Fundamentals of Impactful Speech

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Some say that President Obama’s inaugural address this year trumped the one he delivered four years ago, and perhaps any he has ever given as Commander-in-chief. I am a strong advocate of women’s and gay rights, and I teared up when the president boldly said:

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

Regardless of what you think of him, Obama is a powerful speaker. His skills were only amplified by the inauguration ceremony, which was held on the day when we celebrate the great civil rights leader and orator Martin Luther King, Jr. In this digital age, we talk about what makes a good blog post, viral video or paid advertisement, but we often disregard the importance of impactful verbal communication. Like memes, there is an intangible essence to what makes a powerful speech stick out and intrigue you to the point where you can’t help but share it. From presidential addresses to stories told generation after generation to live theater, the tradition of oral history harnesses the power to move the masses. It is a testament to the abilities of the human mind that through the spoken word you can form a movement, change the public’s perception and cement a legacy. It is the stuff that wise men, do gooders and evil doers are made of.

I competed in public speaking competitions during the years of my primary and secondary education. It was one of those skills, like learning a foreign language, that I am glad to have learned when I was younger. It is also one of those skills, like using a foreign language, that I should exercise more often as an adult. Have you ever stood in front of  a room and felt the energy of the crowd? Did you feel their disinterest or their engagement? Did you move them? Did they move you? Below are the fundamentals of impactful speech. Follow them and watch the video examples. Create, practice, and experience the power of the spoken word. And even better, try and apply these fundamentals to your everyday communication — even to your Tweets and Facebook posts.

Fundamentals of Impactful Speech

1. Captivate your audience. Before you’re able to fully engage your audience, you must respect them. Understand who you are talking to and push the envelope to keep them at the edge of their seats, but do not ever disrespect them. In Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address, he starts off talking about dropping out of college to some of the brightest and most well-educated young people in the world. Although it is common knowledge that Jobs is a genius perfectionist, the tone he took during this speech was one of reverence and humility with a message full of sentimental life lessons that led to his eventual success as this generation’s most significant innovator.

Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address:

2. Be relevant and add context. Similar to the idea of “knowing your audience,” telling a story and delivering a speech means tailoring its content to something that is relevant to the place, time and culture. Recently, I attended the Broadway hit, “The Book of Mormons.” Highly entertaining and downright crass, the play had moments that were a bit offensive even to a secular and progressive liberal like myself. Yet, the message they had: **SPOILER ALERT** “If you want converts, you must tailor the religion so that it is understandable and acceptable to the people of the region,” applies to this fundamental. Each community has unique problems and values that they face. If you are introducing new concepts, make sure to weave context into your communication.

Book of Mormons Performance at the Tony’s 2012:

3. Have a purpose. To move the masses, make sure you have a purpose. Why are you giving this speech? Is it to persuade, inform, elevate or empower? If it’s a combination, anchor your message to the greater purpose, then you can take risks in your delivery. Take for example the brilliant and courageous address at the 1992 Republican National Convention by Mary Fisher, a white, affluent and conservative woman who had contracted HIV from her husband. Fisher shared her story and pleaded with her party to shed prejudices and raise awareness for the disease. Fisher is the daughter of a prominent Republican multimillionaire, and in her speech gave parallels to what her father experienced as a non-Jew during the holocaust when some said, “I’m not a Jew, so why should I protest?” She also  likened herself to a black baby with HIV and a gay man with AIDS. The strong imagery in her speech gave it a profundity that crossed party lines while staying true to the key purpose of her speech — to appeal to the Republican party and show the compassion of President George W.H. and First Lady Barbara Bush, whom Fisher said supported her “to take a public stand” and “in place of judgement, show[ed]” affection…”

“A Whisper of AIDS” Address to the Republican National Convention by Mary Fisher:

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Arabella Santiago
Arabella is's Director of Marketing and Communications.
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