So, if all of these things are what make a bad speech, you would think that you need to have the opposite for at least a good speech. True. A good speech is one that has been prepared, practiced, the point(s) are clear, the audience is engaged, the speaker is confident and excited/passionate about the topic, you can hear them/they have volume and their tone is anything but monotone, and what the audience wants is clearly understood.
Now that we have clarified the characteristics of bad and good – how do you make it great? Nick Morgan, a contributor to Forbes.com and someone who is passionate about communications, especially public speaking, told of an experience where he had to write a speech for the then Governor of Virginia, Chuck Robb. The speech had to show that the Governor was in control of a situation when four death-row inmates had escaped from prison. It took Nick 12 drafts of the speech before his supervisor was even close to happy with it. From this experience, Nick came up with “5 Secrets of Success” for great speeches:
1. Great Speeches are primarily emotional, not logical
2. Small shifts in tone make an enormous difference to the audience, so sweat the details
3. A great speech has a clear voice speaking throughout
4. A great speech conveys one idea only, though it can have lots of supporting points
5. A great speech answers a great need
I believe that Nick's 5 points are right on for delivering a great speech. Consequently, I went searching for great speeches to see if 1) they had these 5 characteristics and 2) they had any other notable values.
Here are my personal favorite top 5 great speeches of all time:
1. Steve Jobs’ commencement speech to the 2005 Stanford University graduating class. From his eye opening introduction where he states, “I never graduated from college” to his statement of what he’s going to talk about “Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories. The first story is about connecting the dots….,” Jobs has captivated his audience. His point is clear “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish,” and each story illustrates this point. He is not overly passionate or excited. He is after all, Steve Jobs, and he has come to deliver an important message by authentically and powerfully sharing about his life. To watch Steve Jobs’ speech, click HERE.
2. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech delivered in 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C., was a long speech. Yet, it was incredibly powerful. As you listen, you get goose bumps and get swept up in the emotion. It’s full of poignant visuals, inspiring and uplifting you as you listen. King speaks loudly, emotionally, emphatically, passionately. His speech is delivered in total contrast to Jobs, yet both captivate. To listen to Martin Luther King’s speech, click HERE.
3. John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Speech in 1961 where he ended with “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” His pace is deliberate, emphatic, and passionate as well, Kennedy style. I love his next statement, “My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.” To listen to JFK’s speech, click HERE.
4. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address of 1863, although only about 3 minutes long, has remained as powerful now as it was then. Lincoln did more than just dedicate a cemetery to the fallen soldiers; he captured the entire mood of the nation and inspired them to take a stand for liberty and equality. To read Lincoln’s speech and hear Johnny Cash deliver it, click HERE.
5. Susan B. Anthony delivered a speech after she was arrested, tried and fined $100 for voting in the presidential election in 1872. As you read this short and powerful speech, you can hear the emotion and passion. Susan reportedly never paid the fine and she toured the country speaking on women’s right to vote, although it wasn’t until 1920 that women officially won that right in the U.S. Click HERE to read Susan’s short and compelling speech.
In each of these cases and for all great speeches, a need is addressed. The stronger the need, the more compelling the speech can be. One key is to paint the picture of the need first, identify the problem, the pain, the wrong that must be solved and why. Although, as in Steve Jobs’ speech, you can say up front what the speech is about and powerfully illustrate your main point with stories.
Great speeches are carefully prepared, practiced, and are delivered with emotion. The speaker feels what it is that they want to convey. If you want to inspire, you must be inspired. Whatever you want to cause with your audience, you must be it first. You will never inspire anyone if you are not inspired.
And finally, and most importantly, enjoy/believe in what you are doing. The way to connect with your audience and deliver a great speech is to enjoy the experience, enjoy being on the stage, enjoy being at the center, enjoy delivering your message and/or believe strongly in the importance of your message. Your enjoyment and belief will be transferred to the audience. Enjoying and believing what you are doing is authentic, compelling and the cornerstone of confidence, which is essential in delivering a great speech. Good luck!