6 Tips for Using Poetry in a Speech

The term “public speaking” may be defined as relaying information to a group of people in a structured, deliberate manner intended to inform, influence, or entertain the listeners. People may choose to give a speech in order to transmit information, motivate people to act, or simply to tell a story. A good orator should be able to change the emotions of their listener and not just inform them. Hey, we get it. Writing a speech on top of actually performing it in public can be super scary and intimidating, but it gets easier once you think of a speech as an epic spoken word poem. Check out our tip guide for getting over some of those spoken word nerves. Most speeches actually use the same literary devices you already use in tons of your poetry. Think of John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” (why hello there, chiasmus). Now, don’t you feel better? By using the boss poet skills you already have, you can create a speech with descriptive and moving language that really entices your listeners. Keep on reading to find out how to write a speech that grabs your listeners and holds their attention.

  1. Why Do I Have to Write This Thing Anyway? Think about the atmosphere of the occasion at which you’ll present your speech. This will affect the style and tone of your words, just like in a poem (example: a political poem would use a much more serious tone than a poem about a funny memory between you and your best friend). Also pay attention to your audience. For example, a wedding is an event that occurs frequently but no two weddings are exactly alike. This is because different guests with varying personalities attend each one. So, if you were to write a wedding speech, you’d tailor it to match the specific personalities of the couple as well as the guests. Use your poet’s intuition to choose which literacy devices you think everyone will best respond to.
  2. Use Metaphors and Similes. Ah, oldies but goodies. A metaphor is a stylistic device that assigns the characteristics of one thing to another. For example, in his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, when Martin Luther King described Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation as, "a great beacon light of hope for millions of Negro slaves," he used a metaphor to imply that the Emancipation Proclamation had the attributes of a shining beacon light. A simile is a literary device that compares two unlike things using the words “like” or “as.” If King had said the Emancipation Proclamation was "like a great beacon light of hope," he would have been using a simile. Metaphors and similes are elegant ways of saying something-- and listeners respond well to this type of fancy language that’s also easy to understand.
  3. Describe, Describe, Describe! Appeal to your listeners' senses by using concrete, vividly descriptive language. Let’s look at this in action. In a famous nineteenth-century murder case, the senator and powerful orator Daniel Webster recreated the murder scene in the minds of the jurors with expressive descriptions: "The room is uncommonly open to the admission of light. The face of the innocent sleeper is turned from the murderer, and the beams of the moon, resting on the gray locks of his aged temple, show him where to strike. The fatal blow is given!" By honing your ability to create intense imagery, you can entice your listeners to use all five of their senses and make your speech that much more impressive.
  4. This Isn’t an Essay for School-- Go Ahead and Repeat Yourself. Repetition is when a word or phrase is used more than once. In a speech, repetition forces the attention of your audience, quickens the pace of your words, and creates an insistent rhythm. Consider this famous example uttered by Winston Churchill during World War Two: "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing-grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills." Bet’cha the next thought in your head is “we shall…” See, it totally works! Repetition helps to drill key words and ideas into your listeners’ minds so that they remember the most important sections of your speech.
  5. Practice your Delivery and Be CONFIDENT. If you’re confident when speaking and passionate about your speech topic, it will definitely come across as powerful  in your delivery. Read your speech quietly aloud to yourself, listening for its musicality or beat. Then, start over again but a little louder. Each time you read your speech out loud, increase your volume. It might sound silly screaming your speech, but it’ll definitely help with your confidence and once it’s time to perform it for real, speaking at a normal yet assertive register will be a piece of cake. Familiarize yourself with the core ideas and images in your speech. The more you understand the speech, the more likely your audience will understand it and respond to the points you are trying to get across. The more strongly you identify with your work the easier it will be for your audience to follow.
  6. Power Poetry. Now that you’re more familiar with how to write a speech using poetic elements, it’s time to test it out. The ability to read your written work aloud is a gift of immense value because it expresses with grace and clarity thoughts and feelings that are often difficult to find appropriate words for in ordinary prose. Share your poetic speech with Power Poetry and better yet, record yourself so that you can see how much your hard work paid off!

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