What makes for a good speech?As an audience member, what makes a speech really memorable for you? What aspects of a speech make you remember how good a speaker was?

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I like how you focused on being an audience member.  I think I am fairly sentimental, so I like moving speeches.  One of the best ways to create your own really good speech is to look at famous, very successful speeches.  One of the best is “I Have a Dream” by Martin Luther King, Jr. because it still inspires people today.

One of the reasons the speech is so effective is because it uses repetition, but it also includes all three of the rhetorical appeals that make for powerful persuasion: ethos, pathos, and logos. 

Ethos is the development of speaker credibility.  You need to convince people that you know what you are talking about.  One way is to borrow from experts.  Notice that King quotes Abraham Lincoln. 

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. (para 1)

Not only is this an appeal to credibility, it is also an appeal to emotion.  Note that King does not directly state Lincoln’s name.  He also does not state Jefferson’s name when referring to the Declaration of Independence.  This way, he borrows the credibility of the great men without taking focus away from himself.

Pathos continues when King directly appeals to our emotions.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. (para 20)

King’s use of the word “dream” repeatedly directly pulls on our heart strings.

The final effective technique is logos, or logic.  King points out that there is no difference between the races, and people are people.  He points out the history of declaring, but not living up to, equality.


For more on ethos, pathos and logos, see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhetoric

For more on this speech, see here:


For the text of the speech itself, see here:


"American Rhetoric: Martin Luther King, Jr. - I Have a Dream." American Rhetoric: The Power of Oratory in the United States. Web. 03 May 2012. <http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm>.

booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In my mind, what makes a great speech is when someone shares information that the audience can understand; provides supporting examples to add to the speaker's credibility; uses a small amount of humor (if appropriate) to seem more approachable and caring; and, saying something that is not only memorable and true, but things that resonate with the listener. Speaking to the audience in an open and welcoming way helps the speaker draw the listener in rather than alienating him/her. Lastly, having a way with words and being able to clearly articulate are aspects of speaking that allow a message to not only get through but remain in one's long-term memory.

If we think of Martin Luther King, Jr., and his "I Have a Dream" speech, I believe the only thing missing is "humor," for it was inappropriate at that time. However, his speaking was clear, his imagery powerful, and his sense of self and his delivery of his message was so sincere and moving, that it still has the power to move heart today, so many years later.

clairewait eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I always advise students, in any speech, but especially long speeches, to tell stories.  Whether you incorporate personal stories or those of someone else, you will feel most comfortable if you focus on being interesting and entertaining over enlightening or profound. 

Think about the kinds of public speakers you (and others) enjoy the most.  They take profound or difficult concepts and present them so that anyone can relate.  And be yourself.  For example, though most people enjoy humor in speeches, if you are not a naturally funny person, humor might not work for you.  Sincerity and authenticity always come across in a good speaker.  This is why story telling is often an easy approach.

stolperia eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Have you noticed the pattern in the above posts? All of them are mentioning ways in which the speech is presented - characteristics that the speaker shows; none of them say that the content of the speech is the most important thing!

I agree with all of the above! A speaker who establishes eye contact with the audience, uses words and voice tone to convey how interesting the subject is and how glad the speaker is to be sharing information with the audience about this topic, personalizes the speech by giving illustrations to show how this information can be immediately useful in real life - that speaker is going to be remembered for giving a good speech.

rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Most of the posts above have described (correctly) what makes a great speaker. I think a great speech is at least a bit more dependent on the content being delivered. I have heard some very gifted speakers talking what seemed to me to be complete nonsense. In fact, many great speakers are rather gifted at using rhetorical tricks to deliver ideas that were lightweight to say the least. So a good speech would make sense logically, be based on accurate information, and have some intellectual depth to it. A good speaker could take all of this and make it emotionally compelling as well.

Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are two things that really stick out to me when watching a speech.  The first is how the speaker relates to the audience (me).  A great speech leaves me feeling like the speaker was talking to me the whole time, not a crowded auditorium.  The second thing that impresses me about a good speaker is their charisma.  If the speaker is excited and passionate about their subject, it enhances their presentation immensely.


Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the simplest things that makes a good speech is pace: don't speak so quickly that listeners have to strain to keep up with you; don't speak so slowly that listeners lose track and stop following you. Another thing is that contemporary speakers who are famous for their skill seem to let their personality show whether they are being earnest during a serious speech or humorous during an instructive speech. 

shake99 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Im impressed with a presentation when the speaker gives the impression of being very knowledgeable about the topic and even passionate about it. When someone else is interested in something, we are more likely to be also.

This requires a good deal of background knowledge by the speaker. It also helps if they are confident enough to ask the audience for questions (and able to anwer them).

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

For me, the main thing is for the speaker to avoid reading their speech.  (Or at least to avoid sounding like they're reading it.)  There's nothing worse than having someone read a speech without much in the way of phrasing or intonation.  Good speeches sound more like the speaker is simply talking to the audience, not reading a prepared statement.

thewanderlust878 | Student

I think it is very circumstantial in terms of what makes a good speech and what doesn't. If it is a speech about a new historical discovery, the tone and mood would be much different than that of say, a motivational speech for the rebels of the French revolution in the late 18th century into the early 19th century. I believe that the audience is a huge part of this, and you have to think of who you are presenting to. If you are presenting to experts of a certain field trying to land a job, I believe that it would be more important to ensure that you have your facts right and that you speak well and clearly as opposed to trying to be funny, incorporate unprofessional things into it, etc. However, if you were presenting to a group of students who did not want to be at the presentation but were forced to, I believe that it would be of equal importance to ensure that the audience is engaged and not falling asleep. 

Hope this helps!

loraaa | Student

just,,,,You should have the courage and boldness... ^_*

and everything will be ok... ^_^