7 speechwriting techniques to grab audiences—and call them to action

A speechwriting pro offers tips to open and close with: Look to the Cowardly Lion and Malcolm X.

He was one of the most memorable orators of modern times, delivering a forceful speech from beneath a great mane of hair.

His voice rose to a roar and fell to a growl as he extolled a hard-won virtue at a time the planet was spiraling into world war.

The Cowardly Lion’s oration about courage may not be carved on federal monuments, but the character from “The Wizard of Oz” has lessons to offer writers about opening a talk, says speechwriter Michael Long.

Like all great beginnings—and endings—the lion’s makes use of emotion.

“The speech is primarily an emotional experience,” says Long, who is also an essayist, editorialist and adjunct professor at Georgetown University.

Here are some tips:


The speechwriter needs to start with an image that is surprising, provocative, interesting or attention-getting.

“Now, that doesn’t mean you have to say something dirty or shocking or dubious, and then start waking it back,” Long says. “All it means is that you have to reveal something in a way that makes them want to hear more.”

1. The rhetorical question: The Cowardly Lion.

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