Give a Speech People Remember

Lessons From 'Made to Stick' by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

People applauding speaker

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What makes a speech a great speech, one people remember, especially your teacher? The key is in your message, not your presentation. Use the six sticky principles taught by Chip Heath and Dan Heath in their book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, and give a speech you'll get an A on.

Unless you live in a cave, you know the story of Jared, the college student who lost hundreds of pounds eating Subway sandwiches. It's a story that almost wasn't told for the same reasons that many of our papers and speeches are boring. We get so filled up with statistics and abstractions and all the things we know, that we forget to share the simple message at the core of what we're trying to communicate.

Subway executives wanted to talk about fat grams and calories. Numbers. While right under their noses was a concrete example of what eating at Subway can do for you.

The ideas the Heath brothers teach are ideas that will make your next paper or speech memorable, whether your audience is your teacher or the entire student body.

Here are their six principles:

  • Simplicity - find the essential core of your message
  • Unexpectedness - use surprise to grab people’s attention
  • Concreteness - use human actions, specific images to convey your idea
  • Credibility - put hard numbers aside and bring your case closer to home, ask a question that helps your reader decide for him- or herself
  • Emotions - make your reader feel something, for people, not for abstractions
  • Stories - tell a story that illustrates your message

Use the acronym SUCCESs to help you remember:


Let's take a brief look at each ingredient:

Simple - Force yourself to prioritize. If you had only one sentence in which to tell your story, what would you say? What is the single most important aspect of your message? That's your lead.

Unexpected - Do you remember the TV commercial for the new Enclave minivan? A family piled into the van on their way to a football game. Everything seems normal. Bang! A speeding car slams into the side of the van. The message is about wearing seat belts. You are so shocked by the crash that the message sticks. "Didn’t see that coming?" the voiceover says. "No one ever does." Include an element of shock in your message. Include the extraordinary.

Concrete - Include what the Heath brothers call "tangible actions by human beings." I have a friend who consults in the area of organizational development. I can still hear him asking me after I told him what I was hoping to achieve with my staff, "What does that look like? Exactly what behaviors do you want to change?" Tell your audience exactly what it looks like. "If you can examine something with your senses," the Heath brothers say, "it’s concrete."

Credible - People believe things because their family and friends do, because of personal experience, or because of faith. People are naturally a tough audience. If you don’t have an authority, expert, or celebrity to endorse your idea, what’s the next best thing? An anti-authority. When an ordinary Joe, who looks like your next-door neighbor or your cousin, tells you something works, you believe it. Clara Peller is a good example. Remember the Wendy’s commercial, “Where’s the Beef?” Almost everyone does.

Emotional - How do you make people care about your message? You make people care by appealing to the things that matter to them. Self-interest. This is the core of sales of any kind. It’s more important to emphasize benefits than features. What will the person gain from knowing what you have to say? You've probably heard of WIIFY, or the Whiff-y, approach. What’s in it for you? The Heath brothers say this should be a central aspect of every speech. It's only part of it, of course, because people aren’t that shallow. People are also interested in the good of the whole. Include an element of self or group affiliation in your message.

Stories - The stories that are told and retold usually contain wisdom. Think of Aesop's Fables. They have taught generations of children lessons of morality. Why are stories such effective teaching tools? Partly because your brain can’t tell the difference between something you imagine to be happening and that thing actually happening. Close your eyes and imagine standing on the edge of a 50-story building. Feel butterflies? This is the power of story. Give your reader or audience an experience they'll remember.

Chip Heath and Dan Heath also have a few words of caution. They advise that the three things that hang people up the most are these:

  1. Burying the lead - make sure your core message is in your first sentence.
  2. Decision paralysis - take care not to include too much information, too many choices
  3. The curse of knowledge -
    1. Presenting an answer requires expertise
    2. Telling others about it requires you to forget what you know and think like a beginner

Made to Stick is a book that will not only help you write more effective speeches and papers, it has the potential to make you a more memorable force wherever you walk through the world. Do you have a message to share? At work? In your club? In the political arena? Make it stick.

About the Authors

Chip Heath is a Professor of Organizational Behavior in the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University. Dan is a columnist for Fast Company magazine. He has spoken and consulted on the topic of "making ideas stick" with organizations such as Microsoft, Nestle, the American Heart Association, Nissan, and Macy's. You can find them at

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Your Citation
Peterson, Deb. "Give a Speech People Remember." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Peterson, Deb. (2023, April 5). Give a Speech People Remember. Retrieved from Peterson, Deb. "Give a Speech People Remember." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 4, 2023).