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What makes a good speech?

Ask someone what makes a good speech and you’re likely to get a range of answers.   Some good, all relevant maybe, but nothing that quite nails it.  That’s because there isn’t one thing that will guarantee a successful speech.  Instead, there are multiple factors, some complex, some relatively simple, but all of which, when combined could help to ensure that a speech makes an impact and is remembered for all the right reasons.

One factor that is often overlooked is the audience.  The very people who are either going to warmly applaud or sit in stunned silence, can make or break a speech.  They can’t necessarily be hand-picked, unless it’s a wedding of course, but knowing something about them will help when preparing a speech. So research them.

A speechwriter wants an audience to sit up and take notice; to laugh in all the right places, to reflect and to learn something new, something that they might want to share with others; and to be interested enough to want to find out more.  For some speechwriters, there is no detail too small about the audience that isn’t worth knowing, so they ask lots of questions.  Questions like:

How many people are expected?

Who else is speaking and on what subjects?

What’s the programme for the day?

What work shops are there?

What kind of companies do the attendees represent and what are their specialisms?

Are they middle or senior management?

Are their trainees or graduates?

What are their nationalities, ages, gender, cultural background, etc?

What do they know, what are their levels of expertise and knowledge ?

There are many more questions that could be added to this list – just bear in mind that a speechwriter who is being very thorough will want to know as much they can.

Knowing an audience won’t guarantee that a speech will outshine anything Obama can do, but it could make the difference between an effective speech, one that hits the right notes, and one that is instantly forgotten.