Elements of Political Communication: Spoken message guidelines – Speeches

The writing and execution of political speeches require numerous elements of political communication. When writing preliminary drafts, speech writers should generally follow the general guidelines, but should consider other important elements while revising. Although there is much debate about which parts of this process are the most essential, there is no doubt that your organization should place as much emphasis as possible on every detail, including composition and delivery.

About 20 people in a crowd, reacting to an unseen speaker. Some are laughing, some look very serious.
Gauging the audience’s reaction to a speech is difficult, but necessary.

Although political speeches can generally serve many purposes, this chapter will focus on the creation of informational prepared speeches as they relate to political communication. For more information about the creation of persuasive or spontaneous speeches, see the chapter on debates. Since so much has been written about the study of rhetoric in political speech, this chapter should only be considered as a brief overview. Further reading beyond the referenced works in this chapter can be found in the speech guides section of the "Further reading" chapter.


Carefully composed speeches can affect an audience's behavior, even if it is less than sympathetic towards your cause. Studies show that an audience's reaction to the rhetorical composition of a speech is "independent of political party, the political status of the speaker, and the popularity of the message."[2] Audiences are far more likely to applaud at the appropriate times when the speech includes one or more of the following devices:

  • Contrasting statements, such as a negative–positive comparison between "us" and "them" or "then" and "now".
  • Three-part lists
  • Puzzle–solution statements, such as the kind that list political issues and then proposed solutions to those problems.
  • Headline–punch line statements, which foreshadow to the audience that the speaker will say something important and cue listeners to applaud.[3]
  • Well-crafted metaphors.[4]

Longer pauses are far more prevalent in planned political speeches than in casual interviews or extemporaneous political dialogue.[5] Include these pauses at appropriate breaks in the prepared remarks. In the long term, the audience is most likely to remember information presented near the beginning of a presentation;[6] Ensure that the most important points are covered near the beginning of the speech.


Whoever is giving the speech should oversee not just its creation but also its execution, because the speaker's method of delivery can have just as much effect on the audience's reception as the rhetoric it contains.[7] Case studies have indicated that hand gestures during speeches often affect the audience's reaction, inducing applause and silence where appropriate.[8] However, since only about 61% of applause is planned in political speeches, the speaker should be prepared to adapt to mistimed audience reactions.[9]