A mistake some beginners might make when writing speeches or doing impromptu speeches is to look for more and more things to say.
Let’s take an example. Let’s say my topic is ethical treatment of animals. I could start with:
“We must treat animals with respect!”
It is a good catch phrase, short and simple. It will certainly ring bells in people’s minds.
There is no emergency to say more. Let the bells ring! Why not repeat, with a slightly different intonation, after a pause?
“We must treat animals with respect.... Yes, we must... treat animals with respect”
We are not going to stay stuck there the entire speech through though. The “wrong” thing to do would be to start a long list of cases that we would add up like a string of pearls
“We must treat animals with respect, domestic animals, our pets are not always treated the way they deserve, sometimes people abandon them and they end up in cages or shot, animals in industrial farms also have terrible lives and the way they are killed is terrible, wild animals also suffer from human behaviour whether they are hunted for their fur, to be eaten, or just for pleasure. Wild animals also suffer because they aren’t given enough space to live There are animals in zoos or in circuses that live in conditions very different from their needs... Everywhere we look man treats animals with indifference and cruelty...” [
Instead, we could:
1 Express personal feelings, for instance: “Ladies and Gentlemen, I am shocked by the way we, who are calling ourselves human, treat animals!”
Here we don’t add any information but emphasize attitude. Listeners will tune in. Their attention will become more focused...
2 Be more specific about what you’re going to talk about: “Today I will talk to you about the lives and deaths of the animals we eat: pigs, cows, chickens to name but a few”
If you go that way, you don’t add things; you rather select one thing amongst a range of possibilities.
3 Tell an anecdote or a story. Telling a story provides pleasure as long as well structured and easy to memorize content. A story is specific and evokes emotional involvement
“I am a little bit addicted to social media and I have a number of vegan friends on Facebook. Thanks to them I regularly see horrible pictures or videos in my news feed. In the last one I saw, pigs were slaughtered. They were squealing but the staff didn’t even seem to notice... How can this be? We must treat animals with respect “
As you see, I have not taken my listeners further away from my initial point but rather brought them back to it.
Sorry to inflict such a sad example on you by the way. It’s something I feel saddened about.
Let’s recap what I’ve told you since the beginning: Avoid adding up more and more stuff until you’re audience feel overwhelmed. After an impactful catch phrase, bring the focus on a more specific point, express personal feelings and/or tell an anecdote or story which brings them back to the point. Don’t miss an opportunity to recap.
After which you can start another section, another anecdote, some facts, express another feeling. Remember this list of words to find new developments: why, how, what, what if, who, which....... Ask yourself a question starting with one of these words and answer it!
I have two comments to share with you now.
I have read I don’t remember where that an efficient communication was made up with a harmonious mix of fifty per cent of new information and fifty per cent of repetition. We need repetition to learn and memorize. Furthermore, when we hear something we already know, be it for a few seconds, we enjoy a sense of familiarity. It’s relaxing. Too many repetitions would lead to boredom and the purpose of a speech is to say a few things people didn’t know already! Fifty fifty is the right mix.
My second comment is that the ideal format for an anecdote is as simple and straightforward as jokes can be. In 19th centuries novels there were pages and pages of descriptions. It was before the internet, TV and even radio. We are different now. Go right to the point, with minimum details.
Let me tell a joke: It’s the story of a fool painting the ceiling. He is standing on top of a stepladder. Another fool arrives and says: Hang on to the brush mate, I’m borrowing the stepladder!
You may not laugh but it’s a traditional French joke in a style they enjoyed very much in the beginning of the 20th century. I borrowed it from the Vermot Museum!
The point is: no need for flourish of details, two sentences and that’s it.
Let’s come back to our speech building now. Rather than adding more elements that take us further and further away, stories, feelings, information, quotations, whatever content we may add will bring us back to the central claim: We must treat them better than that.
This is of course not the only possible way to structure a speech however this way works well for a Stand up for a cause speech.
Don’t forget to call to action after giving information. Talk about what you are doing, what others are doing, what your audience could do.... Against, if we are not specific enough, there is no call at all “Let’s say no to the way animals are treated!” without giving a time and place to gather and demonstrate means nothing. If there is no demonstration planned, why not something like:
I am not going to tell you that we should go vegan. I would only suggest keeping aware of what we are eating. What is in our plate doesn’t merely come from the shop. There is a history behind our cutlets, steaks and drumsticks. Each time we eat, let’s remember reality and check whether we agree with it”
Enjoy your speech !