Myth, Metaphor, Musicality: Advanced Speechwriting Tips

Christopher Witt —  March 29, 2016

Beyond the basics of speechwritingIt’s fairly easy, with experience and a little study, to craft a “good enough” speech.

What I call a good enough speech has a goal and achieves it by…

  • Developing a single point: a clearly developed, logical, and supported-by-the-evidence idea.
  • Focusing on the audience’s needs and experience, giving them insight or information they can use to their benefit.
  • Providing the right balance–determined by the circumstances and the audience–of right-brain and left-brain appeal.

To turn a good enough speech into a great speech, you need to add three elements: myth, metaphor, and musicality.


1. Myth

A myth isn’t a fable about gods and goddesses or ancient heroes, a legend that is demonstrably false.

A myth is a story that reveals a truth worth pondering, that resonates deeply in people’s psyches, and that sticks in their memories because it feels like something they already know.

Good stories–even contemporary, personal stories–have a mythic dimension.

A story you tell about something that happened to you–an event, an encounter with someone who changed your life, an obstacle you met and overcame–has the power to become everyone’s story.

And that’s the reason to tell a story in a speech. Not to brag about your accomplishments, wisdom, or virtue, but to illuminate your audience’s lives.

2. Metaphor

I use the term metaphor broadly to include all figures of speech–similes, metaphors, and analogies–that compare one thing or situation to another.

A metaphor, in the sense I’m talking about, lets people visualize, not just conceptualize what you’re talking about.

A metaphor doesn’t just clarify an idea by comparing what is known to what is unknown. A metaphor links the feelings evoked by one thing or situation to another.

Lincoln’s entire Gettysburg Address is one, extended metaphor of a nation’s birth, decline, and rebirth. And in ten sentences it managed to evoke feelings of hope and the willingness to persevere.

3. Musicality

Great speeches are pleasing to the ear.

They have a rhythm and a pace; they start slow, they build up speech, they pause, they pick up speed again.

They have an approximation of rhyme in their use of assonance and consonance.

They use parallel structures and repetition.

A great speech isn’t just an exposition of truth. It is also a thing of beauty.



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Christopher Witt

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Chris Witt was born in Los Angeles, California. He currently lives in San Diego. He works as a speech and presentations consultant, an executive speech coach, and an orals coach.