A crowd of people cheer

How to write a persuasive speech

By BBC Maestro

Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream”. William Churchill’s “We will fight on the beaches”. Malala Yousafzai’s “I am here to stand up for their rights, to raise their voice”. These are three of the most famous speeches ever – and their long-lasting impact is down to how persuasive they are.

If you want to follow in their footsteps, here’s everything you need to know about how to write a persuasive speech.

What makes a persuasive speech?

The very notion of public speaking is enough to strike fear into the heart of most people. But it doesn’t need to be scary – and dispelling that thought is the first step to writing a persuasive speech. After all, no one was ever convinced by someone who wasn’t confident about their subject.

Don’t believe it? Take it from Richard Greene, who’s dedicated his career to helping people overcome their fear of public speaking. It’s easier to deliver a speech, he says, if you remember that it’s not about you. 

As he explains in his BBC Maestro course, Public Speaking and Communication, “the real reason for public speaking is to provide value to the people standing or sitting in front of you.”

Once you remember that, it’s easier to deliver a speech that’s less nerve-wracking and more impactful.

But what exactly, makes someone a persuasive speaker? Think again about those famous speeches from Martin Luther King Jr, William Churchill and Malala Yousafzai. What makes them so persuasive?

Some of the common threads that run through each of them include:

  • Personalisation: each speaker made the audience feel like they were talking directly to them
  • Use of strong imagery and visual language
  • Use of commanding yet simple-to-understand language
  • Authenticity: none of these speakers were putting on an act, and it went a long way to making their speeches more powerful

Let’s take a look at these in a little more detail, to help you write a speech that’s powerful, passionate and persuasive.

Know your topic 

It might sound obvious – after all, why would you try to deliver a speech on something you don’t know much about? But it happens more often than you might think. 

But if you don’t know your subject well, you’re more likely to be nervous about fluffing it. And if your audience knows that you’re nervous – and they will – then it’s unlikely to be a persuasive speech.

As Richard Greene says, one of the keys to a successful speech is that “you believe that there is value in the information that you are sharing.”

So, first things first – make sure that your knowledge of a topic is top-notch before even attempting to write your speech. It’ll go a long way to making it more effective and persuasive.

Speak directly to the audience 

One of the things that all the famous orators we mentioned earlier did so well was speaking directly to their audience. When writing a persuasive speech, you want to make it seem like you’re speaking directly to each and every audience member. 

As Richard Greene explains, “I want to get every single person to feel that they’re having a direct connection and direct communication with me.”

Asking questions is a great way to get your audience engaged – another great tip from Richard Greene. He suggests that you “turn the tables and ask them questions [because] questions engage the audience, questions take the pressure off the speaker.”

You could also help the audience connect to you by telling them a personal story, relating an anecdote, or simply spelling out what you’re going to tell them – and why it’s important to them. 

However you do it, connecting with your audience is key. It is, as Richard puts it, “where the transfer of energy, the transfer of enthusiasm, the transfer of information happens.”

Communicate clearly 

One big mistake that many people make when writing speeches is to make them overly verbose, or to fill them with jargon. 
But if an audience doesn’t understand what you’re saying, they’ll immediately switch off – meaning that you’ll never persuade them.  
One good rule of thumb is to write like you talk – and then to practice reading your speech out loud. You’ll soon spot anything that sounds odd, out of place, or difficult to understand. 

Tell a story 

Stories are powerful, and they’re a fantastic technique to use within speeches to get your point across. 
Richard Greene is a big fan of stories, saying that:  
“The six most powerful words a speaker can ever say to an audience is let…me…tell…you…a…story.” 
He goes on to explain that “stories reach into our primal self as human beings, stories have been the primary form of communication amongst human beings for all time.” 
A story is made even better when they’re filled with imagery that the audience can use to help them understand it. Think back to Martin Luther King Jr, Churchill and Malala Yousafzai – they all use powerful, visual language to tell their story and leave a lasting impression.  

Use your body as well as your words 

Body language is useful in helping you to tell your story. Whether it’s through hand gestures, eye contact, or simply the way you hold yourself, your body is an effective tool for reinforcing your message and sincerity. 
But remember that your body language should make your message clearer – not more complicated. If your body language is at odds with the words you’re speaking, your audience is going to leave feeling less persuaded and more confused. 
So, avoid crossing your arms or slouching which could give off the impression that you’re bored or uninterested in the subject, and instead practice standing tall and proud, and using open gestures to reiterate your points. 

Be yourself

Audiences are smart, and they’re unlikely to be fooled by someone selling trying to sell them a false narrative, or an inauthentic version of themselves.  
Being yourself is one of the best shots you have at creating a real rapport with your audience. As Richard Green says, “your authenticity in the moment is what will drive your connection to the audience.” 
So, once you’ve learned your subject, written your speech, and practiced it – tear it up, take a deep breath, and go out on stage as your authentic self.  
These tips will help you to write a persuasive speech – but there’s lots more to learn about the art of public speaking and getting your point across, as you’ll learn in Richard Greene’s BBC Maestro course, Public Speaking and Communication. You’ll learn everything about conquering your fear of public speaking and connecting with your audience. 

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