What Role Could Poetry Have In Your Next Speech?

Adding poetry to a speech can help capture an audience
Adding poetry to a speech can help capture an audience
Image Credit: Felix E. Guerrero

Every speaker wants the same thing: our audience to be hanging on our next word. We want them to be listening to what we are telling them deeply and once we’ve told them something, we want them to remember what we said. We’ve got a number of tricks in our bag to make this happen, but that doesn’t mean that it is easy to do. Perhaps we’ve been overlooking a clever way to get the words that flow over our lips to glide into the ears of our audience? Poetry just might be what we have been looking for.

The Power Of The Spoken Word

In many speeches, tired jargon that has been rendered meaningless by overuse reigns. How many times have we heard a “paradigm shift” to “leverage new capabilities” which might sound smart at first, until you try to figure out what it actually means. Speakers have endured death-byPowerPoint replete with nouns made into verbs by adding “ize”: incentivize, systematize, operationalize. We understand that some jargon is certainly useful and necessary among specialists. The problem is that we can use overly technical or wordy language. Most of the time, simple is better.

What can be done to avoid eye-glazing language? What can be done to breathe life into our speeches and presentations? The famous poet Maya Angelou said, “Poetry is music written for the human voice.” Poetry, like your next presentation, is meant to be both voiced and heard. So for a start, we could inject our speeches with a little poetry, a little vocal music.

How To Add Poetry To Your Next Speech

If you want to add poetry to your next speech, you are going to have to get familiar with it first. You can do this by reading poetry and song lyrics for your inspiration. Reading good poetry either in your mind or aloud can spark ideas about how to say something during a speech more compellingly. If you don’t know where to start with poetry, begin with the greats, classic and modern: William Blake, Walt Whitman, William Wordsworth, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, T.S. Eliot, Seamus Heaney, Pablo Neruda, Sylvia Plath, the list goes on and on. Maybe during your next speech the repetition of a key phrase during the speech would help your audience focus on it – and thus remember it.

Remember that you are going to want to draw on all five senses. Poets make it real by using sound, smell, taste and touch. Because the sense of smell is closely related to your audience’s memory, describing a scent or taste can enliven a story you are telling as a part of your speech. Speakers need to understand that a sound, touch or scent can take an audience there, more powerfully than can an image alone.

How your audience hears your speech will be very important This means that you need to listen to the sound, pace and rhythm of your speech. You can hear the cadence in poetry. This is where the music can come in. Listen to the sound of the words, how they fit together, whether they flow. When you are rehearsing a speech or presentation, you need to instinctively listen for fluidity. If you’re repeatedly stumbling over a phrase, take the time to smooth it out. Taking the time to read good poetry aloud will help attune your ear to the music you’re aiming for.

In order to become a better speaker, challenge yourself with simile and metaphor. Remember that a simile is the comparison of one thing to another, using “like” or “as”; a metaphor is a comparison without using “like” or “as.” These parts of speech can make poetry soar. So, too, can simile and metaphor enrich your speech’s words and deepen their meaning.

Finally, keep it simple. We need to realize that good writing, for that matter good poetry uses economy. When creating a speech with poetry in it we will want to use no more words than are needed and use the shortest words appropriate. Keeping it simple is about keeping it easy for your audience to follow. Sure, we all must use the technical vocabulary of our profession. But to really get our listeners’ attention, we need to punch up our presentation with the clarity, color and the music of poetry.

What All Of This Means For You

Speakers want their next speech to be remembered by their audience. This can be a real challenge these days considering how may distractions our audiences are dealing with. As we stand on a stage before our audience, all we really have to work with is our words. It turns out that how our words fit together and how they flow can have a real impact on our audience. If we take the time to look at how poetry uses words to create memorable mental images, we can start to use poetry in our speeches to connect with our audience.

Audiences have often been exposed to too much jargon as a part of their normal day. Some jargon is ok, too much is not. In order to prevent ourselves from using too much jargon in our next speech, we can interject some poetry into our speeches in order to make them memorable. In order to do this, we will have to first start off by taking the time to study poetry. The best poetry draws on all five senses. The cadence of spoken poetry is an important factor in helping an audience to remember it. Adding more similes and metaphors to our speech can help to incorporate poetry. Ultimately, we need to remember to keep it simple.

Creating speeches that will be remembered should be the goal of every speaker. In order to make this happen, we can take a look at poetry and study how we can incorporate it into our next speech. By making the words that we speak flow like a fine poem, we will increase the chances that our audience will remember what we have told them.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills™

Question For You: Where in a speech do you think would be the best place to add poetry?

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Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site www.Toastmasters.org. Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

When we were in school and had to write a paper, I’m willing to bet that your teacher cautioned you about what words you should and should not use in your creation. You were probably urged to use “proper English” and to avoid using any slang words. Why was this? It was probably so that the paper that you created would have more of a “formal” air to it. That is all well and good for the papers that we used to write in school, but what about when we give a speech. Does slang have any role to play in your next speech?