churchill)
• ALLITERATION is a sequence of words that start with the same consonant, which gives an utterance a poetic flow, e.g. “And our task today is to take the next steps in preparing Britain for a global future.” (Philip Hammond). Better use in moderation and avoid forced alliteration just for the sake of it, as is the case in the following example “nattering nabobs of negativism; pusillanimous pussyfoots; hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history…” (former US Vice President Spiro Agnew)
• REPETITION is using the same word or phrase or pattern in multiple sentences. It adds rhythm and a poetic touch to your speech, e.g. “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicks ands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.” (Martin Luther King)
• METAPHOR is a feature of figurative language that directly refers to one thing by mentioning another. It is a subtle and artistic form of comparison, which helps create an image of what the speaker is talking about. e.g. One hundred years later the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.”
• SIMILE is another creative form of comparison that includes the words as and like. Be careful — there are many fixed English idiomatic similes that have different Russian equivalents, e.g. as hungry as a hunter (голодный как волк), as like as two peas (похожи как две капли воды), as blind as a bat (слепой как крот), etc.
• PERSONAL PRONOUNS are preferred to impersonal ones. Use I, you, we, our, us. It creates a sense of togetherness and motivates people, e.g. “We are gathered here today…”, “I have a dream…”, “Your idea is a bad one, your idea is wrong. You don’t know how or why yet, but until you put the idea out there and see it collide with the real world, you won’t know what direction to go.” (Mark Randolph, Netflix co-founder)
• RHETORICAL QUESTIONS get the audience to think about the subject of your speech and help them arrive at conclusions, e.g. “What about the rat race in the first place? Is it worthwhile? Or are you just buying into someone else’s definition of success? Only you can decide that, and you’ll have to decide it over and over and over. But if you think it’s a rat race, before you drop out, take a deep breath. Maybe you picked the wrong job. Try again. And then try again.” (Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook CEO)
• RHYME, when used in moderation, can make your speech more memorable. You can choose to rhyme the main message and make into a slogan for example, e.g. “‘Screw it, let’s do it’ approach to new projects.” (Richard Branson, Virgin Group founder); “This isn’t job done; it is job begun.” (David Cameron)
• HUMOUR can easily break the ice and work wonders. The audience that seemed distant and indifferent becomes open and welcoming. This can only be achieved provided the jokes are appropriate. If you see that your jokes fall flat, try the other techniques listed above. “The first thing I would like to say is ‘thank you.’ Not only has Harvard given me an extraordinary honor, but the weeks of fear and nausea I have endured at the thought of giving this commencement address have made me lose weight. A win-win situation!”, “Delivering a commencement address is a great responsibility; or so I thought until I cast my mind back to my own graduation. The commencement speaker that day was the distinguished British philosopher, Baroness Mary Warnock. Reflecting on her speech has helped me enormously in writing this one, because it turns out that I can’t remember a single word she said. This liberating discovery enables me to proceed without any fear that I might inadvertently influence you to abandon promising careers in business, the law or politics for the giddy delights of becoming a gay wizard.” (Joanne Rowling, Harvard commencement speech)
It is not only words that add to your speech colour and life. Certain grammar structures can also do the trick. Theyaim at emphasizingparticular words in a sentence.
• INVERSION or sentences with the reversed word order, e.g.Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” (Winston Churchill)
• CLEFT SENTENCES e.g.“And yet, it’s only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn” (Barack Obama)
“What General Weygand has called the Battle of France is over… the Battle of Britain is about to begin.” (Winston Churchill)
Body Language and Intonation
Not only does it matter what you say in your speech, but also HOW you say it. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. From the very first glance the audience will be making assumptions about your confidence, credibility, common sense. While delivering a speech pay attention to the following
• BODY LANGUAGE, or posture and gestures.
− Stand up straight
− Feel free to move around the stage (if you wish)
Look at the people in the room. You don’t have to establish eye-contact with each and every listener though. Never read from your notes unless you want your speech to be a trigger to sleep.
− Emphasize focus words.
− Make impressive pauses.
− Don’t forget to breathe.
− Speak clearly and confidently.