What Makes a Speech Great?

2 Min read

Admiral McRaven

Operation Neptune Spear

Toolbox, Speaking skills




Admiral ‘Bill’ McRaven spoke at the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment event to commemorate Operation Neptune Spear. He started by saying he was going off script and that his wife was a bit concerned. He nailed it of course and I remember it over a year later.

I dissected his speech to understand what makes it great and reflected on lessons I’ve learned. This time of year you hear a lot of speeches and may have to give one of your own. So….

Give a Speech Worth Remembering

  • Know your audience – who do you want to reach and what do you want to say
  • Objective – what do you want to achieve with the speech
  • Open with humor – something light, self-deprecating
  • Stories – find and tell ones that resonate, include only essential details
  • Craft each sentence, edit/revise, cut. Make each word count
  • Practice – every minute you speak is valuable time for the audience.
  • Compelling AND short.
  • Make it as short as possible with maximum effect.
  • Delivery- practice and record. Listen. Pause, breathe. Practice.
  • Modulate your voice and look at the audience. Beware the bore. Do not drone on.
  • Closing – hit the keynotes, the “music” you want to last.

Stick with the writing trinity, the three parts, three acts, opening-body-closing, three stories, three points. McRaven is comfortable in this forum and recounted three stories from this mission, the capture of Osama Bin Laden. Certainly the individual at the podium and the occasion among seemingly infinite factors make a difference.

A lot of great men give speeches. On occasion a common man may give a great speech. This was a great speech given by a great man.



*Read post about McRaven’s speech here and see photos.

**Learn more about Operation Neptune Spear, May 1, 2011. (911 Memorial.org)

Jun 2, 2023


About the Author

Mylinh Shattan is a writer who has lived on three continents, served in the Army, worked in corporate America, and taught in college. She loves adventures, in the world and in the mind. Literature is relevant and learning is a lifelong pursuit, so you might as well have a bit of fun along the way.

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