Patricia Fripp on Opening Your Speech from Good to Great

At the Spring Conference held by the Chicagoland District 30 of Toastmasters International on April 26th, 2014, at the North Shore Holiday Inn in Skokie, IL, I witnessed the keynote speaker Patricia Fripp do a series of presentations on how to open your speech to make it more effective, and how to thereby open yourself up to going from being a merely good speaker to being a great one.

Here are some notes I took of her presentations.   I hope all those who read this blog article and who are interested in having Patricia Tripp as their own speech coach will go to her website at and check out her programs.

1.   Your Topic must Interest the Audience

To really engage your audience’s attention, rather than them come to listen to you, you have to go and reach out to them.   Yes, it is true, that the audience physically comes to listen to you if you are doing a speech, but mentally you have to be the one that bridges the gap between where they are at the beginning of the speech and where you want to be by the time it is done.

The first key to doing this is to make sure that the subject of your speech is of interest to your audience.     It may not necessarily be of interest to them at the beginning, but you need to relate it to their own experience in such a way that it will become of interest to them.    If you communicate your message with passion and relate it to the audience, you will connect with them.

2.  Three Elements of a Speech

The three elements of a speech are its content, its structure, and its delivery.    The content is what you are trying to deliver it, the structure is how you package the content for delivery, and the delivery is how you get that package over to the listener with skillful means.

It reminds me of a saying by Oscar Wilde, “all bad art is sincere.”   If you change the word “art” to “communication”, you get “all bad communication is sincere.”   What does this mean?    People who communicate poorly may be sincere, in the sense that what they believe in their heart is connected to what comes out of their mouth.    Up to that point, they are fine.   But because the communication is poorly structured or delivered, it doesn’t end up getting over to the other side, the listener, with the same intensity or even the same content as that which was intended by the sender.    Sincerity is necessary, but not sufficient to get the message across.   You need technique, which is what Patricia Fripp delivers.

3.  Content:   Don’t Explain Your Point–Show it through Story

Don’t explain your point intellectually–it will have more impact if it is felt emotionally through the impact of a story. In order to create an impactful story, you have to have a story that engages the imagination of the listener, and you do that through the specificity and artistry of your word choices.    You need to add words that fill out the usual journalistic questions such as:

  • When?
  • Where?
  • Who?
  • What Happened?
  • What was the Result?

The first three set the scene, and the last two play out the scene.

3.   Structure:   Words and Sentences

Choose the individual words carefully with specificity, because specificity breeds credibility.   Avoid vague words such as “stuff”, “things”, “some”, etc.    Choose to place the words you want to emphasize at the end of sentences, where they will have more impact.

Structure the speech in general like this:

  • Strong Opening
  • Premise (explanation, example, application)
  • Seamless Transition (past, present, future OR local, national, international)
  • Strong Closing

4.  Delivery:    No Wasted Motions or Gestures

Every action of your hands or your body during a speech needs to have a purpose.    Don’t pace back and forth across the stage unless each movement is thematically related to the story you are telling.    This will come across as simply nervous energy, and it will make the audience, guess what?, nervous!      If your speech pauses, then your gestures must also pause.

5.  Strong Opening

Patricia Fripp explained one element of her suggested speech structure (see paragraph 3), namely the first one, a strong opening.    Use words which will intrigue the audience, and make them want to hear the next element, your premise.

Patricia Fripp uses several audience members as examples of her ability to make ordinary speakers into great ones.   She had them come up on stage, start a speech, and then she would critique them in light of the points she made during the first part of her presentation.    For example, one person starting a speech with the line, “so I was standing in line at a McDonald’s” as she walked across the stage.    Patricia said, “did you see that?   She is saying ‘I was standing in line’, but her body is NOT standing, it is walking.”    She then had the person start her speech by saying the line “I was standing in line,” but then had her stand up straight as if she were standing in line.    Now the physical picture you see matches the verbal picture she is painting in her speech.

That’s just one example of how her quick insights demonstrated her ability to pinpoint weaknesses in a person’s content, structure, and/or delivery and how to improve them so that the person’s premise of their speech really shines forth.   It was an unforgettable demonstration, and I know that I intend to take her visual speech coaching!


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