Have you always yearned to write and deliver an impactful speech in the presence of the chairman of the board? Or dreamed of that great sales pitch that closes a major sale? 

How did famed political leaders like Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy do it?

Great speeches, it seems, have a structure and method that are guaranteed to move people and win their hearts.

Here are some of the key ingredients of crafting and delivering a great speech:

Begin dramatically

During the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln gave one of the greatest speeches in American history. Known as the Gettysburg Address, it was delivered on Nov 19, 1863.

He opened his speech with the now-famous lines: “Fourscore and seven ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

He stirred his listeners by referring to the American Revolution of 1776, examining the founding principles of the United States in the context of the Civil War.

His message was that the war was not just a struggle for Union but for a “new birth of freedom” that would bring true equality to all of America’s citizens.

According to Fox News president Roger Ailes, you have only the first seven seconds to make a good first impression, so a few soul-stirring opening lines is the way to do this.

Close powerfully

When Neville Chamberlain’s government fell and King George VI of England asked Churchill to lead a new coalition government, Churchill ended his first speech with: “I would say to the House as I said to those who have joined this government: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

In 1941, during World War II, the British prime minister called on US President Franklin D Roosevelt for military aid, and concluded his speech with: “We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire. Give us the tools and we will finish the job.”

Churchill was a master of powerful endings that listeners could take away, repeat and remember.

Powerful endings leave messages for the audience to take the next course of action.

Craft a vision

Great speakers paint a picture of the future.

In 1963, in Washington DC before a crowd of 200,000, American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr delivered his vision with the renowned “I have a dream” speech.

He drew powerful images of white and black Americans living side by side as equals: “I have a dream that sons of former slaves and sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”

Underlining the current situation of racial discrimination against blacks, he inspired his listeners with his vision of a righteous future: “One day, even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.”

Give your audience hope

Everyone loves positive news, especially in tough times. It is like walking in a dark tunnel and you see a ray of light.

During World War II, Churchill rallied the British people with this radio addresses.

He appealed to their tenacity and inner strength, saying: “Do not let us speak of darker days, let us speak of sterner days. These are not dark days. They are great days — the greatest days our country has ever lived.”

Employ symbols

Create a statement that is uniquely you.

Churchill used a “V” hand gesture to symbolise victory.

Mrs Cory Aquino, who led the 1986 People Power revolution in the Philippines, used an “L” sign for Labuan Party.

You may also use an accessory that becomes associated with you.

For example, Mahatma Gandhi wore trademark spectacles and was always attired in homespun cloth; Margaret Thatcher carried her famous handbags; and Magdalene Albright wore outstanding brooches.

Using colour is another way to distinguish yourself: Mrs Aquino consistently wore yellow, the colour of her party.

Use humour

A great punchline always pleases the crowd. But remember that its delivery must be perfect, so practise until you get it right.

For the greatest effect, pause before you say it.

Mark Twain once said: “There is nothing so powerful as the rightly timed pause.”

Churchill once upset politician Nancy Astor so much that she told him: “If I were your wife, I’d put poison in your coffee.”

Churchill replied: “And if I were your husband, I’d drink it.”

If you cannot write your own punchlines, use quotes like the one above to illustrate a point. Just make sure they are suitable and relevant, or the joke may fall flat.

In Part 2 on Monday, you will learn how to construct a persuasive speech.