How to create a memorable stump speech

By Scott Westerman
Being able to articulate a message in a way that moves people is half science and half art. And it’s a learned skill. Here are some tips on creating a memorable stump speech.

The first thing to figure out is what behavior you want your stump speech to generate. Is it a call to action or just a warm, fuzzy feel good? Are you seeking feedback or are you selling a foregone conclusion? Beginning with the end in mind, imagine how you want your audience to feel when they leave the room.

Know what your key message points are and create reminder words to help you remember them. When I talk about the Alumni Association, my key words are Community, Connections, Careers and Class:

  • Community – Wherever you go, there are Spartans there to welcome you.
  • Connections – Wherever you work, there are Spartans there who can help you.
  • Careers – Whether you are between opportunities or looking to grow, MSUAA can help you bracket your passion and position your personal brand.
  • Class – Two messages here. We celebrate lifelong learning and continuous improvement. And we do it with class, focusing on the highest level of customer service.

Once you have your key message points, you can surround them with stories that support it. I talk about our Spartan Pipeline project, which gives alumni a system where they can easily connect with our local club welcome team when they move to a new city. I share stories about the “Six Degrees of Spartan Nation” and how your “Personal Network… for Life!” can help you get “from wherever you are today, to wherever you want to be tomorrow.”

You’ve probably noticed that I try to create some memorable message statements that amplify the points. The more often you tell your tale, you will begin to discover sentences that summarize and resonate your story.

Powerpoints? I don’t like em. If you’re giving a more formal speech and want to drive your ideas home, visuals are great. Try using pictures instead of words. Movie clips work too, but don’t depend on an Internet connection to play back a YouTube video. Embed your multimedia into your application. Bullet points bore, so if you need to be visually verbal, be creative. Always put your contact info on the last slide.

Reinforce your message with take-aways. Our marketing team created a business card sized tri-fold that articulates our mission and MSUAA’s Four Pillars. I hand these out when I speak. If I do a multi-media presentation, I create both an audio and a video version and put them on a jump drive along with PDFs of any handouts I distribute. I also upload them to my personal web page and give the audience the link. They may discover something else on the site that interests them, too! Remember that each of us has a preferred learning style. For some it’s auditory. Others are visual. And some are kinesthetic. They need to learn hand-on. If you can articulate your message in each of these three styles, you are more likely to connect.

Hand out unique swag. We have magnetic Spartan themed bottle caps that go great on any fridge, along with laser pointer pens that throw a picture of our logo with Sparty in the middle on the wall. Don’t hand out the usual coffee cups or coasters. If you want them to remember you, be distinctive.

And, of course, always have a bunch of business cards on your person. If you want to make an impression, try Moo Cards ( These are half height cards that you can customize on both the front and the back. People always comment when I give them one and it gives me a chance to talk about how MSU is being sustainable by using half the paper for our cards.

Finally, follow up. Whoever is organizing your appearance should get you the contact information of your audience members. The more you can personalize your post-speech communication, the more love they will feel. Sometimes I send PostaGrams or use the iPhone Cards app to share a card with a unique picture on the cover. And nothing can beat the handwritten note. So few do this anymore that you will surprise and please the recipient. As an aside, my handwriting is so bad that I found a realistic handwriting font or my word processor, so people can actually read what I write. If you handwrite, make sure it’s legible.

What if you fear public speaking? When I had the honor of speaking to MSU’s student LeaderShape retreat, the young woman who was to introduce me confessed that she was terrified of speaking to a big crowd. I shared one of my secrets: Public speaking is really a one-to-one interaction. The best public speakers make everyone in the crowd think that they are talking specifically to them. Find a supportive face in the first row. Plant a friend there. And talk specifically to them. Block out the rest of the crowd, even though you’ll periodically make broader eye contact. The fear will likely melt away.

Here are two final points:

The best presentations are interactive. Watch the faces of your audience. Listen for understanding and for questions. You will develop a sixth sense for how well you are connecting. Add and subtract content as necessary to touch the individual’s unique needs.

The most important thing when you speak is to be yourself. We can all tell a good story and each of us has our own style of public speaking. Emulate people that inspire you but let your own voice shine through. This is another art where repetition builds skill and confidence. The only way to get good at delivering your stump speech is to go out and do it. If you have a great message and speak from the heart, you will earn the impact you seek.