You don’t need the gift of the gab to make a great speech. You don’t need grand-sounding words to make a speech great. What you need is a good dose of persuasion to sway your audience — and persuasion can be learnt, it can be honed, it can be achieved.

What did you notice about the opening paragraph? What if it was written this way instead:

“You don’t need the gift of the gab nor grand-sounding words to make a great speech. You just need to learn persuasion and hone your persuasive skills.”

The content is essentially the same in both presentations, but clearly the form is different, and that changes the impact of the message. The first uses a good deal of repetition, e.g. “You don’t need” and “make a great speech” / “make a speech great”. It also employs the “rule of three”, i.e. “it can be” to create rhythm. Both strategies lend the sentences a sense of rhythm, and make the content more memorable. These are some persuasive techniques you can use in your speech writing to make your speech more effective, to make your message stick.

This two-part series will highlight these persuasive techniques and their effects, and show how you can apply them to liven up your speech.

This first post will demonstrate the use of (1) Repetition, (2) Direct Address, and (3) Inclusivity. The second post will discuss (4) Imperatives (Commands), (5) Rhetorical Question and (6) the Rule of Three.

We will analyse former US president Barack Obama’s victory speech in 2008, and see how he weaves in these techniques.

What are the most common persuasion techniques in speech?

1. Repetition

This refers to the use of recurring words or phrases, creating emphasis, rhythm and thus memorability.

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

Obama opens his speech by addressing to those “who still doubt[s]”, “who still wonder[s]” and “who still question[s]”. By repeating the phrase “who still”, he is appealing to multiple groups of people—a wide-ranging audience—who may still be in disbelief (at the election of America’s first Black president). Repetition, in this case, allows him to call attention to these various groups and claim a rousing victory by asserting that “tonight is your answer”.

2. Direct Address

This simply means the use of the personal pronoun “you” (and its variants “your”, “yours”) to engage the hearer and make the message more personal.

…tonight is your answer.

… This is your victory. I know you didn’t do this just to win an election and I know you didn’t do it for me. You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead.

In these examples, Obama turns the attention towards his audience, by declaring that his victory is the answer they have been looking and longing for. By using “you” and “your”, he makes what seems like his victory the people’s victory too. He makes his message personal and relevant to the audience. He credits the audience for rallying behind him to overcome the enormous task ahead (“your victory”), for their wisdom (“you understand”) and for their foresight (“lies ahead”).

3. Inclusivity

This refers to the use of the collective pronoun “we” (and its variants “us”, “our”) to imply a shared identity.

The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term, but America – I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you – we as a people will get there.

Having established their shared victory, Obama carries this inclusive language throughout his speech. He acknowledges the challenges ahead that the nation will not face alone—but him alongside them—with the use of “our climb” and “we may not get there”, before confidently pronouncing that “we will get there” and “as a people”. He continually conveys a sense of collective identity and seeks to assure the people of his valiant leadership.

How can we apply these techniques?

We will now use these techniques to turn a bland-sounding speech into an engaging one.

As a student, it is important to create a conducive learning environment for all students. If elected, I will work to improve communication channels between the students and the council, to ensure that concerns are heard and addressed promptly.

I am aware of the challenges that students face on a daily basis, and I believe that with the right policies in place, these challenges can be overcome. Some of the issues that I will focus on include promoting student voice, equipping student leaders, and caring for students’ mental health.

Source: Student Council campaign speech sample adapted from ChatGPT

Let’s determine the PAC (Purpose, Audience, Context) first.

With a campaign speech (Context), the candidate should seek to establish a connection (Purpose) with his voters (Audience). This means that he should actively employ direct address and inclusivity. The first paragraph could look this:

As a student, I understand that we all need a conducive learning environment. If elected, I will seek to improve communication between you and the Student Council. As your representatives, we are committed to hearing your concerns and addressing them to the best of our ability.

Note that the speaker uses the first-person pronoun “I” multiple times, e.g. in the second paragraph—“I am aware”, “I believe” and “I will focus on”. These are in the active voice and show his involvement in the issues that the student body faces. This is another way to establish connection, apart from the above two techniques. You should try to use a variety instead of relying on one of them, or the speech will sound repetitive and mechanical.

How then can you infuse repetition into the speech? Let’s try this on the second paragraph:

Do you wish there were more avenues to share your views? Do you wish you knew how to care for a troubled classmate? Or, do you wish to motivate your new batch of CCA juniors? These are challenges that we know you face on a daily basis, that we know you are afraid of. But they don’t have to remain challenges with the right policies in place; we can overcome them.

There are two sets of repetition that we can incorporate into the sentences—“Do you wish” (repeated 3 times) and “that we know you” (repeated 2 times). The first set is also phrased as question statements, echoing the concerns and questions that students may have. These rhetorical questions are powerful in garnering agreement from the audience.

Practice of Persuasion techniques

Now you try.

Here is a short exercise for you to apply the 3 techniques you have learnt (a continuation from the above excerpt):

In order to achieve these goals, I will work closely with the other members of the council, as well as the school administration. Through collaboration, we can make a difference in the lives of the student body.

Thank you for your time, and I hope to have your support in this election. Together, we can make our school a better place.

Source: Student Council campaign speech sample adapted from ChatGPT

Using repetition, directly addressing the audience and demonstrating a shared identity in your speech are simple ways to make connections with your audience. In fact, you do this – persuade – when you try to convince someone to help you, buy you a treat or give you a ride home. Try adopting these in your speech for a start, and look out for more ways to spice up your speech writing in the next part of this series!

Don’t Miss Any Future Post!

2024 Bukit Timah Branch Secondary English Tuition Timetable

LevelClass TypeDayTime
S1All Components ClassSAT5 pm to 7 pm