Superlatives In Speaking

by Stephen Boyd | September 30, 2005

Having delivered over 2400 speeches and 2500 sermons and listened to over 11,000 college student speeches over the past 35 years, I have pretty strong opinions about the "bests" and "musts" that make up a good speech. Here are some of them.

The most important type of supporting material in any speech is stories. All great speakers in history have been storytellers. Include stories in every speech no matter what the purpose is or who is in the audience. People connect with stories. You can share feelings with stories. You are most comfortable in delivery when telling stories.

The most important first step is to get the audience’s attention. Just because people are sitting in your audience does not mean they are listening to you. You must make them want to listen by getting their attention.

The most important feature of nonverbal in speaking is pleasantness. That includes a warm and friendly smile, a pleasing personality, a voice easy to listen to, and courtesy to each person in the room. Be pleasant.

The most important number in speaking is the number three. People like to hear ideas in threes. Three statistics as a maximum number to give at any one time. Incorporate three in any way you can: three points to the speech, three instances in a series, and three slides in a row. There is a cadence to the number three that is pleasing to the audience, as in three strikes in baseball, or three parts to a joke, or even three pigs or bears or Billy Goats Gruff.

The most important criterion in choosing a topic for a speech - or for any piece of content within the speech - is being excited about it. If you are excited about your subject, then your audience will be as well. If you are not, your audience can tell and they will not be interested either. Whatever attitude you exhibit about your speech is contagious.

The most important thing to remember about time is always to go a minute or two under the time limit for your speech—never overtime. Audience members usually know exactly how long you have to speak, and if you go overtime they can become resistant to your ideas. Respect your audience by staying on time.

Finally, remember the best thing you can do to have a great speech is practice! Go over the speech several times before you deliver it. There is no substitute for practicing your speech.

Apply these "bests" and "musts" in your speaking and you can insure optimum results.

About the Author

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.

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