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The Value of a Speech

Graduation month often yields a plethora of commencement speeches. As I sit through yet another graduation commencement address, I realize that some people are mystified when it comes to the mechanics of creating an effective speech. While they may have heard a number of compelling speeches in their life, understanding the mechanics and the steps in creating a good or a great speech seem to be as elusive as a unicorn.  Giving a speech is not simply getting up and telling people your opinion or your thoughts.  It takes planning and thought and strategy to create value. Here are the top 5 tips to creating a memorable speech; one remembered for the good qualities not the bad.

Have a Purpose

All speeches should have a purpose.  That purpose should NOT be to fill time and space allotted for the speech, nor should it be to tell the audience about all the things you love, like the hat you purchased at a Black Friday Sale. Yes, believe it or not, that was a true example from this past weekend. If you do use an analogy, make sure your audience understands the relationship to the other content and the story within your speech.

Connect and Relate

What will interest your audience, to what can they relate? In order for people to receive your message, they need to be able to relate to you and connect to your message.  Try to determine how your audience will be able to connect to what you have to say. Can you tell a story of life, family relations or shared embarrassment?  If you are speaking at a commencement ceremony, find a topic that everyone there can understand such as helping a student survive the emotional ups and downs of college life, the cost of college, the joy at completion, or the next chapter.  Allow your audience to see the real you; the more real you are, the more the audience will relate to what you have to say.

Have a Point

What do you want your audience to learn, to feel, to experience or to see as the result of your speech?  What is the point you are trying to get across? Your speech should inform, educate or persuade, build compassion or empathy or simply entertain.  Know what you want to accomplish.  Know how you want your audience to react and work to illicit that reaction. If your audience is not connecting with what your message – try pausing, moving around the space, varying your pace, try lowering your voice or tell a story to illustrate the point you are making. Your audience wants to connect with you.  If nothing seems to be working, it’s okay to get to the main points and end the speech a little early. Better top be short and sweet than long and drawn out.

Use Vocal Variety

There is a debate among scholars about the percentages of communication but one popular study states that our message consist of 7% words, 38% vocal variety (tone) and 55% body language. If you stand behind a podium on a large stage, your body language can easily be obscured so you must depend on your vocal variety to help transmit your message.

Vocal Variety consists of:

Pitch – the range of high and low notes.  When the pitch range is small, the voice effect is monotonous.

Tone – emotional content carried by the voice.  How your emotions fill and energize your words.

Speed – how fast or slow you deliver your words and thoughts.
Cadence – modulation and inflection; the rhythmic flow.

In order to have appropriate vocal variety, your voice must be used much like a musical instrument.  It must express your message and emotions. Without this vocal variety you message will likely fall flat.

Add Passion and Value

If you do not have an interest in your subject, neither will your audience.  Before determining what you will speak about, determine what you care about, what you want to share, what you are passionate about. Your audience will respond much more positively to a topic that is important to you.

Give your audience something they can use: a tip, a technique, and a story that helps illustrate your point.  Offer a unique perspective, one that creates new thoughts.  Offer a word of encouragement. Value your audience.  Leave them with a message, an action, or a charge. Your message should empower and uplift even when speaking on a difficult topic.

In Conclusion

A speech is not a moment in time to be filled, nor should it be seen as an obligation.  A speech is an opportunity to help others see a new world, open their eyes, or open their hearts.  The opportunity should be appreciated and treasured. The opportunity to stand in front of others and add value to the world should be cherished not wasted. These five techniques will help you give a speech that you can look back on with pride even if the speech you are asked to give is a commencement speech.