lessons writers can learn from famous speeches

12 Lessons Writers Can Learn From Famous Speeches

Writers Write creates writing resources and shares writing tips. In this post, we share 12 lessons writers can learn from famous speeches.

Last week I shared tips on delivering a speech. Today I am going to show you examples of brilliant speeches and why they work.

12 Lessons Writers Can Learn From Famous Speeches

Speech Writing Part Four: Famous Speeches And Why They Work

Seven Techniques That Make You Remember A Speech

A good speech usually contains the following:

  1. Rhetorical questions
  2. Repetition
  3. Lists of three
  4. Contrasts
  5. Emotive language
  6. Direct address – the name of the person or persons being directly spoken to
  7. Evidence (statistics, quotations, examples)

Look at this example of a speech to a group of students. (From the BBC) The highlighted sections show how the writer uses the techniques from the list above.

Fellow students (6), have you ever felt afraid to walk around the school by yourself? (1)

In a recent survey carried out by the school council, 70 per cent (7) of us have been bullied at some time in our life at school.

The bullies are vicious, violent, and vindictive (3). Unfortunately, they are getting away with it. (5) Can this be fair? (1)

We, the victims, are afraid of wearing the wrong trainers. We are afraid of being too smart or too stupid. (5) We are afraid of anything that might draw attention to ourselves. (5) The time has come for the fear to stop.

The bullies terrify other students, and yet they are cowards (4) themselves. If we pull together we can fight this fear. Join me and fight this fear (2) today.

Take the list of seven techniques and see how many have been used in speeches you remember. Include them when you are writing a speech. They work.

Five Things Famous Speeches Have In Common 

Great speeches share some similarities. They are part of a process that changes a company’s direction, shows the leadership potential of a personality, or forms a nation’s destiny.

Memorable speeches need to:

  1. Make people believe – Thabo Mbeki’s ‘I am an African’ speech is widely recognised as one of the most profound and beautiful that has been worded from the continent. This speech inspired people to believe in a prosperous, fair, corruption-free future for all the people of Africa – regardless of their heritage. (Watch part of the speech here)
  2. Be memorable – British prime minister Tony Blair was famous for making a speech that included the phrase ‘Education, education, education’. This repetition made the speech memorable and helped his audience identify his key point.
  3. Inspire people – Winston Churchill’s ‘On the beaches’ and ‘Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat’ speeches inspired the people of Great Britain to put up with years of grief, rationing, and bombing during World War II.
  4. Make people notice you – Barack Obama’s keynote address for The 2004 Democratic National Convention is regarded as the speech that made him president. He speaks of the American dream in all its complexity and vision, and shows how it resonates for every person in that conference hall. (Watch part of the speech here) The leader of the opposition in South Africa, Mmusi Maimane, responded to the State of the Nation Address in 2016 with this speech ‘Planet Zuma: Somewhere in a galaxy far, far away’. The memorable speech showcased Maimane’s ability to get the nation’s attention and to show how out of touch with reality the president is. (Watch part of the speech here)
  5. Make people think – Martin Luther King repeated the phrase ‘I have a dream’ when he campaigned for equal rights for black Americans. This was a speech designed to inspire and connect with his audience. (Watch part of the speech here)

Excerpt from Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today!

Watch out for next week’s post, Part Five: A Speech Writer’s Checklist

If you need to write speeches, you should attend this course: Can I Change Your Mind?

 by Amanda Patterson

If you enjoyed this post, read:

  1. 3 Top Tips For Delivering A Sensational Speech
  2. A Step-By-Step Guide To Writing A Speech
  3. 5 Important Things You Need to Know About Writing Speeches
Posted on: 15th March 2016