What makes one person’s speech stand out and be remembered as one of the greatest? So great that people study it long after it was delivered, even after the cause has been forgotten?
On the other hand, what makes another person’s speech last only as long as the time it takes to deliver it, forgotten as soon as the audience leaves the room? Is there a single aspect of speech-making that really is absolutely essential to its success?
Doris Lessing’s “Nobel Prize for Literature” acceptance speech, which can be read in full, is up there with the greatest. Perhaps not directly alongside Martin Luther King Jr but it is quite close on the speech perfection scale. The question is why, and the answer is pure passionate emotion. When you look at it this way, the theory is simple, but putting it into practice is not quite as easy.
Almost anyone can stand in front of a crowd of people and talk about their chosen topic; not everyone can make it believable. Freelance writer, Dan Blacharski says that Lessing’s speech was “both eloquent and thoughtful “, a very apt comment, but he does not pinpoint the reason behind this. In short, Lessing’s speech was everything she believes in, poured out in a waterfall of passionate emotion, the “eloquence and thoughtfulness” were just secondary factors.
Garr Reynolds has produced a presentation top ten, and believes that passion is the single most important component. The first point in the list says “let your passion for your topic come out for all to see”. This does not only apply to those worldly greats, though; the theory is the same for anyone faced with a presentation, on any level.
When Martin Luther King Jr delivered his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech, and when Lessing more recently delivered her acceptance speech, they both spoke from deep inside themselves about issues and concerns that meant more to them at that point than anything else ever did. Stevie Edwards has written a good analysis of the Martin Luther King speech.
The key point is impact and power, and that doesn’t come from talking about something that is of no interest to you as the speaker. You cannot “sell” something to someone else if it is a subject that you do not understand, care about, or at least have an interest in. Take note, students. Next time you are asked to prepare a presentation, choose a topic that you believe in, make it something that you feel strongly about and when the time comes to present – don’t just say it, deliver it with feeling, with deep emotion and heartfelt passion. Don’t just let your audience hear it, make them feel it, too. Only then will it become memorable.
Sharren L Bessant
However, regardless of how passionate you are about something, one thing an audience will pick up on immediately is over-compensating. If you’re doing a presentation about post-its – don’t act like they’re the most exciting thing in the world. It looks disingenuous. Even the odd self-undermining line about it being “not the most interesting topic in the world” will go a long way with your audience. A chief challenge as a Speech Writer, is finding this ‘passion’ in a speech to be delivered, by someone you don’t know, to someone you don’t know – but I always try and gauge their natural response to the material and write it to that style, rather than going in all-guns-blazing with the enthusiasm.