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Historical Speeches: What Made Them Great

By: Angelique Caffrey - Updated: 6 Sep 2010 | comments*Discuss
Historical Speeches: What Made Them Great

Sir Winston Churchill’s 1940 “Blood, Sweat and Tears” speech.

Franklin Roosevelt’s declaration of war in 1941.

Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech of 1963.

These are but a few of the dozens of historical speeches that left audiences spellbound when they were first spoken and which continue to inspire to this day. Yet with the tens of thousands of speeches that have been given and recorded throughout the centuries, why have some stood the test of time?

Here, we’ll examine the reasons certain speeches by expert public speakers such as Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Abraham Lincoln will never be forgotten.

They Have Passion

Memorable speeches aren’t spoken in a blasé or subdued manner; instead, they are filled with passion. This in turn stirs the emotions of listeners, even if what’s being said no longer applies to those who are hearing the speech (as in the case of Roosevelt’s declaration of war.)

Hints for your next presentation: Even if you’re tired or preoccupied, force yourself to be 100% in the moment. This will assist you in coming across as genuine, passionate and inspirational.

They Have Relevancy

Certain historical speeches remain relevant generation after generation. This is because they touch upon human conditions, situations or beliefs to which most people can relate – war, racism, poverty, pride, sorrow, joy.

Hints for your next presentation: Want to give a speech that will be remembered? Then your theme should be infused with highly recognisable topics that make audience members relate on a personal level to what’s being said.

They Have Intrinsic Beauty

Many speeches have been written in such a beautiful way that they are almost poetry unto themselves. Consider this selection of Churchill’s stirring words of 1940: “…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; we shall never surrender…" Beyond what is being said is a fabulous example of language used correctly and brilliantly.

Hints for your next presentation: If you’ll be reading a speech aloud or reciting verbatim what you have memorised, take the time while writing to choose your words and phrasing. Doing so could make all the difference.

They Have a Sense of Urgency

Most historical speeches that are used today to emphasise historical eras or help public speakers use urgent language. Often, these speeches were spoken by leaders in times of crises or social upheaval; thus, they have a heightened sense of urgency.

Hints for your next presentation: Though not every subject will be urgent, you can still make your speech seem important. Use active verbs while writing the speech and be dynamic when speaking; your listeners will get the impression that what you’re saying needs to be heard.

They Have Repetition

You’ll notice (as in the case of Churchill’s speech, above) that famous speechmakers often repeat themselves. This isn’t because they are stumbling over their word; it’s to make a sincere, direct point. Humans usually need to hear phrases more than one time to commit them to memory; consequently, when key points are repeated, they tend to be recalled more easily.

Hints for your next presentation: Use repetition to help your audience retain what you say. Make certain you touch upon relevant items often.

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