How to Craft a Winning Speech: 7 Steps

By Manuel Martin | United States

It was 10 AM, and I had just finished my coaching session for the upcoming Great Communicators Tournament at the Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) National Convention. Over 120 students applied for this tournament, and I was one of three who made it to the finals.

I was optimistic about my speech until the coaches told me to start over, as my speech was too data-driven. If I didn’t change my speech in a drastic way, they said, I would have no chance of winning. I had one day to come up with a new speech and win the YAL tournament for a shot to head to the Great Communicators Tournament finale and compete for $10,000.

I abandoned the YAL convention activities (even skipping Ron Paul’s remarks at the convention) and focused all of my attention on creating a killer 3-minute speech. The Great Communicator’s Tournament is organized by Think Freely Media. They believe “that until we begin to seize the moral high ground and make the moral arguments in favor of free enterprise and liberty, we will continue to lose the fights that matter the most.” Let’s be honest: the last things libertarians need are more data-driven and logically reinforced arguments. After all, we’ve been doing that for decades with little success.

After absorbing the coach’s advice and starting from scratch, I created a speech that earned me first place and a shot at the finals.

At the finals, the judges allotted us four minutes for our speech with these criteria.

You work as a policy analyst for a national think tank that focuses on free-market solutions for third-world countries. And you have been invited to be one of a half-dozen or so speakers at a prestigious conference whose attendees are several dozen of the world’s wealthiest and most influential philanthropists investing in developing nations. Collectively, you will be speaking to individuals and corporations with many hundreds of millions of dollars in giving capacity. The purpose of the conference is for the attendees to hear a variety of perspectives on the best and most impactful strategies for philanthropic giving in developing nations. You’ve been asked to explain why your principles are most effective at lifting people out of poverty.”

The Speech

Below is the speech that earned me second place and a pleasant purse:

After the 2010 Haiti earthquake, NGO’s were inspired to provide relief in many ways, including giving away solar powered lights. However, the free lights resulted in Haiti’s own solar light manufacturer, Enersa, having to lay off most of their staff, as Enersa went from producing 50 lights a month to less than one.

Tom’s Shoes has famously donated over 35 million pairs of shoes, but that’s what’s seen. What’s not seen is the local cobbler losing customers and going out of business, the local cotton farmer and leather curator losing the cobbler’s business. And what happens when the free shoes wear out with the cobbler gone: where are the locals to get new shoes?

International aid can relieve human suffering, but we must help wisely.  As philanthropists, we are so busy giving with our hearts, sometimes we forget to give with our mind. I fear that for every good or service gratuitously given to those in need, we conscript them to a life of never experiencing the growth and pride of finding employment, accumulating wealth and sustainably providing for themselves and their family.

Entrepreneurs within market economies have lifted billions of souls out of poverty, but markets have limits; entrepreneurs can’t compete with free, and markets must generate wealth from the bottom up.  Economies don’t just magically grow from farmer John to farmer John Deere.

Private enterprise and bottom-up wealth creation are why I stand here today. My great-grandfather was a subsistence farmer on the small Atlantic island of Terceira. At the age of 20, he got a small loan to buy a half-acre, one cow, and build a dirt floor cinderblock house. Every day he walked a mile to the local market to sell his cows’ milk and buy flour, eggs, and spices. Life was hard, but if he were here today, he’d remind you the last thing his small milk farm needed was for an NGO to sell his customers free milk. Through hard work, incremental saving, and an unhindered market he labored his way to 8 cows and a flock of chickens, assets he liquidated to fund his move to America.  

His struggle was once the American struggle. In 1790, 90% of Americans were subsistence farmers, and despite the pompous British, American entrepreneurs built a strong economy one step at a time. Kerosene lamp before electricity, electricity before the incandescent light bulb, fluorescent light, LED light… lightsaber.

My friends, we can end poverty, not by creating dependency but by opening up opportunity. Here are some ways you can sustainably help elevate the third world poor.

Use your influence and push Congress to eliminate agricultural tariffs and subsidies, unfair advantages that drive global inequality and which our technologically superior farmers don’t need.

Influence foreign leaders to establish reliable and defendable land ownership systems; land ownership may just spark a cultural shift towards free markets and honest governance.

Reduce donations to NGO’s attempting to design foreign economies from the top down; instead invest in foreign financial institutions which specialize in helping small to medium size businesses grow. Struggling foreign entrepreneurs are desperate for the opportunity to turn your loan into sustainable profits for themselves and you. Imagine the lives and generations you’ll help change when both sides of the Atlantic are engaged in market-based value creation.

Lastly, remember the third world working poor are beautiful vibrant human beings, endowed with all the intelligence, creativity, and desire to be self-sufficient as every person in this room. They don’t need a fish or to be taught how to fish; maybe, just maybe what they need is for the world to stop disturbing their pond.

7 Important Steps in Writing a Speech

Here are the tactics I used to create my speech, which you can apply to yours.

  1. Study everything. In preparing for giving a speech on foreign aid, I watched every documentary I could get my hands on and read more articles that I can even count. I wanted to be the expert’s expert in the room. I had to understand the traditional foreign aid story and how it has worked and failed, then learn the liberty alternatives.
  2. Use emotions and storytelling. When preaching about the virtues of free markets and the vices of NGO’s disrupting local markets, it’s important to give the reader something real to feel. The Story of Enersa laying off most of their staff is very real and lives were severely threatened by NGO “help.” My great grandfather’s story is very real. Towards the end, I asked them to picture the lives and generations they will help change, getting their feelings on the table.
  3. Use humor. I incorporated what I thought would be four laughs in the speech. Turns out two earned laughs, one got a couple chuckles, and the other bombed. If the points in your speech you thought would get you laughs don’t, just keep going but always try.
  4. No Limits. It doesn’t matter if you have a 4 minute limit on your speech or a 300-word limit. For your first draft, write whatever you think is pertinent.
  5. Trim the fat. There is no such thing as a good writer: there is only a good re-writer. Don’t say in twenty-five words what you can say in seven. My first draft was 850 words, I trimmed the fat to 507 words, then added new ideas to bring the speech back up to around 610 words.
  6. Write two speeches. After writing the above speech, I wrote a separate one from a different angle to see if I could get anything out of my mind and the line, “Economies don’t just magically grow from farmer John to farmer John Deer,” resulted from that spare speech.
  7. Memorize your speech. If you are focused on reading your speech while your opponent is focused on performing theirs, you will lose. Memorize your speech so you can perform your speech. Both I and the first place winner had our speeches memorized.

Above all else, realize that if you’re in a speech competition and don’t put in the work to win, you will not have a chance at winning. But follow the above seven steps, and you will do great.

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