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Constructing Persuasive Speeches

Persuasive Speeches

Persuasive speeches are something people remember. They may even create a pivotal moment in history. They motivate others. The best ones have a “catch phrase.” A catch phrase is a short phrase, which captures the imagination. The topic, the words chosen, and the personal charisma of the person all come into play in the making of a great speechHere is a fun game. Here are some catch phrases, which were part of the greatest or most infamous speeches of all time. Can you guess who said them?

Greatest Speeches

These speeches inspire, lead nations, and advance humanitarian causes. Even in desperate times, the delivery of the speech is with great dignity and appeal.

  1. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
  2. “ … dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
  3. “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
  4. “I have a dream.”
  5. “A man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes.”
  6. “Give until it hurts.”
  7. “Know yourself.”
  8. “We shall fight on the beaches.”
  9. “Give me liberty or give me death.”
  10. “An ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

The Answers

  1. Franklin Delano Roosevelt
  2. Abraham Lincoln
  3. John Fitzgerald Kennedy
  4. Martin Luther King
  5. Mahatma Gandhi
  6. Mother Teresa
  7. Socrates
  8. Winston Churchill
  9. Patrick Henry
  10. Nelson Mandela

Infamous Speeches

These speeches became famous for being the most outrageous lies ever told in public.

  1. “I am not a crook.”
  2. “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”
  3. “There are weapons of mass destruction.”
  4. “We know where the WMDs are.”
  5. “We are merely repaying like with like.”
  6. “My investment firm is just one big lie.” (This one is actually true.)
  7. “Read my lips. No new taxes.”
  8. “If you like your plan, you can keep it.”
  9. “We did not trade arms for hostages.”
  10. “ … the United States intends no military intervention in Cuba.”

The Answers

  1. Richard Nixon
  2. Bill Clinton
  3. George Bush, Jr.
  4. Donald Rumsfeld
  5. Adolf Hitler
  6. Bernie Madoff
  7. George Bush, Sr.
  8. Barack Obama
  9. Ronald Reagan
  10. John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Isn’t it surprising to find John Fitzgerald Kennedy on both lists? By most counts, he was one of the greatest Presidential speakers of all time. The point is, a great speech is memorable, but not necessarily true. The commonality was the passionate delivery of the speaker. When the passion is sincere, it convinces everyone what the speaker is saying must be true.

The lesson learned from this is just because a speech is persuasive, the contents of the speech may not necessarily be true. Hitler’s speeches were very dynamic and full of falsehoods. Caveat emptor is Latin for “Buyer beware.” We recommend an additional warning “Listener beware.”

Therefore, truth is not the reason or the foundation for a compelling persuasive speech. Sometimes great truths are given, but there is something much more than the content, which creates these memorable speeches. If you would like to listen to some of the best speeches, the History Channel has a section on Famous Speeches & Audio. It is very informative to listen to how these great speakers delivered their message. In order to become a great speaker it is important to get a feel for the tone of delivery in these great speeches.

To read the speech text, Time also gives their list of the Top 10 Greatest Speeches. The History Place has many more at Great Speeches. There are the Top 100 Speeches on American Rhetoric as well. One thing you will find that they have in common is passion for the presented material.

Now we have seen some examples of the catch phrases and biggest lies in speeches, which are most memorable, the question is how to create a speech, which is persuasive and memorable. Let us assume the speaker is not intentionally lying. For people like that, we say “Shame on you!” Instead, let us examine how to create a speech, which is both true and compelling.

The first step is to choose from topics, which are good persuasive speech topics. The idea is to give an interesting speech full of new ideas and consider including something funny to get the audience engaged so they enjoy the speech. It is good to start with an outline and turn this into an essay. Then use this as the basis for creating a great speech. It is pertinent to introduce caution here, because a great essay is not necessarily a great speech. There is always a need to memorize some of the speech, but not necessarily repeat word for word, from the written page, like a robot.

The main concepts need conveyance, but it is OK to allow for some spontaneity. Nevertheless, the catch phrase is a critical part of making a speech memorable. This needs perfect delivery, exactly from memory. Fumbling around with notes, reading from them, or obviously following the teleprompter is a quick way to lose the audience’s attention completely.

Forbes identified 9 Public-Speaking Lessons From The World’s Greatest TED Talks. TED talks have become the international standard of excellence in public speaking. Two million people worldwide listen to TED talks online each day. An invitation to give a Ted talk is prestigious. This means the presentation is exceptional.

Here are the results of the Forbes analysis of Ted Talks:

  1. Demonstrate Mastery – No one wants to hear a speech from a person who is not the top of his or her field. Passion for the subject is critical, combined with deep knowledge of the subject matter.
  2. Story telling – To capture audience attention, tell stories. Story telling is deeply rooted in the human psyche. This makes a strong connection with the audience.
  3. Polish the Presentation with Practice – The three “Ps” are practice, practice, practice. Then practice again. Deliver the speech to a mirror. Look straight into your eyes. Talk about things, where you are convinced you have special knowledge. Test your speech out on smaller groups, and then have the confidence to deliver a great speech to a huge audience.
  4. Teach a New Concept – Great speeches are not talking down to the audience. Instead, they are about lifting the audience up and giving them exciting new information.
  5. Create an Emotional Response – Forbes calls this a jaw-dropping moment. This is the moment for the catch phrase. A catch phrase is eloquent, memorable, easily repeated, and easily understood. It captures the essence of the entire message in a single phrase. It is not easy to come up with these catch phrases, but when one is exceptional, the speech is memorable.
  6. Humor and Fun – This is not necessarily about joke telling. It means having a lighter element of amusement to help the audience relax. Part of giving a great speech is entertaining the audience.
  7. Short is Better – Nobody wants to listen to a long boring speech. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address had a one sentence introduction and two short paragraphs. As part of this speech he even says, “the world will little note or remember what we say here.” His humility was astounding, because the words he delivered were magnificent. He did not have to say much, just something very true and powerful which included “… that government of the people and by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
  8. Use Images – PowerPoint images work better than putting up a screen full of text. The vocalization covers the words and images reinforce the message.
  9. Know Your Stuff – This is about being true and true to yourself. A great speech is not a deception but comes from the heart.
  10. Don’t Have Fear – As Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “The only thing to fear is fear itself!”

Great speakers come from practice. Abraham Lincoln was shy, lanky, and even thought of himself as ugly. He was from a poor upbringing, abused by his father, went barefoot as a child, and lived in a simple wooden cabin. His voice was thin and even he thought his speeches were weak. Nevertheless, he was honest and truthful. He had a powerful inner conviction about what he was saying. When giving a public speech, tell us what you really believe in and everyone will respond.

Tips for Public Speaking

Toastmasters International has 10 Tips for Public Speaking, which includes some of those listed above and a few extra helpful tips, which are:

  • The Space – Get to the speaking room early before giving the speech. Try out the microphone and get a feel for the room. If there is a need to operate equipment, such as projection systems, learn how they work, try them out, and test them.
  • The Audience – Introduce yourself to some of the audience members as they arrive. This is a nice way to get to know some of the people who will hear your speech. It is easier to talk to new friends instead of strangers. Look at these people, or a dear friend, or colleague while giving the speech as if you are simply talking to them and everyone else in the room is eavesdropping on the conversation.
  • The Speaker(s) – Relax. Pay attention to body language. Do not apologize for any nervousness. Any speaker may feel nervous, but this is not easily visible to the audience. There is no need to apologize when they are not even thinking about this. Compare this to driving a group of people in a car. The speaker is the one in charge. It does not matter at all what happens as long as you realize you are in charge. No one is judging you. They are following your lead. Share the stage with other speakers if possible because this is interesting from an audience perspective. Focus on the message, not on anxiety. Explain the message as if you are simply telling it to yourself aloud. This is just another repeat of a speech you should have already practiced many times before the public speech.

Now that you have learned a bit about persuasive speeches, are you ready to play the game again?

Who said this?

  1. “Bullying is cowardice.”
  2. “A person with a disability is not a person to ‘dis’ for not having ability.”
  3. “Human rights are what it means to be human.”
  4. “I will not stand by, while others are being hurt.”
  5. “I gain nothing without helping others.”
  6. “Kindness is cool.”
  7. “Know right from wrong, and then do it.”
  8. “We are not alone.”
  9. “There is a different way.”
  10. “Time to live for each other.”


Not sure who might have said these things as these quotes are made up. Maybe someone said them; maybe someone will say them in their next speech. We want to hear what you have to say, so be brave. Tell us who you are in spirit and let us hear the great message you convey.

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