4 things that make a speech great

Toastmasters International Competent Communication Manual

After a hiatus of 3 years I’ve started attending Toastmasters meetings again. It’s good to be back behind the lectern. It was a good time to go back because I’ve recently being reminded of why I joined Toastmasters. I first heard the Archbishop Desmond Tutu speak when I was at university. He was mesmerising and right there and then I decided to conquer my fear of speaking in front of an audience.

Four speeches have touched me in the past few weeks. Three I saw live, the other on TV. The important thing about crafting a speech is that it has to tell a story. These 4 speeches all told a story, each in a different way. And who doesn’t like reading or listening to stories? I certainly do. Below I highlight the 4 things that in my opinion make a speech great.

1. A speech has got to be personal 

In December, like many South Africans, I attended a memorial for Madiba, the one at the Nelson Mandela Centre for Memory in Houghton. The Archbishop was present and he gave a beautiful speech, from the heart, about Madiba. In his unique and inimitable way he weaved humour and poignant memories of Madiba through his natural gift of storytelling. He told us personal stories of him and Madiba, he involved the audience and made those personal memories also our personal memories.

2. A speech has got to inspire the audience (goosebumps) 

In December we also  had the official memorial for Madiba at the FNB stadium. I didn’t attend that one. I watched parts of it on TV, and dropped all that I was doing to see President Barak Obama deliver his speech, one that will surely go down as one of the great speeches in history. How fitting that it was at Madiba’s funeral. Parts of it gave me goosebumps and inspired me to aspire to more.  “And while I will always fall short of Madiba’s example, he makes me want to be better. He speaks to what is best inside us. After this great liberator is laid to rest; when we have returned to our cities and villages, and rejoined our daily routines, let us search then for his strength – for his largeness of spirit – somewhere inside ourselves.” Read the full speech here.

3. A speech has got to take us on a journey for a “call to action” – personal or otherwise

One of the advanced speeches I heard this week told a beautifully crafted story of a man who in order to overcome a poor childhood, became an insular adult. Too late he realised the importance of family and friends. What was great about this speech was that we were taken on a journey as each step of the story unfolded. Instinctively we knew how the story would end but we wanted to see how we would be led there.

4. A speech has got to be entertaining

I had the pleasure of evaluating only the second speech of a new Toastmaster. I was in awe as this speaker faced her fear of public speaking, bravely stood behind the lectern and promptly proceeded to have the audience in stitches with one of the funniest speeches I’ve heard in a while. We were taken on a roller-coaster ride of funniness, with her vivid word pictures I had a whole comedy movie playing in my mind. A speech doesn’t have to be funny to be entertaining, although it certainly helps. Experimenting with comedy is only one way to make a speech entertaining.

As you can see from the above points, one doesn’t have to be famous or a head of state to deliver a great speech. Just keep the above 4 points in mind and you’ll be fine. Or you can join Toastmasters.

I haven’t been asked or paid to write this post. I’m just a passionate Toastmaster whose life has been enriched by participating in the communication and leadership tracks it offers. Links to the sites of the clubs I attended:

Alberton Toastmasters club, Alberton 5031/74

Goldreef Toastmasters club, Glenvista 8850/74

Talk with Purpose Toastmasters club, Melrose Arch 2906099/74

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