ublic speaking in and of itself is an art that most adults would rather not have to learn, and with good reason. It’s one of the most common fears for Americans, and many people can resonate with the feeling of dread and nerves that come before having to give a presentation or speech.
Unfortunately, it is also one of the most coveted skills and nearly impossible to get through any job without knowing how to be a good public speaker. In other words, the most popular fear is also pretty unavoidable, so it makes sense that knowing how to effectively speak in public is an awesome skill and certainly something to brag about.
If you don’t know how to give a good speech or are pretty clueless on how to even speak, let alone write a good speech, have no fear! There are plenty of good pro tips on how to give better speeches, and there is also a lot to learn from famous persuasive speeches already given.
For public speakers, politicians, and even general celebrities, they are very familiar with giving speeches and having to perform them effectively enough that their audience leaves feeling like they’ve learned something new or have been moved enough to remember the speech for some time afterwards.
There have been a lot of iconic speeches given throughout history, many of which we learn about in school, like president Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, a persuasive speech that has stood the test of time and is still being taught.
Speeches can not only teach us things from the very content of the speech, but it is also helpful to learn public speaking strategies and techniques from these powerful speeches. Those lessons can carry into the way you give your next public presentation, speech, or even simple pitch to evoke a deeper response from your intended audience.
Here are some of the most well-known and successful persuasive speeches that have been written and given, and what you can take away from them! In this article, we’ll talk about:
- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream”
- John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address
- Michelle Obama’s Democratic National Convention Speech
- Biggest Tips You Can Learn From These Speeches
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream”
Given in 1963 at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, MLK’s speech evolutionized the way speeches are written and given, and the rhetorical genius of the speech is still being taught today.
History classes all over the country and the world feature this speech inside and outside the context of the Civil Rights Movement. Beyond its historical context, the speech is a work of literary art that is also taught in english and writing classes. His ability to speak so eloquently and capture an audience so thoroughly is a great gift.
MLK remains one of the most successful and gifted public speakers of our time, as he used his gift for language and writing that can make public speaking easier and that much more effective.
“I Have A Dream” used a lot of pathos and was able to reach an incredibly large audience, well beyond the thousands of people who attended the live speech on that hot summer day in 1963. In the spotlight of a whole social movement, as well as the pressure of changing the way race was treated in the US forever, MLK had more stress and weight on his back than most of us will ever know. But he used some literary strategies that really enabled him to give such a wildly beautiful and effective public speech, and you can learn and use them too!
MLK expertly plays with tenses in his speech, by reciting, “will be, “will have,” and “will do” to give a sense of certainty, a matter of when and not if, which is a super effective move in persuasive speech.
Additionally, MLK uses very abstract language to create emotionally-driven responses, such as the repeated word of “dream” and the passion behind the word “freedom” to hone in on people’s feelings and driving the message deeply into them.
John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address
In 1961, Kennedy followed tradition and delivered his Inaugural Address that made waves at the time and continues to through the present day. His message was an urgent one, and that was a call on all Americans to work and do their part for their country, the way he promised to do for every one of them.
While inaugural addresses are essentially the newly elected president’s first chance at sharing what they intend to do with their time, JFK’s stands out because of the effectiveness of his persuasion and the expert techniques behind them. JFK iconically turns the tables and calls on Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
JFK employs the inclusion of making the speech especially personal, so that listeners felt a deeper connection to his words and felt that he was speaking directly to them, which is a really powerful tool to use when giving a persuasive speech.
He also littered his speech with strong imagery, with statements like, “the dark powers of destruction,” “the chains of poverty,” and “the jungle of suspicion,” all of which aid in audiences having a clear image in their minds of what he is speaking about. Effective employment of imagery in your speeches will not only keep your audience in tune, but also allows you to clearly illustrate what you are saying so the goal and intention can be visualized.
Michelle Obama’s Democratic National Convention Speech
With high stakes at the 2016 DNC, Michelle Obama delivered a powerful persuasive message. Image courtesy of NPR.
Familiarly, there were some pretty high tensions throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, all of which came to a head when the two candidates came down to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. In support of Hillary Clinton, former First Lady Michelle Obama spoke at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
Her speech became an instant hit and marked a historical election that would only continue to make history as time went on. Obama’s speech was a call to action from not only Democrats themselves, but all Americans, posing Donald Trump’s candidacy and ballot as a danger to the US and the progress that had been made up to that point. She urged all Americans to actively fight against the threat to democracy and use their rights and power to stop it in its tracks.
Obama, already well past her deserved recognition for being a great and eloquent public speaker, had garnered millions of views at the time of her speech and still does through today, a certain mark of a successful persuasive speech.
What made her speech so special and historic was not only the poetic way in which she spoke, but also her ability to make it both personal to her and then turn it around onto her audience so that they, too, feel affected by her urgent call.
Obama poignantly mentioned how she wakes up in a house built by slaves, while she is the First Lady, and watches her black daughters play on the White House lawn, which was a pretty emotional sentiment and reflection that pulled together Americans in a time of political divisiveness.
Not only is there a lot to be taken away from the speech itself, similar to all good persuasive speeches, but there are also some great strategies in Obama’s speech that you can use in your next public speaking event, even if the audience isn’t quite as big!
Tying the content of your speech into something that is directly related to your audience in a deeply personal way is an awesome way to get them to resonate and remember. Further, using a lot of strong poetic devices like Obama did keeps the speech flowing nicely and the content more enjoyable to listen to, which gets your message across and keeps it in the front of the audience’s minds.
Biggest Tips You Can Learn From These Speeches
Each of these speeches had different goals and tried to get a different message across, but they all achieved the same goal of getting that message across effectively enough to be memorable. There is a lot that you can learn and take away from their speeches and apply them to your own speeches and public speaking tools, including:
- Using tenses that stress certainty or inevitably, i.e. “will” “did”
- Using strong imagery to aid in visualization
- Incorporate abstract language that evokes emotional responses
- Relate the content into something that is personal for the audience
- Use poetic devices to keep the content flowing, cohesive, and easy to listen to
If you just tie in and practice these tried-and-true strategies into your own speech-writing and delivering, you’ll be an expert public speaker in no time! Even if public speaking isn’t your thing, you can fool anyone into thinking you’re not the least bit afraid with some strong speech content.