Public speaking – secrets to good speeches

Effective presenters rely on a structured speech to help them tell the story.  

I am often asked to review draft speeches and I look for a hook, clear messages and a story line that is told in simple, clear language that the audience will understand. Our Presentation Skills  customised training includes input on speechwriting.

I tend to chop when I am editing a speech – it’s better to have fewer words and to time it right than try to pack a speech with too much. Any word or phrase that adds nothing but baggage should be out.

Here is a good example of the introduction to a speech I saw in 2012 at TEDx Brussels with Alan Green.


Can you edit this speech?

Here is the text to these first few minutes and then decide on which words or phrases you could chop out.

“Today we’re going to talk about a very powerful idea that can transform the lives of children around the world.

It’s an idea that’s simple, that’s easy to implement, and that costs little or nothing.

But it does require that we join together to accomplish it. But even that’s good news because we’re living in the participation age. We’re not just consuming culture—we’re creating it together.

And when it comes to medicine, participatory medicine, taking charge of our own health is fundamental to transforming healthcare. And participatory public health enables us to tackle the world’s biggest health problems together.

We can’t just rely on public institutions to get the job done, as important as they are, if we want to change huge things, fast. So today we’re going to talk about a global historic campaign called Tic Toc. It’s a participatory campaign. But first, we have to set the stage. There are a few things you need to know.”

The answer is…..

You would struggle to delete any words from this speech. I think this is the sign of a really well constructed narrative.

a. The hook

This speech also shows a great example of a ‘hook’ – ie “Today we are going to talk about a very powerful idea.”

b. The power of threes

We also have a example of triplets  – the rule of threes.

“It’s an idea that’s simple, that’s easy to implement, and that costs little or nothing.”

A point that you wish to emphasise with three elements lands in the brain and is easier to recall by the audience. It has always worked in advertising, Shakespeare and Greek tragedies.

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