How to learn good speech cadence: read along with famous speeches

Lately I’ve started listening to famous speeches on my MP3 player as I work out.

While I’m running, I’ll listen to A Time to Break the Silence or Eisenhower’s farewell address. And if I’m not running too hard, I’ll even try to talk along with the speech.

It’s amazing how slow many of them are.

Of course, one of the most common mistake people make in public speaking is to talk too fast. We get nervous. We confuse speed with enthusiasm. Or maybe we just want to get it over with.

What’s the result? Our audience never has time to let our words sink in, and our mile-a-minute talk fest leaves them slightly dazed.

Listening to, and especially speaking along with, famous speeches has helped me become a better speaker. It has taught me just how much I can slow down in my delivery. It has helped me learn how to vary my cadence, my volume, and my tone for dramatic affect.

Try it. You not only get to hear some of the most powerful words of our day, you also get to become a better communicator yourself.

(Bonus hint: If you’re looking for speeches to listen to, check out American Rhetoric and their Top 100 Speeches.) 

3 thoughts on “How to learn good speech cadence: read along with famous speeches

  1. Tony

    I’ve recently taken to thinking about the importance of cadence when speaking publicly or otherwise. In terms of public speaking though, I would like to emphasize an important point often missed by even the best of public speakers. Just talk. It sounds simple but perhaps you’ve noticed that even the best speeches can often sound as if they’re being read aloud. I find this to be so, more often that it should be. It’s possible to hear examples on a daily basis by simply watching or listening to the news, especially with the race for the White house currently happening. I’m often bothered by this because it seems as if the speaker is seeing the script for the first time. Presidential speeches are great examples of this since virtually every one delivered contains lines and statements that were written with the intent of being memorable and compacting large meaning into a few words.
    I have always thought the speeches of Malcolm X are some of the finest examples of well delivered public speaking. His speeches are among the few I can think of that always sound like someone speaking extemporaneously. I’m sure this was the result of personal passion for the point being made. It shows. Reagan was a great speaker as well, I’m sure this advantage came from acting and having to memorize and deliver lengthy paragraphs in a single go.
    There are so many nuances that go into speech delivery but I think these two are perhaps the most important. Believe in what you say and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. When the moment arrives and you see the whites of their eyes…just talk.

  2. admin Post author

    I agree, cadence is vital. If you’re speaking for TV or radio, for example, you know the producers are going to take a 5-second soundbite of your whole talk. That means you need to give them a pause before and after your soundbite to make it easy for them to lift it.

    It’s odd that often the most-rehearsed speeches are the ones that sound the least contrived. Knowing your speech let’s you be present to your audience without worrying about your words. So I agree: rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.


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