Does your audience need a dictionary to decipher your speeches?
Do you write your speeches with encyclopedic diction?
Do you draw your speechwriting inspiration from legal documents?
Technical writing, essays, financial reports, and legal writings all have their place — but none of them belong in your speechwriting.
Speeches which use simple, conversational language are more enjoyable to listen to, easier to follow, and more likely to be remembered.
The fourth Toastmasters speech project guides you to use simple, but descriptive language in your speeches. This article of the Toastmasters Speech Series examines the primary goals of this project, provides tips and techniques, and links to numerous sample speeches.
Why is This Speech Important?
The aims for this speech project focus on your selection of words and phrases:
- Choose words and grammar which communicate clearly.
- Choose words and grammar which appeal to the senses.
- Eliminate jargon.
Tips and Techniques
1. Choose Descriptive or Story-based Topics
Any topic can work, but to flex your speechwriting muscles, choose a topic which lends itself to vivid descriptions. Speeches based around stories or experiences will challenge you to select words and phrases to transport your audience from their chairs to the setting where your speech takes place.
2. Use Sensory Language
Make your audience see what you see, feel what you feel, taste what you taste, smell what you smell, and hear what you hear. In short, draw upon all five senses to create a completely immersive description. Transport your audience to a movie theatre by describing:
- Sight: the dizzying special effects of the martial arts scene
- Smell: the wafting aroma of buttered popcorn
- Sound: the booming surround-sound effects which made you jump from your seat
- Taste: the sweet licorice Twizzlers which melt in your mouth
- Touch: the claustrophobic squeeze of your knees pressed into the seatback in front of you
3. Use Repetition Wisely
Repetition of phrases throughout a paragraph, and repetition of sentences throughout your speech make your speech memorable. Wrap your speech around a signature phrase.
4. Avoid Topics About Words or Language
I often see Toastmasters choosing topics for project 4 which are about words or some other aspect of language, like poetry or figures of speech. For example, both Barren Words and Metaphors (by Oleg) and Swearing (by Andrew E. Scott) are very interesting speeches with language themes.
However, I recommend against choosing this type of topic. Rather than talking about words, let the focus be on your use of words, phrases, and grammar. Similarly, for project 5 (your body speaks), you should choose a topic that allows you to use your body, not a topic that is about body language. Further, in project 8 (get comfortable with visual aids), you will learn more by using visual aids to enhance your message rather than talking about projectors or flip charts.
What I Did for Speech 4
I wanted to choose a topic that would allow me to employ sensory words, so I elected to speak about my recipe for barbecued hamburgers.
The title of my speech was Recipe for Love, although it came to be known by its signature phrase (“the Meat, the Method, and the Merge”).
The speech was organized quite simply around the burger preparation process:
- Introduction — I introduced the topic by placing it in the context of things which had been said the previous week and were thus familiar to the audience.
- The Meat — Preparation of the burger patties
- The Method — Cooking the patties
- The Merge — Combining the patties with the bun, “fixings”, and condiments
- Conclusion — Quick summary which restated the signature phrase in the speech.
Rhetorical devices employed in this speech:
- Alliteration: “tasty tips”, “brilliant barbecued burgers”, “the meat, the method, and the merge”, “personally prepared patties”, “manufacturing a mouthwatering masterpiece for your mate”
- Repetition: “the meat, the method, the merge” was used throughout the speech
Sensory words and phrases
I deliberately crafted the speech so that it would appeal to all five senses:
- Sight — “could cause flames to shoot up, enveloping your burgers”, “pleasing cross-hatch pattern”, “feast for the eyes as well as the palette”
- Smell — “The spiced butter will start to percolate through the meat and will release aromas that will make you the envy of the neighborhood”
- Sound — “you’ll hear the pleasing crackle of the barbecue”
- Taste — “spicy butter mixture”, “crisp lettuce, ripe tomato, onions with pop, sweet pickles, chili peppers, smoky bacon”
- Touch — “take each patty in the palm of your hand, and press down forming a valley”, “massage the patty into a pleasing thickness and shape”
Topic Ideas for Toastmasters Speech 4
The Impossible Task by Sara Piaskowy (written)
- Alliteration: “The task seems impossible, insurmountable, the idea is incomprehensible!”, “Sometimes it is staccato, sometimes smooth”
- Repetition: “smell” repeatedly (see below), “Now I LOVE mangos. Love in capital letters L.O.V.E. mangos.”; “I have learned how…” used in three consecutive sentences; “Burkina Faso has…” in four consecutive sentences near the conclusion.
- Simile: “the time like sand slipping through the hour glass”, “hit you like a brick wall”, “the strength and intensity of the heat makes you feel like the sun has come unhinged and is on a trajectory path headed straight towards you”
- Metaphor: “colors that can lift even the saddest of moods”
- Sensory phrases
- Sight — “a river of motos zooming past”, “Ruffles and feathers and zigzag hem lines”
- Sound — descriptions of music, “when there is no music… the sound of the language is what is entrancing”, “sing song, up and down, loud and soft quality to what I hear”
- Touch — descriptions of dry, reddish dust everywhere; extreme heat
- Smell — “there are several types of smells; there are rancid smells, urine smells, the smell of garbage, a body odor smell, dried fish smells, and don’t forget the smell of exhaust or the unpleasant odor of burning plastic which somehow wafts through your house unannounced.”
- Taste — mangoes and other fruits, rice with red sauce, etc.
1, 2, 3… Full stop! by Shrilatha Putthi (written)
- Repetition — “3-speech Toastmaster” is repeated many times in the speech; “nightmarish nightmare”
- Similes — too many to list (how many did you find?). Many go culturally beyond my North American roots, but one must remember that Shrilatha’s audience would be quite familiar with these cultural references.
- Alliteration — “tormenting truth”; “fun and frolic”; “gloriously grand gold”
- Triad (several are alliterative too) — “dejected, disgusted, and devastated”; “enjoyment, excitement, entertainment”; “I was, I am, and I will be…”
Get Your Motor Running by Karen Woodson (video)
- Simile: “hit me like a ton of bricks” [0:57]
- Sound: “and then the powerful statement ‘Gentlemen, Start your engines’ is announced over the loud roar of the audience” [1:25]
- Sight: “a night race when the lights reflect off the shiny paint” [2:25]; numerous references to flags of different colors flying
- Triad: “bone-jarring, teeth-gnashing, wheel-spinning crash” [4:05]
- Alliteration and Triad: “covered in confetti and either champagne, coca-cola, or gatorade” [5:55]
- Another descriptive phrase: “as the rubber burns… roar of the engines… only during ‘cautions’ do the crowds relax enough to sit down” [3:35];
The House on Silver Spring Lake by Leena Oh (video)
The opening paragraph embodies the goals of this project wonderfully. Fifty-nine words, and Leena uses sensory phrases which draw upon all five senses:
Imagine waking up in the morning, the sun streaming through the pine branches into your bedroom window (sight). You hear birds chirping (sound), and woodpeckers tapping for their breakfasts (sound). It’s chilly, so you try to stay in the warmth of your covers (touch) as long as possible, but you can’t resist the smell of breakfast and coffee (smell) drifting up from the kitchen.
Further, note that of those 59 words, only three have more than two syllables: imagine, woodpeckers, and possible.
More Examples of How to Say It
Here are a few more sample written and video speeches which may provide inspiration for you.
Written Speech Examples
- The Brain is Our Universe by Edwin Vinas
Edwin provides a detailed analysis of his goals for the speech, and the audience reactions he hoped to provoke. This analysis includes a review of the rhetorical devices he employs.
- My Uncle Dinny by Séamus McInerney
Filled with sensory phrases. e.g. “We would have tea stretched out before the cream coloured range. I can still smell the turf fire and hear the big clock ticking as it always did.“
- The Greatest Thing I’ve Done by Noryfel Bien
The opening is especially strong for two reasons: 1) It darts through a series of descriptive experiences that are easily visualized. 2) It uses repetition effectively. “I haven’t” and “I’m not” are used multiple times before the key transition phrase “I am a teacher” which leads into the body of the speech.
- Are you getting the most out of your chocolate by Lu
The choice of topic allows numerous taste, smell, and touch sensory phrases.
- Fueling the Cooking by Les Aquino
- Apocalypse Now by Nitesh Luthra
- You’re What You Eat for Your Breakfast by Amit Bhatnagar
- The Key to Understanding Me by comment dit-on
Video Speech Examples
- How to Keep a Conversation Going by Jason McGarva
- People Who Have Inspired Me by Pa Toastmasters member
- Why Skill Based Play is Good by Paul Miller
- Unknown by Capital Communicators member
- Kindergarten by Michelle Cohen
- Say Cheese by Sherry Lu
- Our Motivations by Eric Brown
- Unknown by Deepak Mittal
- Unknown by Daniel Habedank
- China is My Future by Beau
- The Decline of the U.S. Dollar by Elie Ishag
- Goodbye by Zeki Yimdirim
- How to eat during the holidays by Mary Ann
- The Art of Communication by Shenequa Mitchell
- The Language of Play by Emilie Staryak
- Profits of the Journey by Rosetta Ishag
- So Many Topics, So Little Time by John Armstrong
- The Endangered Species Act by Elizabeth Guzman
- Where Words Can Lead You by Arnie Buss
- Unknown by Tom Wilson
Next in the Toastmasters Speech Series
The next article in this series examines Toastmasters Speech 5: Your Body Speaks.
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