How Do You Deliver a Successful Speech?
Three Hamilton students were recently awarded the top prizes in the College’s popular Public Speaking Competition, and they have shared their best tips for educating, entertaining, and persuading their audiences.
The McKinney Prize is offered to students in each class year for a persuasive speech. Abbie Wolff ’22 was the senior winner with the topic “Apathy and Access: Accessibility at Hamilton College.” The underclass winner was Tinashe Dylan Manguwa ’25 with his speech, “Here is Holy.”
The Clark Prize requires students to respond to a specific prompt in a persuasive speech. This year's prompt was “What lesson(s) should we learn from the COVID-19 pandemic?” Cherry Zhang ’23 was the winner with her speech. “How Productive Should I Be? Reflections on the Meanings of Work.”
Wolff also won the Warren E. Wright Prize, which is reserved for students who have taken a public speaking course and present an informative speech on the topic of their choosing. Her speech was “Reimagining Time and Space with Walkable Communities.”
We asked the winners to share three suggestions or pieces of advice.
Tinashe Dylan Manguwa ’25
- Be personal. No one can tell your story for you, which makes it that much more powerful. So, speak out about that which tugs at your heartstrings because others can then find themselves within your story.
- Be impartial. It is tempting to believe everything is great about your speech and you can do no wrong, but acknowledge your limitations. Reach out and seek help. Study past winning speeches to gauge what made them unique and compelling.
- Be patient. The process takes time, from writing the speech, to memorization to presentation. One should give themselves grace and leverage all parts of the process.
Abbie Wolff ’22
- Writing a speech is different from writing an essay. Your speech should use more casual language and shorter sentences. As you write, be sure to read your speech aloud to see how it sounds.
- Move around the stage, but remember to plant your feet! Movement is a powerful tool to emphasize points and indicate transitions. Plan these movements out ahead of time. Constant movement can distract from your message.
- Utilize hooks, anecdotes, and analogies to keep your audience engaged. Small stories, or explaining a point in a new way can help you be memorable. Try drawing upon your own life to find stories that can help you relate with your audience.
At Hamilton, we believe written and oral communication skills are critical for successful lives and careers. Students hone these with support from the College’s writing and oral communication centers so they can present their ideas clearly and persuasively.
Cherry Zhang ’23
- Practice, practice, and practice. Practice everything from your tonality to your facial expression.
- Always remember why you are giving the speech in the first place: it’s because you have something valuable to share with others.
- If you forget anything on the spot, no one would know. Just carry on!
Hamilton's annual Public Speaking Competition gives students an opportunity to demonstrate their abilities while competing for more than $15,000 in prizes.