The secrets to delivering a powerful and effective speech

Apple. Photo: Getty Images

What is the difference between a well-received political speech, a thoughtful sermon and a lucid seminar presentation?

According to Adrian Furnham, professor of psychology at the University College London, very little.

That’s because it all comes down to the rules of rhetoric and how you master your oratory skills.

In his book Management Mumbo-Jumbo: A Skeptics’ Dictionary, Furnham admits, “some people are more natural speakers than others”, including those who are extroverted, articulate and vocal.

But he notes “however talented, or indeed talentless, one is, it is possible to acquire skills.”

In particular, he points to the importance of public speaking for senior executives.

“Business people do not generally think of themselves as orators. They simply want to ensure they get across an accessible, high impact, memorable message,” Furnham writes.

“They are told to Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS) and to look confident, comfortable and committed while doing the speech, even if not written by themselves.”

“This is all about packaging content to become believable, persuasive and memorable.”

We’ve rounded up his key tips on delivering a brilliant speech.

  • Understand the value of pace — talk slower when you want a profound effect and faster for excitement and wit.
  • Ensure your content pitch is neither too highfalutin or patronising and speak clearly.
  • Maximise the power of a pause — pause for effect, reflection or profundity — but make sure it’s not used to express doubt or dithering.
  • The use of comparison is a strong rhetorical device. Don’t shy away from using contrasts — “us and them; the saved and the damned; the path to prosperity and the road to ruin”.
  • Appeal to peoples’ values and anxieties and tweak their emotions by conjuring images using analogies, similes and metaphors.
  • Use the magic number — lists of threes have a cadence that groups of two or four lack.
  • Tell a story — they’re memorable and easy to retell and people can grasp anecdotes easier even if they have a tenuous relationship to the truth.
  • Above all, practise, practise, practise.

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