How to Deliver an Effective Speech

I recently finished writing a couple of speeches for one of my nonprofit clients, and it gave me pause to reflect on my own 20+ years of speech writing for a range of people from a former governor to countless industry executives and CEOs. As I look back, there were some terrifically delivered speeches that make you feel like a “proud momma” and plenty of not-so-good ones where you honestly would not mind if the fire alarm went off in the middle of the person’s speech!

So what makes for a good speech, an effective speech?

First, let me begin by reinforcing that not everyone needs to have the talent of a Martin Luther King or a Ronald Reagan to deliver a powerful address. Most people are not natural-born orators.

Some of my best moments, quite honestly, have been working with executives who were extremely uncomfortable talking to large groups. These individuals were subject-matter experts, many of them brilliant at what they do, but public speaking was not a skill that came naturally.

But following are some steps anyone can take to help ensure their presentation is effective:

  1. Deliver three or four main points, then back them up. Studies show people generally cannot remember more than three or four main points. Hone in on what your key messages will be and then back them up with examples that illustrate your point. (See my July 31 post.)
  2. Make content relevant to your audience. This sounds intuitive, but many industry executives assume everyone in the room “speaks their language.” Concepts and acronyms should always be well explained.
  3. Personalize the speech so it reflects your style. Use words that are part of your everyday vocabulary and incorporate personal stories or examples, when appropriate; don’t try to make the speech sound like someone you are not.
  4. Write for the ear, not for the eye. What reads fine on paper may be a mouthful when spoken. The best way to avoid this is to read your speech out loud and pay attention to words or phrases you stumble over.
  5. Practice, practice, practice! This is the one area that separates an effective presenter from an ineffective one. Executives who exude an overly confident air frequently fall down here. They expect to saunter onto the stage and deliver a great speech with little to no practice. It’s the ones who rehearse in advance who deliver the most effective speeches. While they may still have butterflies in their stomach, they will exude confidence because they are well prepared and comfortable with their material.
Karen Addis

Karen Addis

While we’d all like to deliver the next great speech, the reality is most of us don’t fall into that category. What matters more is that you can deliver a speech that is tailored to your audience and one that will resonate with them.

Karen Addis, APR, is a senior communications executive with more than 25 years of experience providing strategic communications counsel and support to a range of clients, including numerous nonprofit organizations. You can follow her on Twitter at @karenaddis or connect with her on LinkedIn at

Filed under: Communications


Nonprofit Hub

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September 3, 2013

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