Whether you are preparing for a wedding toast, for a live presentation in front of colleagues or you need to write a speech for an award or honor that you are expecting to receive, it's critical to learn the characteristics of an effective speech and how to write one yourself. The best way to do that is to pick a theme, stick with it and use anecdotes to prove your point.
What Makes a Good Speech?
Those who have heard a good speech remember it. However, it is very unlikely that they realize why they remember the speech. Experts explain that speechmaking is not a particularly effective form of communication. Because the structure of the speech is generally conversational, less of the speech is memorable because it doesn't necessarily contain new information.
Those who give a good speech make it look easy and effortless. A stiff speech that feels rehearsed or sounds like it was written by someone else is rarely effective or memorable in anything but a negative way.
What makes a speech good is a difficult question to answer. In some cases, it's humor. In others, it's a powerful call to action, and in other cases, it is simply the speaker's comfort, presence and energy that the audience finds infectious. However, whatever the case, good speeches have the same things in common. They contain a story that connects with their audience, and they have a strong beginning, a strong ending and a middle that doesn't drag on and on.
How Is a Good Speech Structured?
A strong speech contains a beginning, a middle and an end. Those are the three pieces of story structure, and they help make up the structure of a good speech as well. Experts warn that keeping the middle short is actually the key to a strong speech.
Begin with an attention-grabbing, compelling opening and use it as a story that will help to lay out the points you are hoping to make. The middle can reiterate your point briefly but without exhausting or belaboring the issue. The conclusion should be short and to the point.
What Are the Top Qualities of a Good Speech?
- A single theme. Research has proven that it is very difficult to remember a lot of detail when listening to a speech, so be sure to start with one main idea. What is the point of your speech? What do you want the audience to come away knowing, understanding or feeling? Start from there and then work backward.
- Use anecdotes. Rather than a laundry list of reasons why your point is true or significant, try to find a story or an anecdote that supports the theme you are trying to express. Stories are naturally engaging, and people tend to remember them better than exposition or lectures about the same topic.
- Conversational tone. Write your speech in the same voice in which you speak. In other words, don't get academic. Speeches read aloud sound far different than an essay or another written piece. This is something to which anyone who has had to listen to a long speech can attest. Write in short sentences the same way that you speak. Don't write a speech that will sound "read." Keep the vocabulary and sentence structure as close to your own natural conversation as possible.
Additional Qualities of a Good Speech
- Specific anecdotes or examples. Make sure that your examples and anecdotes are specific. If you're trying to prove a point or move an audience with emotion, be sure that any examples you provide that support your thesis or main point are specific and concrete. Vague descriptors or generalizations on the theme will only serve to make your speech feel gauzy and will take it out of reality. Specific anecdotes are central to good speaking.
- Humor. Use humor when and where appropriate. Of course, not every situation and speech is going to call for humor, but if you can present the information you are hoping to convey in the context of a humorous story or anecdote, you will have gone a long way toward creating a relatable and compelling speech that listeners remember long after you've given it.
- Eye Contact. Keep maintaining eye contact with various audience members. Don't look down at your notes or at the podium while you're speaking.
How Should a Good Speech Be Structured?
- A strong beginning. Make sure your speech has a great beginning. To start your speech with a statement or an opening that really grabs your audience is half the battle. Once you've figured out how to craft an excellent opening to your speech that hooks the audience's attention, you'll have nailed one of the most important characteristics of a great speech.
- A strong ending. Make sure that your ending not only sums up your speech but does so in a way that refers back to the opening of the speech and delivers the information to the audience in a way that prompts a call to action or an emotional response to where you've taken them since the speech started.
- Keep the middle short. Don't go on and on. Once you've written a draft of your script, go back and edit. If there's anything you can cut, do it. A shorter speech is a better speech in almost every single case. If you can make yours shorter and still preserve the meaning and the message, do it. The more finely edited your speech, the more memorable its strengths will be. A strong beginning with a strong ending and a short middle is the best speech structure.
Show Confidence When Speaking
There are a number of things that make all speakers good, and the first is confidence. Have confidence when you speak and not only confidence in your words but in your presence. Your body language is as important a part of your speech as your words. This is a key characteristic of an effective speech.
Not only do people listen better to people with confidence, but it has also been shown that people who speak with confidence are perceived as more authoritative, more competent, more trustworthy and more knowledgeable than a speaker who appears nervous or unsure.
Confidence is also the appearance of enjoying what you're doing. If the audience feels that the speaker is in charge of what he is saying and is comfortable and happy to be there, then the audience is more relaxed and more likely to stay focused on what they're hearing. A good way to seem happy to be there is to express excitement about the topic you're discussing. If you are excited about it, it won't be difficult to express it, and your excitement will be infectious to your audience.
Always Be Yourself
Be sure that you are being yourself. That can be difficult to do when you're convinced that people are judging you or that you need to take on another identity to be comfortable delivering your speech and be accepted, but the fact is that the best thing you can do when giving a speech is to be yourself, speak like yourself and deliver the words you have prepared with honesty and authenticity. This is one of the most important characteristics of an effective speech.
What Does "Key Attributes" Mean?
When people use the term "key attributes" in terms of a speech, they are referring to the aspects of the speech that made it memorable and that the speaker imparted to the crowd. If you are giving a speech at a funeral, the key attributes are going to be the memorable character traits of the deceased as well as an anecdote that proves the traits.
If you are trying to express that the deceased was empathetic and generous, these would be key attributes of your speech. Likewise, if your goal is to express the way that the groom has changed as a person since meeting the bride, the groom's character would be described as a key attribute of your speech.
In terms of a speaker, the key attributes of a good speaker are simply the qualities that they all share that are most important to make an effective speech. The key attributes of a good speaker are numerous, but they can be broken down into several categories regardless of the topic of the speech.
What Are the Key Attributes of a Good Speaker?
- No matter what your topic, your speech must be organized. It must begin, the beginning must lead to a middle and the middle must lead to an end. If you are not organized, your speech will appear haphazard and even lazy when, in fact, you are most likely just disorganized. Organizing your ideas can help you to gain clarity on the things you're discussing before you write, so you can be sure that your speech flows smoothly and isn't confusing to your audience.
- Being an engaging speaker means connecting with your audience. This is partially about body language, but it is also about the words you choose to communicate your point and the way that they connect with the audience. You can be engaging by speaking about something about which your audience will care. Put your topic in terms of a story or an anecdote that will be relatable to your audience and then speak to them with eye contact and authentic language.
- Flexibility is one of the key characteristics of an effective speaker. Things don't always go as planned, and even the best-prepared speeches can be upstaged or upset by unexpected conditions. By letting the audience know that you are prepared to handle a setback, you will be able to gain both their empathy and their trust.
Why Do People Give Speeches?
Personal speeches like wedding toasts, funeral eulogies and award-acceptance speeches tend to center around emotions. These speeches are considered an act of respect, and by giving one, the speaker is acknowledging that this event deserves to be commemorated even if she is uncomfortable being a public speaker to begin with.
More general speeches like graduation keynote addresses, welcome speeches at a conference or presentations to colleagues are less focused on emotion and more focused on communicating information and setting an agenda. Guests at a conference may receive a speech that highlights the reasons for their gathering and what they hope to accomplish over the course of the conference. Graduation addresses are about celebrating the class's achievements and also about what their education means and how they should think about the future.
Political speeches, such as those given by politicians or activists, are generally intended to arouse passion in citizens by taking an issue that is seemingly impersonal, such as clean water access or a dilapidated playground, and making it a personal issue that will incite action on the part of the listening audience.
Ashley Friedman is a freelance writer with experience writing about education for a variety of organizations and educational institutions as well as online media sites. She has written for Pearson Education, The University of Miami, The New York City Teaching Fellows, New Visions for Public Schools, and a number of independent secondary schools. She lives in Los Angeles.