They are authentic.
Whether you're giving a wedding toast, a TED talk, or an important address to an audience of thousands, you want your words to resonate. In the wake of the State of the Union address, here are nine keys to success from some of the best public speakers in history.
Many advisors will tell you to open a speech with a joke, but that's not always good advice, especially if your persona or the subject of your speech doesn't readily lend itself to humor. It's far more important to strive for authenticity, and connection. This is why President George W. Bush's short speech in 2001 at Ground Zero resonated in a way his prepared remarks never could. Also, have you watched the beautiful speech that Malala Yousafzai gave at the United Nations last year? Pitch perfect.
They choose phrases carefully.
A speech is prose, but a great speech is marked by moments of poetry. Think of Martin Luther King, whose "I Have a Dream" speech includes that phrase in nine succinct paragraphs. Sir Winston Churchill didn't just ask his countrymen to battle the Germans,he exhorted them to "fight them on the beaches ... [and] fight them on the landing grounds..." Ronald Reagan was a master of this tactic too, from the memorable "Shining City on a Hill" speech to the one he gave about the Berlin Wall. Make your speech more memorable by mastering language tools like alliteration, cadence, rhythm, repetition, and rhyme.
They keep it short.
President Bill Clinton was first introduced to most of America at the 1988 Democratic National Convention, where he gave an interminable, 33-minute grind that showed none of his later rhetorical flourish. His biggest applause line? "In conclusion." He should have taken a lesson from Abraham Lincoln, whose Gettysburg Address ran only 270 words. For reference, this column is about three times as long. The best speeches leave audiences thinking, "I'd like to hear more." So don't tell them you'll "be brief," just do it.
They rewrite. And they rewrite some more.
A great speech is never quite done until it's delivered. Take a look, here, at the final typed draft of President Franklin Roosevelt's speech to Congress the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Had he not reworked it just before delivery, we'd quote it now as calling December 7, "a date that will go down in world history." Rememeber, anything decent that's ever been published has gone through numerous rewrites. If you haven't read this slightly profane quote by Ernest Hemingway about first drafts, do so now and take it to heart.