Great speeches are great for a reason. Here’s what Kennedy, Churchill and King can show you about making the perfect pitch.
Persuading others to adopt your message involves using a few fundamental and adaptable techniques. Throughout history, great speeches have been used to create moments that usher in important changes in ideas and thinking.
Want to know how the art of persuasion works? The following three significant public speeches illustrate fundamental components. Each oratorical masterpiece offers practical ideas you can use in your next career-defining presentation or pitch.
Make your speech relevant
If you want your speech to persuade your listeners, make sure the content is relevant. Offer a message that speaks directly to your audience.
When John F. Kennedy made his inaugural address in 1961, he spoke against the background of the Cold War. His speech painted a clear picture of the freedoms he was guaranteeing against the threat from behind the Iron Curtain.
To persuade your audience, illustrate your point with three practical steps. Having identified the fears of most Americans, Kennedy made three promises: to protect friendly nations against the Soviet threat, to support the work of the United Nations and to seek new ways of ending the arms race with the Soviet Union.
The speech pulled no punches; it was honest but encouraging. Much of the American public bought into Kennedy’s dream.
A business speech should also be of the moment. Discuss with colleagues what issues the audience is facing and follow up with three simple steps to counter those challenges. For each step, look for opportunities to stress your point to ensure your message is understood and retained.
Keep your message simple
There’s no room for complicated ideas and arguments when seeking to win over people’s hearts and minds. (Click here to Tweet this thought.) Many great speakers practice simplicity.
One of the best examples, which is also one of the most well-known, is Winston Churchill’s speech in June 1940. Churchill needed to rally Britain after early setbacks against Hitler’s Germany had left his nation under threat of invasion.
The beauty of Churchill’s speech lies in the concluding paragraphs. Having detailed the dire circumstances arising from the military disaster at Dunkirk and Hitler’s plan to invade, he cast aside all of the questions and doubts with one very simple message:
We shall go on to the end… We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.
This speech brought hope to a worried nation.
When you’re presenting complex ideas, be clear and concise. Pick a single message and reinforce that message in the summary of your ideas. Review Churchill’s words and look at how repeatedly he used the “we shall fight” refrain. To persuade your audience, create your own simple summary that leaves your key message firmly fixed in people’s minds.
Present your message to all
When Martin Luther King, Jr. made his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in August 1963, it was relevant, and his message simple. His “I have a dream” refrain also stayed in people’s minds. But the speech he gave was so powerful for another reason: unity.
Detailing the shame African-Americans were forced to live with, King’s speech could easily have been seen as divisive. He avoided this by making sure his assertions for the future of race relations included references to the white community as well.
Who can forget the non-threatening image of “Right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers”?
King’s uncompromising message was presented to the entire population, and in doing so, the message became inclusive and empowering rather than exclusive and threatening.
When you attempt to persuade people, your message should be inclusive. Your audience will all have vested interests, different agendas and individual concerns. Consider the needs of all the stakeholders present and talk to their interests, agendas and concerns. Don’t take a “one size fits all” approach; instead, try to engage every member of your audience.
Crafting a memorable speech that communicates your message effectively means using these simple techniques. Adapt the content of your message and use some of the techniques from John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King, Jr. You’ll be on your way to ensuring your message is taken away by your audience.
Josh Hansen writes on behalf of Edison Red, a London-based team of experts who help companies and individuals communicate their ideas by improving their presentation skills. They run one-on-one sessions, as well as in-house and open courses, for a wide range of clients, helping them to be the best they can be.