As long as man has engaged in politics, he has been confronted with the task of delivering political speeches. While we don’t know what that first political speech sounded like, we do know that some of history’s greatest leaders, from Julius Caesar, to Charlemagne, to Abraham Lincoln, have been renowned for their ability to stir a crowd’s emotions through the spoken word.
There is no surefire formula for great speeches. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address flew in the face of the conventional wisdom of his day, which said that great speeches were hours long. Yet his Address, which took less than five minutes to deliver, is regarded by many as the greatest speech ever on American soil. The effectiveness of a speech depends on many factors, including the mood of the crowd, the ability of the orator, the situation the crowd confronts and the topic of the speech.
It is extremely important that you prepare for your speech – don’t give in to the temptation to “just wing it.” You can prepare for your speech well in advance by:
1. Knowing Your Audience, Speaking Format and Time
Be sure that you know the particulars of your speech before you get there. There’s nothing worse than being prepared to speak for 10 minutes and arriving at a speech where the audience expects you to speak for an hour, or preparing a speech on senior citizen healthcare to deliver to a Boy Scout convention. Be prepared – know who you are talking to and what they care about, how long you will be speaking), and the speaking format involved. (Ask some basic questions: Is it just you, or is it a panel or roundtable? Will there be a question and answer period?).
2. Knowing Your Topic
Ask the group you are speaking to or the event coordinator what topic, if any, they want to hear about. Make sure you know what the topic of the event is so you can prepare your speech accordingly. Then, make sure your speech is well researched and relevant to that topic.
Whether this is the first time you’ve given the speech or you’ve given it a dozen times before, practice it before you give it. Be prepared for questions the audience may ask as well – don’t let them throw you off guard.
The goal of any political speech is persuasion – you want to bring the crowd around to your point of view, whether that means convincing them to vote for you or that the marginal tax rates in Anne Arundel County, MD are too high. To do this, you need to know your crowd and your topic, and be well practiced to ensure that you are able to drive your message home.
If you’re prepping for a debate, and not just a speech, then be sure to read The Best Ways to Prepare for a Political Debate.