My job is about speaking, listening and taking decisions. Some might argue that I do too much of the first, not enough of the second and make the wrong ones in the case of the third. Be that as it may, I do give a lot of speeches.
The art of giving a good speech is not easy. I was reminded of this when reading Juhana Torkki’s latest book on how to prepare a good speech (Available in Finnish only: Puhevalta käyttöön! Näin valmistelet elämäsi parhaan puheen, Otava 2015). Torkki, who holds a PhD in Theology,is one of the most respected speech-coaches in Finland.
The book is written in the form of a Socratic dialogue, a format which brought me back to my university years in the US. That’s where I learned the basics on how to give a speech. And that’s where I fell in love with ancient Greek philosophy, especially Aristotle.
As an academic, civil servant and politician I have given several thousand speeches over the years. My two cents worth are simple: have a clear structure (preferably three points), never read a speech (speak freely) and try to avoid PowerPoint (do I need to say why?). But a good speech is naturally much more than that.
In Rhetoric, Aristotle reminds us of the power of persuasion. It has three elements: logos, pathos and ethos. Logos is an appeal to logic. It is the way you persuade the audience by reason.Pathos is an appeal to emotion, and is a way of convincing an audience of an argument by creating an emotional response.
Ethos is an appeal to ethics. In other words, it’s a means of convincing someone of your character or credibility as a speaker. This, according to Aristotle is the most important part. If the audience does not trust you, they won’t listen to what you have to say. And trust me…as a politician I can relate to Aristotle’s thesis.
In preparing a speech you need to take all of these three things into account. You should appeal to rationality, emotion and character. To put it simply, you need to be personal. Too many speeches are mechanical slide shows.
Torkki’s book gives you good advice on how to prepare a speech on all three accounts. His advice is to use the following nine questions as a prep tool.
On logos ask the following: What is the one thing you want your audience to remember? How can you make your message understandable, crystal clear? What kind of a personal story can you tell the audience?
On ethos ask this: What has excited you lately? What are you afraid of? How will your speech improve the world, or at least the life of your audience?
And on pathos: What should you be thankful for in your audience? What is your audience afraid of? What is your audience proud of?
So, the next time you have to give a speech remember to start preparing on time. It just takes a few minutes here and there. You do not have to do it in one go. Try the nine questions above and remember the most important thing: every speech needs to have an aim, a key message and a clear structure.