How to Give a Speech as Good as Tom Hanks

Maybe you have seen the 2011 romantic comedy Larry Crowne starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts about a middle-aged Navy veteran (Tom Hanks) who is fired from his job and enrolls in the local community college. Mercedes Tainot (a speech teacher played by Julia Roberts), assigns Larry his “geography speech”.  He talks about world travels while in the Navy and makes inspirational references to other students’ speeches. Needless to say, Larry gets an A+ in the class.

If you have the time, it’s a fun movie. Tom Hanks delivers a good speech. In fact, all of the students in class remarkably improve from their first speeches to the final speeches. What makes a speech so good?  As teachers, how can we better teach skills necessary in giving “good” speeches and what questions should we ask our students along the way?


Pick a high interest topic

What do you know best?  Think. Maybe you excel or have a fascination with a sport or a trip you took, an invention you dream of patenting or you are passionate about a cause (i.e. being an organ donor, maintaining healthy eating, keeping the Earth clean, etc.) Think. Make a list of subjects you could talk about. You know those things you really care about and have knowledge about. Larry Crowne talks about his years in the Navy and what this taught him about life. He talks about being a cook. He tells of seeing the Northern Lights.  What topic are you interested in?  I bet you know a lot about it. That’s good speech material.

Pick something you can talk about

Research shows that if you pick something that interests you, you are more apt to know about it, and then you are better equipped at preparing a quality speech. The words are more natural. And if you need to spend time preparing your speech, the work involved does not seem to be only work, it is enjoyable “work”.  What is it that you can really talk about? Can you teach someone something? Can you convince someone to do something because of what you know? Can you move people to laugh or to cry?

Give the audience some new knowledge (informative), turn them into believers (persuasive) or move them to laugh or cry (entertainment)

We have all listened to speeches. We have all listened to lectures. What sets a quality speech aside from all of the rest? If you are going to take your time preparing a speech, then make the time matter. If you are going to take the audience’s time in listening to your speech, then make it count. It’s simple. Inform. Persuade. Entertain. That’s the wow factor. You speech needs to elicit some type of response from the audience. They need to be linked to the purpose of your speech. You need to connect to your audience. How can you connect?



This can only help. You confidence gets stronger. Your pronunciation of words and phrases improve. Your memory of what you are going to say sharpens. You develop more frequent eye content. You add a quality to your speech. Practice in your head and practice out loud. Practice in front of a mirror, use a video, or beg your friends to listen. Learn your speech and how you want to present it.


Loud enough. Clear enough. The tempo varies. The audience is attracted to your speech. If you have knowledge to share, the audience takes note. If you want to convince them to do something, they are directed to do so. If you are here to entertain, the audience reacts with laughter or with cries. You have moved them with your words and how you say those words. It’s that simple. Loud enough. Clear enough. The tempo varies.

Facial Expressions/Gestures

When you are excited and passionate about what you are saying, and when you move your hands, arms or body … and when you have natural facial expression to match the words you are saying, the audience identifies with you as a speaker and they become more attentive to your speech. Add facial expressions and gestures to your practice sessions and these will become more natural in time. No one wants to see or hear someone deliver a speech that is monotone and one filled with rattling of words. This is your time to come alive and shine. Be human. Show emotion.


Maybe you bring something to add to your speech.  A slide presentation, unique souvenirs, something to pass out to build interest (food item, craft to make, something hands-on to do, etc.) or you ask for audience participation, you give something away, you supply handouts worth keeping. What can you physically bring that would add interest to your speech? Think. A little extra effort to scour your house and find something that adds to your speech will make your speech more worthwhile and engaging to listen to.


Your speech is logical.  It has a beginning. A middle part. An ending. You have a grabber to start with.  Maybe it’s a story or a joke. Maybe it’s a poem or a quote. Something grabs the audience and lures them into the speech. You clearly share something tangible so the audience gains something. It has enough meat to it.  There is a purpose. Then there is an ending. The audience knows your speech is over. You have given them something. They have changed.


The ability to give a good speech is a much desired skill. The ability to cultivate this skill in your students is a much desired skill, too.  Students need to know the relevance of speeches in their studies and potential careers. There are speeches at meetings, at holidays and family gatherings, parties, weddings and funerals. There are speeches on television and on the radio.  There are speeches delivered by politicians, lawyers, teachers, marketing executives, etc. every single day in any part of the world. With every speech your students prepare and deliver, their speaking skills will get stronger. They build more confidence.

Nope, it’s not necessary to lose a job to learn to give a good speech. Nor must you enroll in a formal speech class at a community college. With your support in providing opportunities for students to plan and deliver speeches, and with your help in teaching some of these tips, your students will be on their way to Giving a Speech as Good as Tom Hanks. Now, that’s something to talk about.

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