What makes a good speech?

A ‘good speech’ from a trainee interpreter’s perspective is usually both useful and interesting: it gives you a chance to learn new facts and vocabulary, and it’s structured in such a way as to allow you to practise interpreting. It should contain a few challenges, without being impossible to interpret.


How do you go about preparing a speech?

  • Choose a topic. It helps if you’re interested in it, but don’t go overboard: it’s likely to be a very difficult speech if you explain the arcane details of your hobbyhorse.

  • If you need more information about the topic, do some research. Seek out newspaper articles, watch a documentary, look up background information on a reputable website, read a book. Remember to note down the details of your source material; they will come in useful when you upload your speech.

  • Now decide what message you want to get across. Your speech needs a structure. Is it a narrative of events? Create a chronology. Is it a logical argument? Write a plan in bullet point form or create a mind map. Include a brief introduction to set the scene and explain why you are exploring this topic, and a punchy conclusion to wrap up, or give food for thought. For a more detailed guide to speech writing and structure, try visiting www.orcit.eu, which contains plenty of good advice in the Listening and Analysis section and the Public Speaking section.

  • You should now have a few notes on a sheet of paper: perhaps a sentence or two by way of introduction, a series of bullet points with headings and a few names and figures, and some concluding notes. If you have a sheet or two of A4 written out in longhand, something has gone horribly wrong! You shouldn’t be writing an essay, just some notes to jog your memory when you begin to speak.

  • Time to deliver your speech. Don’t read! Interpreters don’t spend their time reading out texts, and nor do good public speakers. If you’ve followed the advice above, you won’t have anything to read out anyway; instead, use your notes as a prompt to deliver your speech in a natural, (semi-)spontaneous way. Make eye contact with your audience, and consider slowing down a little if your speech is intended for consecutive with notes.

  • It should be obvious from all this that reading out a politician’s speech or a newspaper article verbatim, or even whole chunks of information from Wikipedia et al., does not constitute a speech. Apart from breaching copyright, it is very tedious for the interpreter, and very difficult to interpret. Do you enjoy interpreting this sort of ‘speech’? Instead, liven up your presentations: make them vivid, informative, and interesting. Feel free to express your personal opinion and to relate facts to your real life experience. This way, you will digest the background information you’ve read; you’ll learn a lot and have more fun, and your fellow students will be falling over themselves to interpret your speeches. Or at least, they won’t click on the ‘Quality alert’ button because of a poor quality contribution!