What are the elements of a powerful speech? When writing remarks for a nonprofit leader, expert or other spokesperson, there are a number of elements that you should always include; not only to amplify the power of your words, but also to make speech writing much easier.

Here are six elements to include when writing any speech:

1. Grabber

A grabber is used to open your remarks, connect with your audience and capture their attention. There are many techniques you can use to draw listeners in, including:

  • Stories
  • Literary references
  • Quotations
  • Jokes (use with caution!)
  • Commentary about a news story or current event
  • Relevant personal experiences*
  • Feelings or insights the speaker has about the audience*
  • Traits, feelings or experiences the speaker has in common with audience*

*These are my personal favourites.

2. Subject

Explicitly state the subject of your remarks.

Doing so can be as simple as this example: “I’m here today to talk about the role of mentors in our work.”

Stating your subject might feel like stating the obvious, but it expresses a commitment to your audience. A stated subject shows that you have a plan and have prepared for your talk; that you value the time they spend listening to you and that you’re going to stay on topic.

3. Message

Related to the subject but more specific, the message is a single sentence that encapsulates what it is you will communicate through your speech. Your message includes the thesis or point you intend to illustrate for your audience.

Following on the example above, a message might be, “Introducing mentors has allowed us to double the effectiveness of our programs.”

State your message within your speech introduction, and restate it in your conclusion to summarize your remarks.

4. Theme

A theme can be an image, a metaphor or a powerful word that adds interest to your remarks. A theme offers language that unifies the points in your speech, pulling your words together.

For example, a relevant theme in a speech about mentors might be ‘navigation’. The incorporation of language that reflects the theme of navigation (e.g. direction, compass, pathways, journey) can add interest, imagery and power to your speech. It can also support idea generation for other speech elements.

5. Structure

There are a number of ways you can structure your remarks. It’s best to think of your message as your thesis or position and then structure your remarks in terms of making the case.

A number of different structural approaches can be used depending on the message and subject matter. For example, a speech can be structured by:

  • A chronological comparison such as ‘past’ vs ‘present’ or ‘present’ vs ‘future’
  • The ‘ways’ or ‘reasons’ your main idea or message is true
  • The ‘steps’ that have been taken or are underway for achieving a goal or vision mentioned in your message
  • The ‘challenge’ you are facing and your ‘response’ to it

Once a structure is established it forms your speech outline; state it in your introduction to offer a roadmap of your remarks and to provide listeners with a feeling of anticipation.

For example, “Today I’m going to tell you what the mentorship program has done for our organization. First it has attracted new volunteers from our priority communities. Second, it has allowed for a more meaningful connection between participants and our organization. And third, it has created an opportunity for that connection to be ongoing.”

Having introduced your speech structure in the introduction, restate each argument or section as you proceed, to make your speech easy to follow.

6. Call to action

Every speech should have a call to action that is related to your message. It might be a big bold rallying cry or a simple step audience can take with them and implement. Close your remarks with a call to action to help your audience feel part of your message.

Use these speech writing elements to connect with your audience

These elements can make a huge difference in how your speech is received. By building them in, you’ll show your audience that you have thought about them and not just what you want to say. And using these structural elements as a framework prevents you from seeming disorganized or writing a speech built on lists of facts, statistics or accomplishments without cohesion.

Marlene Oliveira

Marlene Oliveira

Communications advisor and copywriter at moflow
Marlene Oliveira is communications consultant and copywriter at moflow and founder of the Nonprofit MarCommunity blog. Having worked in the nonprofit sector since 1999, Marlene specializes in working with capacity building and grant-making organizations, advising on communications strategy, and writing stories and other content.
Marlene Oliveira