An opportunity to speak to a large crowd is too good to pass up. But just writing a good speech and memorizing it or reading it properly is not enough. You need to command attention, engage the crowd and demand action.
Reading or memorizing a speech usually results in a mechanical delivery… one word after the other with little meaning behind it. You sound bored, so your audience will be bored, too.
Think about how you speak when you talk off the cuff with a group of friends. You’re natural and enthusiastic and you can roll with the punches. You know your subject matter and you sound confident and trustworthy.
To avoid a dry performance, use a few notes. Once you’ve crafted your speech, break it into main parts. What is your central argument? It might look like this…
Why am I here, what is the problem?
What have others done to solve it?
Why isn’t that enough?
Why I can do a better job of solving it.
What I want you to do next.
Then you can trim that down to heading notes, such as…
For some of you, these six entries on a card can help you give your speech in the proper order and keep things organized. But if you have specific points you want to raise that you might not have committed to memory, you can expand each topic to make sure you cover everything.
Where I was born and raised.
Where I went to school, my military service, and my career.
This can be distilled down to “born, raised, school, military, career”
Our country is in crisis.
The debt is too high, employment is too low, regulations stifle jobs, our leaders break their promises.
This can be distilled to “crisis, debt, employment, regulations, promises.”
Continue on with your other sections.
If there are particular statistics or quotes you will be using, include them there, along with any special phrases you don’t already have committed to memory.
Talking from notes will allow you to be conversational, you can look around at the crowd as you speak, and people will be impressed with your command of the issues.
But good delivery is not your only challenge. You need to deal with the other party to your speech, your audience.
Have you ever thought about the phrase “pay attention?” It’s actually an unwritten contract between a speaker and his audience.
He agrees to offer them something of value – in this case, an interesting and well-delivered speech on an important topic – in exchange for the crowd “paying” with their attention. This means listening to what’s said, and not chatting with the people next to them, or checking their cell phones.
So make sure what you’re going to say is of value to the audience. Does it relate to their lives? Is it useful information that will help them?
You might tell them the benefit of listening to you. “I’m going to tell you how you can get even with career politicians who let you down.”
This is why you need to know your audience before you write your speech. You need to tailor your message to each group, even if your overall message/theme is used everywhere.
So you know your audience, you’ve crafted a good speech and you’ll be talking using notes. Once you get to the stage, don’t just start talking.
Take control of the crowd.
Wait for them to quiet down before you talk. Just stare at those who are still talking. Those who want to hear what you have to say will give them a nudge and tell them to quiet down so you can start. If background talking starts up again, stop what you’re saying and wait until it quiets down again. You’ll only have to do this once – as long as you continue to deliver value within your speech.
If you’re not sure of where your audience stands, feel free to start with some “show of hands” questions. “How many of you are mad as hell about how Washington spends your money?” Note: Always ask a question that will result in lots of hands raised. Not something like “How many of you are happy with Washington spending?” The common raising of hands unifies the audience and gives social validation to what you’re going to speak about.
Find areas where 80% of the crowd can agree. “How many of you believe in strong families?” “How many of you want to pass on a better America to your children?”
Now you have their attention, you’ve shown you’re interested in what your audience has to say, you’ve set a standard for listening discipline, and you’ve unified your audience.
There are two more things to do – make a personal emotional connection and make them remember you.
The good news is that there’s an easy way to do both – tell a story.
Humans are hard-wired to connect emotionally and remember things from stories. Facts are useful, and they can help solidify an important point in your speech, but facts don’t affect emotions and they are hard to remember.
So come up with a series of (hopefully true) stories that carry your message. If your big message is about wasteful spending, then come up with a story about how you felt when your family didn’t have enough money to pay their bills, and what you did to fix it. Or talk about what emotional things happened the day you decided to run for office. You could talk about the problems facing someone you met, or who worked for you.
Then explain why this story is important to you and what you plan to do about it.
You also want them to remember your name. If they don’t, they won’t know who to vote for or which website to visit. So mention your name at the beginning, middle and end. Make sure you say it slowly and clearly. You might need to add a trick to help them remember it better. Be creative and entertaining, but not silly. “My name is Charles Dunn, and I’m DONE with paying taxes that are too high!”
At the end of your speech, always make a call to action. They like you, they’ve made an emotional connection, you are coming across as credible, or even as an expert, so now they want to follow up with some action to help you. You have many options, but try to limit the number. You might ask them to volunteer to help your campaign by going over to the table at the front door, or make a donation, or visit your website, or vote for you in the upcoming election.
The rhythm of a speech.
Every speech has a rhythm or a flow. You might start out softly with very valuable information to quiet the audience. Or you might start out loud to energize everyone.
Applause is a very important part of a speech. It is the audience’s way to show they are getting value for the attention they’ve paid to you. It gives social affirmation – “the audience is clapping, so they must all agree.”
But you have to manage applause to get the best effect. You say an important line, and then you have to pause to wait for the applause. First of all, make sure your line is something that your audience is guaranteed to agree with and strikes a chord with them. Only use “affirmative applause lines.” Avoid lines like “The system is broken!” The crowd is confused – does their clapping mean they think the system is broken, or are they clapping FOR the system? Make it easy – “The system is broken… and we need to fix it!” Don’t talk over applause, people won’t be able to hear what you’re saying.
There’s also an unwritten contract between a speaker and his audience about applause. You give a subtle signal when you’re ready for them to clap. You might have a certain tone of voice when you finish the applause sentence, and then you might want to lift your head and look out at the audience.
One trick, never let applause die out before you start again, always start your next line while the applause is still around 60%.
Don’t use too many applause lines, sprinkle them throughout your speech at the most important points. You don’t want people to get tired, or respond in a luke warm manner.
Practice and refine!
Finally, practice your various questions, lines and arguments and refine them as you go. You can do this one on one at the event prior to your speech while you’re networking with the audience, or you can use each speech as practice for the next. Test your “what we have in common” questions and your applause lines. Also practice your arguments and analogies the same way. Find the ones that work the best. For example, if you have a medical background, you might say, “I see deficit spending just like a bleeding patient who comes to the Emergency Room. You don’t just ignore the bleeding, or put a bandaid on it, that won’t work. Instead you identify the source of the bleeding and stop it, even if it hurts or leaves a scar. Otherwise the patient will die.”
Work out good analogies that can be used to make your points in a creative, memorable way. Counter liberal views using common sense to point out the hypocrisy. “They say they want gun control, but they want their security guards to have guns, not your wife and kids.”
We will be posting clips of good speeches on this page. Hopefully one of them will be yours!