Speech Writer | How to Work with a Speech Writer to Get the Best Results

As a professional speech writer, I am often asked, “How can you write a speech for other people?” and “How can you possibly know what to write for a person you don’t know very well?”

The simple answer is that a speech writer doesn’t sit down and spontaneously write a speech once given the speech writing project.  A professional speech writer needs to follow a step-by-step process to create an effective speech.

Steps a Speech Writer Can Take to Create a Speech

1. The speech writer will need to know the objectives of the speech. What is the speaker trying to achieve? What is the main message of the speech? This information can be conveyed through a written brief provided or by interviewing the speaker or others involved. Any relevant background documents should be supplied to the speech writer at this stage.

2. The writer should gain an understanding of who will be in the audience. This includes their connection to the speaker, their backgrounds and education levels, personal characteristics (if this can be generalised) and knowledge of the subject. For example, this will help the speech writer determine the type of language to use and whether key terms and concepts need to be explained.

3. It will help the speechwriter to know the context of the speech and the venue where it will be delivered. The event and venue can influence the way a speech is written. For instance, the venue might be connected with the theme of the speech and it could be appropriate to mention the venue during the speech.

4. Once the speechwriter has a brief and the background material, and knows about the audience, it’s time to interview the speaker. This is the best way to learn about the speaker’s personality and ideas on the subject. The speaker might have a personal story that reinforces the message, and the  speech writer can gain these insights is by interviewing the speaker in person or over the phone. Alternatively, if the speaker is too busy for the interview, the speech writer can submit questions for a written response.

(I have written speeches for busy executives and politicians based only on the brief and background documents. I feel these speeches were not as effective as they could have been because I did not have the personal insights, ideas and stories that can only be gained from conducting an interview. )

5. Once the writer has all this information, it’s time to start writing. After the first draft is complete, the redrafting process begins. To help with this process, the speech writer can read the speech out loud and rewrite anything that seems awkward to deliver or doesn’t sound natural.

6. When the  speechwriter is satisfied with the draft, it can be submitted to the speaker. After reviewing the draft, the speaker can make notes or discuss the changes required. The speech writer will use the feedback provided to create the final draft.

A professional speech writer does not sit down and dream up content for a speaker. As shown, it takes thorough research, clear communication and rigorous thinking to create a speech that fits the speaker, conveys the message and pleases the audience.

Michael Gladkoff

Note: speech writer can also be spelled speechwriter.

Speech Writing – 10 Tips for More Effective Speech Writing

Speech writing can be much easier when you know what’s needed for an effective speech. There isn’t one formula that will fit each speech writing project, but the following tips will give you ideas on what to do the next time you need to write a speech to be given in a business or professional environment.

Shows a business man at a desk while speech writing.

Speech Writing Tip Number 1 — Create a Clear and Simple Message

Before you begin your speech writing project, define your message and stick to it.  Don’t try to make too many points during your speech. Attempting to cover too much ground in a short time will confuse your audience.  If you are speaking for ten minutes, for example, you will have enough time to convey one message.  Summarise this message in one sentence and keep it in front of you while writing your speech.

Speech Writing Tip Number 2 – Know Your Audience and Write for Them

The type of audience you’re addressing will determine what you say and how you say it. For example, if writing your speech on a technical subject, you will have to define your terms and explain more if the audience members are not experts in the field. If they know the subject, you won’t have to explain the concepts. If you have both groups in the audience, you might say something like, “For those of you who don’t know…”, then explain it to them.  Sometimes you won’t know the level of understanding of your listeners, so you will need to ask questions and adjust your speech accordingly.

Speech Writing Tip Number 3 — Write the Way You Usually Speak

A speech should not be written like an article, essay or report. For example, most people use contractions (I’ll, we’ll, can’t, he’s, we’re, it’s) when they speak — so write your speech this way.  This applies to the types of terms you use. Instead of however, write but. In place of therefore, write so.  Copywriters call this conversational tone, and it’s important to maintain this tone in your speech writing.

Speech Writing Tip Number 4 — Create a Connection with Your Audience

If you’re speaking to an unfamiliar group, develop ways to connect with them. If you were speaking to a community group, for example, you would want to find out who they are, what they do and what they believe. Then use this knowledge to create a connection between the group and you or your message. For example, you could mention how the group’s values are similar to those of your organisation.  It will help if the group you are addressing has a website or other background information.

Once when we were writing a speech for a business that was sponsoring an arts organisation, we were finding it challenging to connect to the two organisations. After doing some research, we found that both organisations had been established in the same year. This commonality helped to connect the speaker to the audience at the beginning of the speech.

Speech Writing Tip Number 5 – Use Stories to Make Your Point

From early childhood we develop an appreciation for stories and the ideas they communicate. When you use stories in your speech writing, you are conveying your message in an entertaining and memorable way. For example, a CEO speaking about the need for change at his organisation can tell a story about a company that wasn’t able to change and failed as a result. On the positive side, the business leader could tell a story about a business that succeeded because it was able to change.  Plenty of resource material is available if you are willing to spend some time researching. Personal stories are often the best if they are relevant to what you are speaking about, so it’s a good idea to write down the interesting stories you hear or experience.  For more information on using stories in your speech writing, go to Speech Writing: How to Create Impact With Stories.

Speech Writing Tip Number 6 – Use Quotations in Your Speech Writing to Support Your Ideas

Including a few quotations from authorities and experts gives support to your message. By adding quotations you show that other people agree with your idea. For more information on using quotations in your speech writing, go to Speech Writing: How to Use Quotations in Speeches and Presentations.

Speech Writing Tip Number 7  – Use Facts, Figures and Statistics when Appropriate

A well-written speech will aim for a balance of emotion and logic. Using facts, figures and statistics from reputable sources will support your message with a logical foundation. Be careful not to overload your speech or presentation with too much information in a short time. Doing so will overwhelm the audience and lessen the effectiveness of your speech or presentation.

Speech Writing Tip Number 8 — Use Humour to Help Your Audience Relax and Enjoy Your Speech

Humour does not necessarily mean telling jokes. If you are not the type of person who enjoys telling jokes to your family and friends, don’t try telling jokes in your speeches.  It’s best to use relevant humorous stories that you have experienced or heard. If you can’t think of any of these, use a humorous quote on the subject. For example, if you are speaking about computers and want to add some humour, you can Google “humorous computer quotes” and find many sites with funny quotes about computers that you can use when writing your speech.  Avoid humour that might be offensive to any listeners. An accomplished  motivational speaker once said, “If in doubt, leave it out.”

Speech Writing Tip Number  9 — End with a Strong Conclusion that Reinforces Your Message

Your speech conclusion is a crucial time when you can make a final impact on your audience. When writing your speech conclusion, ask yourself, “What do I want my listeners to take away or do as a result of my speech?”  Write your conclusion based on your answer. Some speech writers even suggest writing the conclusion first because it sums up the message you want to deliver and will help you focus on the key message when writing the opening and body of the speech. For ideas on writing a speech conclusion, go to Speech Writing: Seven Ways to Conclude a Speech for Maximum Impact.

Speech Writing Tip Number 10  — Edit Your Speech to Make it More Clear and Concise

When speech writing, you will have to go through several drafts to improve your speech. If you have a limited time to speak, you will want to limit your speech to between 100 and 150 words per minute (depending on how quickly you speak). Cut out anything that doesn’t support your message. Read your speech aloud and rewrite sentences that might be ambiguous, too complex or difficult to articulate. Readability scales, such as Flesch-Reading Ease, can be a useful tool to simplify your speech writing. For more information on readability, go to Editing Your Writing to Make it More Readable.

Michael Gladkoff

Speech Writing — How to Empower Your Speeches and Presentations with Quotations

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.” Emerson’s quotation sounds humorous but his advice should not be applied to speech writing. When used effectively, quotations can add variety and credibility to your speeches and presentations.

In this article, we will look at the reasons for using quotations in your speeches and presentations, and provide a few examples of how to use them most effectively.

When you are speaking to persuade an audience — whether to buy a product or service, win them over to your way of thinking, or influence their beliefs about your organisation — there are many speech writing tools you can use to bolster your case. These include facts, statistics, stories and quotations. They all bring an external element that supports your proposition — it’s not only you who is saying this, but another person. Generally, the person you quote should be a respected authority in their field.

In How Aristotle Can Help You with Your Business Writing and Speaking we looked at logic, emotion and authority as essential elements of persuasion. While facts and statistics support the logical element of an argument, and stories bring in an emotional element, quotations add credibility. When you quote an authority — not connected to you or your business — you add the person’s credibility and standing to your case.

In the workshops and presentations we give about business writing and speech writing, for example, we use quotations from experts (past and present) to support our case for simple and uncluttered writing.

“Every word that is unnecessary only pours over the side of a brimming mind.” — Cicero

“Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific term or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.” — George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

“Executives and managers at every level are prisoners of the notion that a simple style reflects a simple mind. Actually a simple style is the result of hard work and hard thinking; a muddled style reflects a muddled thinker or a person too dumb or too lazy to organize his thoughts.” — William Zinsser, On Writing Well

By using these quotations, we bring outside confirmation to the idea that simple writing is best.

In a business context, the need for change is a common speech topic. If you were writing a speech about the need and importance of change, you could use quotations such as:

“Everybody has accepted by now that change is unavoidable. But that still implies that change is like death and taxes it should be postponed as long as possible and no change would be vastly preferable. But in a period of upheaval, such as the one we are living in, change is the norm.” — Peter F. Drucker

“Change before you have to.” — Jack Welch

“Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” — John F. Kennedy

In this situation, the right quotation (or quotations) for your speech or presentation would depend on the specific message you want to convey about change. Many quotations websites can be searched by subject, keyword or author. Finding the appropriate quotation can take some time, but it’s well worth the effort.

As with business speeches, quotations can add depth and credibility to motivational speeches. Earl Nightingale was a master at using quotations in his motivational audio programs. He would often present many quotations on a single subject to enhance his message and make it more convincing. The following is an extract from The Strangest Secret, one of his best-selling programs.

This is The Strangest Secret! Now, why do I say it’s strange, and why do I call it a secret? Actually, it isn’t a secret at all. It was first promulgated by some of the earliest wise men, and it appears again and again throughout the Bible. But very few people have learned it or understand it. That’s why it’s strange, and why for some equally strange reason it virtually remains a secret.

Marcus Aurelius, the great Roman Emperor, said: “A man’s life is what his thoughts make of it.” Disraeli said this: “Everything comes if a man will only wait … a human being with a settled purpose must accomplish it, and nothing can resist a will that will stake even existence for its fulfilment.”

William James said: “We need only in cold blood act as if the thing in question were real, and it will become infallibly real by growing into such a connection with our life that it will become real. It will become so knit with habit and emotion that our interests in it will be those which characterize belief.” He continues, “…only you must, then, really wish these things, and wish them exclusively, and not wish at the same time a hundred other incompatible things just as strongly.”

My old friend Dr. Norman Vincent Peale put it this way: “If you think in negative terms, you will get negative results. If you think in positive terms, you will achieve positive results.”

George Bernard Shaw said: “People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, make them.”

Well, it’s pretty apparent, isn’t it? We become what we think about.

The number of quotations used in the example might seem a bit excessive. But when you listen the recording of this motivational talk, it seems natural. By quoting so many notable figures throughout history, Earl Nightingale increases the strength and credibility of his message.

So the next time you need to write a speech or create a presentation, remember the power of quotations.

Writing Motivational Speeches — How to Create Impact with Stories

Motivational speeches persuade audiences to take particular course of action or adopt a behaviour, usually in the area of personal development and performance.

When writing motivational speeches, stories can be powerful tools that make your message more credible and memorable for several reasons.



motivational speeches


Why use stories in motivational speeches?

Stories are an indirect way to show your audience that taking action is the right thing to do. People love to listen to a good story. By using relevant stories in your motivational speeches and presentations, you bring your message into reality and give it an emotional element. If you simply tell your listeners to take an action without a good story to support it, you won’t be as effective in motivating them.

How professional motivational speakers use stories and quotations in their motivational speeches

We’ll now look at a few examples to see how well-known writers have used stories and quotations to motivate their audiences.

In ‘Destiny in Balance’ from Lead the Field, Earl Nightingale uses stories to support his message.

One morning, I was having breakfast in a restaurant in Monterey, California–one of the most naturally beautiful places in the world. Suddenly, I was aware of the young couple sitting in the booth next to mine—they couldn’t have been more than 25 years old. It was obvious that they were very unhappy. The young man was saying: “Well, I’ve tried everywhere, but nobody wants to give me a job. I guess we’ll have to go back home.”

It was apparent from their attitudes that they wanted to live on the Monterey Peninsula, but they were almost out of money and unable to find work. But he had said, “Nobody wants to give me a job.” He wanted someone to give him something—in this case a job.

What might have happened if he had turned the whole idea around? What if he said, instead, “What do I know how to do that will serve some of the people of this beautiful part of the world?” Or, “How can I, or we, be of value to this community?

“The people here will be happy to supply us with the living we need if we can think of some way to serve them.” If we can think of some way to serve them. “What do they want or need or want that we can supply. Do they need a handyman, a first-class housekeeper, or both? Can we wash and wax cars right in their driveways? Can we detail their cars so they look like showroom display models? Let’s buy a pad of paper and a ballpoint pen and start making a list of all the things we can do to earn a living here. It will give us time to of other ways, more profitable ways. But that wash-and-wax idea might grow into quite a service for the community. And let’s not stop there. Let’s think of some more ways we can start right here to be of service to the people who live here.”

Right then and there in the restaurant, instead of being depressed and considering themselves failures, they could have come up with a dozen or so ways in which they could have remained on the Monterey Peninsula and built a fine business for themselves. They didn’t need a job: they needed to think. But they had never thought before. It was as foreign to them as speaking Urdu.

There they were: two fine, bright, good-looking young people with two fine minds. A world of opportunity was beckoning to them, and they were going to go back home. No one had ever told them about the gold mines they carried between their ears.

Do you know how many people would have reacted in the same way these young people reacted? Most of the people in the United States—or any other country, for that matter. People will do anything in the world—even turn to crime—before they will think.

The motivational talk is about the importance of service and thinking of ways to serve others. The story, which makes up a small part of the talk, reinforces this key point by bringing it into reality.  (You can listen to audio samples from this excellent motivational program here).

Stories are also an important ingredient in motivational books and articles. In the motivational classic Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill uses the following story to show the importance of persistence.

Three Feet from Gold

One of the most common causes of failure is the habit of quitting when one is overtaken by temporary defeat. Every person is guilty of this mistake at one time or another. An uncle of R. U. Darby was caught by the “gold fever” in the gold rush days, and went west to DIG AND GROW RICH. He had never heard that more gold has been mined from the brains of men than has ever been taken from the earth. He staked a claim and went to work with pick and shovel. The going was hard, but his lust for gold was definite.

After weeks of labor, he was rewarded by the discovery of the shining ore. He needed machinery to bring the ore to the surface. Quietly, he covered up the mine, retraced his footsteps to his home in Williamsburg, Maryland, told his relatives and a few neighbors of the “strike.” They got together money for the needed machinery, had it shipped. The uncle and Darby went back to work the mine.

The first car of ore was mined, and shipped to a smelter. The returns proved they had one of the richest mines in Colorado! A few more cars of that ore would clear the debts. Then would come the big killing in profits.

Down went the drills! Up went the hopes of Darby and Uncle! Then something happened! The vein of gold ore disappeared! They had come to the end of the rainbow, and the pot of gold was no longer there! They drilled on, desperately trying to pick up the vein again-all to no avail.

Finally, they decided to QUIT. They sold the machinery to a junk man for a few hundred dollars, and took the train back home. Some “junk” men are dumb, but not this one! He called in a mining engineer to look at the mine and do a little calculating. The engineer advised that the project had failed, because the owners were not familiar with “fault lines.” His calculations showed that the vein would be found JUST THREE FEET FROM WHERE THE DARBYS HAD STOPPED DRILLING! That is exactly where it was found!

The “Junk” man took millions of dollars in ore from the mine, because he knew enough to seek expert counsel before giving up. Most of the money which went into the machinery was procured through the efforts of R. U. Darby, who was then a very young man. The money came from his relatives and neighbors, because of their faith in him. He paid back every dollar of it, although he was years in doing so. Long afterward, Mr. Darby recouped his loss many times over, when he made the discovery that DESIRE can be transmuted into gold. The discovery came after he went into the business of selling life insurance.

Remembering that he lost a huge fortune, because he STOPPED three feet from gold, Darby profited by the experience in his chosen work, by the simple method of saying to himself, “I stopped three feet from gold, but I will never stop because men say ‘no’ when I ask them to buy insurance.”

Darby is one of a small group of fewer than fifty men who sell more than a million dollars in life insurance annually. He owes his “stickability” to the lesson he learned from his “quitability” in the gold mining business.

Where do you get stories for your motivational speeches?

In the first example, Earl Nightingale overheard the couple complaining that they had failed in their goal to live in Monterey, California.  In Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill had heard Three Feet from Gold from a relative of the man who stopped three feet from gold. The best stories to use in motivational speeches are often the ones we hear and experience. The key is to be aware of what’s going on around you and to look for the lessons in these events. Some writers keep a story file of the interesting things they see or hear.

Besides the stories we hear about and experience, we can search for stories that support our motivational message. Reading regularly in the subject that you wish to speak about will help you find stories for your motivational speeches.  You can also look for relevant stories when watching films and television programs. Searching on the internet using the right keywords will help you find stories for your motivational speech. The time-consuming part is finding the story that best fits your motivational speech message. It’s also a good idea to do some fact checking to make sure the story is true because many hoaxes and urban legends are found on the internet.

Avoid overused stories in your motivational speeches. For example, one popular story explains how Thomas Edison tried 10,000 ways to create a light bulb before succeeding. It’s a great example of persistence but it has been used too many times in motivational speeches. Other examples include the stories in Chicken Soup for the Soul . When the book was a best-seller its stories were often used in motivational and inspirational speeches.  If you use a story that has been heard many times before, you risk losing the attention of your audience and your credibility as a motivational speaker.

Michael Gladkoff

Speech Writing Tips: Seven Ways to Conclude a Speech for Maximum Impact

Although the beginning of a speech is important for setting the stage and getting the audience’s attention, the conclusion is their final impression of you and your message. It can be tempting to neglect the conclusion after you’ve spent hours on writing the opening and body, but a weak ending can lessen the effectiveness of your entire speech.

In The Lost Art of a Great Speech, Richard Dowis describes seven ways to effectively conclude a speech. Understanding these will give you more options the next time you’re struggling to write a speech ending.

Dowis defines the types of speech conclusions as:

  • summary
  • humorous
  • wrap up
  • direct appeal
  • thesis
  • reference
  • inspirational.

Let’s take a brief look at each of these.

With a summary closing you simply summarise the points that you detailed in the body of the speech. This can be effective because it reinforces what you have said. So if you cover three main points in your speech, you can write a few sentences on each point for the ending.

A humorous closing can work well when you find a quotation or anecdote that relates to your speech topic. Humour that is not relevant to the topic, either for the opening or conclusion, will often detract from a speech. If you can’t think of anything funny, there are many websites with quotations and anecdotes on almost any topic. Just search for them.

With a wrap up closing, also called a bookends closing, you repeat or mention an opening element to create a complete loop. This could be a fact, anecdote or quotation that you opened the speech with. Listeners will recognise this repetition as a verbal cue. As soon as you mention it, they will realise that your speech is coming to an end.

When using a direct appeal closing you ask the audience to take specific action. At a graduation ceremony, for example, a speaker might ask the new graduates to take a particular action or change their outlook as they begin their careers.

With a thesis closing you restate the main idea of your speech. This type of conclusion is effective when you’re attempting to persuade your audience on one important point.

When using a reference closing you mention the group you are speaking to, the location, date, a quotation or other point that connects you with your audience. If you’re speaking to a community service group, for example, you can research the organisation and mention their history, philosophy or achievements to reinforce the connection between you and the audience.

With an inspirational closing you use an inspirational quotation, poem or anecdote to end the speech. There are many reference websites where you can search for inspirational quotations, poems and stories by subject or author.

For instance, if you were speaking about goal achievement and wanted to inspire your audience, you might quote Thoreau, who said, “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life that he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

It’s important to note that you can combine elements from the different types of conclusions when crafting your speech ending. For example, you can inspire your listeners with a quotation or story, and then make a call to action.

Writing an effective speech conclusion is important. But the ending can be the most difficult part. After completing the opening and body of the speech, it’s easy to run out of ideas and get stuck. Knowing the seven options available when ending a speech will help you overcome these challenges to create effective speeches with maximum impact.

Tips from a Speech Writer | Writing a Powerful Speech Opening to Connect with Your Audience

It’s often said that an effective speech opening is vital for connecting with your listeners. Besides making a good first impression, a good beginning to your speech helps you win the trust and attention of your listeners.

The speech opening is where you have the best chance to build a bridge of understanding between you and your audience. But how do you connect with a new audience when delivering a speech?

In The Lost Art of  the Great Speech, Richard Dowis describes what he calls reference opening to establish common ground between the speaker and the audience. When using a reference opening, the speaker usually makes reference to the speech, the group, the event or something related to one of these.

Some of the possible references you can use are the date, the location, the weather, the organisation you are delivering your speech to, a historical event, a current event, the topic, and the speech title.

Dowis shows how one executive speaking at a forum sponsored by the JC Penney Company, a US department store chain, used a reference opening in his speech.

I’m honoured to have been invited to represent the credit-reporting industry in this discussion of consumer credit. At the outset, I want to commend the JC Penney organisation for its sponsorship of this forum. I can recall many years ago reading about the late JC Penney. He was a dynamic man whose success in building one of the great retail enterprises of all time is testimony to the enormous potential of a free economic system. Mr Penney was also a man whose concern for people and society was apparent throughout his long and productive life.

Another example of a reference opening is found in 50 High Impact Speeches and Remarks by Michael Kador. He shows how Michael Askew, Vice Chairman of United Parcel Service, used a reference opening when he spoke at the Annual Meeting of the Air & Waste Management Association.

It is truly an honour to be addressing an organisation that has done so much to further our understanding of the environment. And you’ve done so in a way that promotes working cooperation among businesses, governments and communities.

What I find most impressive is that you’ve been doing this for 92 years. You don’t stick around 92 years unless you’re doing something right. We’re very aware of that at UPS.

In fact, the Air & Waste Management Association and UPS probably have more in common than you might think. For starters, we each were both founded way back in 1907 at a time when most environmental philosophies governing business and society were fledgling, at best.

This opening highlights what the speaker’s company has in common with the organisation he is addressing. It was a fortunate coincidence that both were founded in the same year, but you can usually find some point that connects you, or your organisation, to the audience.

As mentioned, location can be the basis for a reference opening. The following example from Dowis shows how an executive based in Atlanta used a location reference to connect with his audience in Chicago.

It’s good to be here in the company of such distinguished men and women in the great city of Chicago. Back in Atlanta, we refer to Chicago as the ‘other city the works.’ Chicago and Atlanta do have a great deal in common, quite apart from being the economic and cultural capitals of their respective regions of the country. Atlanta was burned in 1864 by a Yankee general named Sherman; Chicago was burned in 1871 by Mrs O’Leary’s cow.

Dowis also shows how to use literary references in a speech opening to connect with the speech topic. An executive of a forest products company used a literary reference when speaking to the company’s shareholders.

Dr Pangloss, a character in Voltaire’s Candide, was fond of the statement: “All’s for the best in the best of all possible worlds.”

Well, in the field of for-sale residential construction, in finance, and in many other areas for which I have responsibility, we are close to, if not in, the best of all possible worlds.

If you’re having trouble finding a reference opening to help you connect with your audience, you can always try using the date of your presentation as a reference. Sites such as Today-In-History (http://www.scopesys.com/anyday/) list important events, births and deaths that occurred on each day of the year. You might be able to find an event that is relevant to your speech topic or audience in some way.

The options for creating an effective reference opening are as boundless as your imagination and creativity. Writing an effective reference opening requires thought, planning and research. The effort spent, however, will help you get your messages across to receptive and attentive audiences.

The Language of Leadership – Using Rhetoric for Effective Speechwriting

Barack Obama’s success in the 2008 US presidential election showed us the power and relevance of well crafted and delivered speeches. One of the ‘secrets’ of Obama’s speaking success is his use of rhetoric. Although the term has taken on negative connotations to mean insincere and pompous language, rhetoric can be used to enhance a speaker’s credibility and make their messages more memorable.

What is Rhetoric?

Rhetoric is the study of writing or speaking as a means of communication or persuasion. In the Western world, rhetoric originated with the Ancient Greeks who defined and developed the techniques that are used to this day.

Let’s look at a few important rhetorical techniques and how they can be applied in speechwriting to express messages clearly and effectively.

Rule of Three

One of the most common and effective rhetorical devices is called the rule of three, or triad.

When using the rule of three, you include three equal elements in a sentence or series of sentences. Here are a few examples.

Veni, vidi, vici. (I came, I saw, I conquered.)

Julius Caesar

Government of the people. . .by the people. . .for the people. . . shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln (from the Gettysburg Address, a eulogy for those killed in the battle)

I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.

Franklin D Roosevelt

Barack Obama often uses the rule of three in his speeches.

That’s what Abraham Lincoln understood. He had his doubts. He had his defeats. He had his setbacks.

Barack Obama

Our security emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example; the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

Barack Obama

The rule of three can also be applied on a larger scale in speeches. For example, you can reveal three interesting facts, tell three anecdotes in succession, or ask three questions in a row.


Anaphora is the technique of emphasising words by repeating them at the beginning of adjacent clauses or sentences.

In one of the most memorable political speeches from World War II, Winston Churchill used anaphora with great effect.

We shall go on to the end,

we shall fight in France,

we shall fight on the seas and oceans,

we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air,

we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be,

we shall fight on the beaches,

we shall fight on the landing grounds,

we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,

we shall fight in the hills;

we shall never surrender…

Hillary Clinton used anaphora in her speech to the US Democratic National Convention in 1996.

To raise a happy, healthy, and hopeful child, it takes a family; it takes teachers; it takes clergy; it takes business people; it takes community leaders; it takes those who protect our health and safety. It takes all of us.

To writers and editors unfamiliar with rhetoric, this sentence would seem wordy. For a written format they might edit this sentence to read:

To raise a happy, healthy, and hopeful child, it takes a family, teachers, clergy, business people, community leaders, and those who protect our health and safety. It takes all of us.

But the repetition plays an important role. Repeating ‘it takes’ emphasises individual points and gives listeners time to reflect on each one.

Paul Keating used anaphora in his Redfern Address of 1993

Imagine if ours was the oldest culture in the world and we were told that it was worthless.

Imagine if we had resisted this settlement, suffered and died in the defence of our land, and then were told in history books that we had given up without a fight.

Imagine if non-Aboriginal Australians had served their country in peace and war and were then ignored in history books.

Imagine if our feats on sporting fields had inspired admiration and patriotism and yet did nothing to diminish prejudice.

Imagine if our spiritual life was denied and ridiculed.

Imagine if we had suffered the injustice and then were blamed for it.

Barack Obama uses anaphora to persuade and motivate his listeners. This example is from the speech where he announced his presidential candidacy in 2007.

Let us be the generation that reshapes our economy to compete in the digital age. Let’s set high standards for our schools and give them the resources they need to succeed. Let’s recruit a new army of teachers, and give them better pay and more support in exchange for more accountability. Let’s make college more affordable, let’s invest in scientific research, and let’s lay down broadband lines through the heart of inner cities and rural towns all across America.

It has been said that Australian audiences prefer a simpler approach and are cynical towards rhetorical language. Kevin Rudd expressed this sentiment when he said, ‘By way of personal instinct, I have an inherent distaste for grandiose rhetorical statements, which don’t have any substantive dimension to them’.

But rhetorical techniques are found in many speeches by Australian political and business leaders. Kevin Rudd’s apology speech to the Stolen Generations, which was delivered in Parliament in February 2008, included several of these.

In the beginning of the speech, he used epistrophe (also called antistrophe). This is when a word or phrase is repeated at the end of each sentence or clause.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

Prime Minister Rudd used anaphora to conclude the speech.

A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.

A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.

A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.

Antithesis, Simile, Metaphor and Analogy

Antithesis is when contrasting ideas are juxtaposed in a sentence.

Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.

John F Kennedy

If we are going to make the investments we need, we also have to be willing to shed the spending that we don’t need.

Barack Obama

A simile is when you compare things that share at least one attribute. Similes usually include the words ‘like’ or ‘as’.

Education is like a diamond with many facets.

Ronald Reagan

Life is like an onion: You peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep.

Carl Sandburg

A metaphor compares one thing to another, but describes the thing being compared as if it were the other.

With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of a nation into the beautiful symphony of brotherhood.

Martin Luther King

Nationalism is both a vital medicine and a dangerous drug.

Geoffrey Blainey

An analogy is an extended metaphor or long simile.

Politicians are a lot like diapers; you should change them frequently and for the same reason. Keep that in mind next time you vote.

Robin Williams in Man of the Year

Analogies can be helpful when explaining complex ideas or technical processes in a speech. An executive with an Australian IT company used the following analogy to explain a challenging project.

Updating the telecommunications software was like changing an engine on a 767 jet at 37,000 feet. We were changing one of the engines and needed to ensure that the plane kept running and didn’t fly around in circles.

Rhetorical techniques such as the rule of three, anaphora, epistrophe, simile and metaphor have been used in speechwriting for over two thousand years. Besides engaging audience members, they can make interesting ‘sound bites’ that are more likely to be quoted in the media and remembered.

Although rhetoric is an ancient way to persuade through language, it is equally relevant today. Speechwriters who understand rhetoric and how to apply it skilfully can enhance the credibility of leaders while making their messages more memorable.

Note: This article originally appeared in the Resources section of the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA) website.

Public Speaking Tips from a Champion


Public Speaking Tips from a Champion



David Brooks, the 1990 World Champion of Public Speaking has taught over 10,000 business people to communicate with humour, style and substance. In 2006, he spoke Toastmasters conventions in Australia and offered the following seven basic tips for memorable and effective speaking.


·        Seek out friendly faces in your audience. Much of the fear of public speaking comes from the false belief that audiences want speakers to fail. In reality, some people are less expressive, so they look uninterested. Finding friendly faces and making eye contact will give you comfort and energy when public speaking.


·        Determine what you want your audience to think, feel or do. When public speaking you should have at least one of the following basic purposes: to inspire, to inform, to persuade and/or entertain.


·        Bring your words to life with colourful imagery. Word pictures will make your public speaking more memorable.


·        Before speaking in public, write your speech word for word. Once you have written you speech, you can edit for economy and precision. According to Brooks, “Writing encourages content, and content should be king.” This doesn’t mean that you memorise your speech, but practise it until you are comfortable.


·        David Brooks quotes Bill Gove, a master public speaking trainer. Gove says, “Make a point, tell a story.” People will remember your points better if they are combined with a stories. “Facts tell, stories sell.”


·        Use stories that evoke the universal emotions of happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, disgust and fear. Stories don’t have to be about monumental achievements or disasters – ones from personal experience are best when public speaking.


·        Never underestimate the power of laughter when public speaking. People are relaxed when they laugh. When they are relaxed, they can learn. You don’t need to tell jokes – humorous stories from personal experience are more effective than jokes.


For an effective and memorable speeches, follow the seven recommendations of David Brooks, the World Champion of Public Speaking.