SpeakerNet News
Six-Word Speech Contest

In the Spring of 2009, we conducted a “Six-Word Speech Contest,” where SNN readers were challenged to come up with an entire speech that could be delivered from the platform, but was only six words long.

See the winners

Our thanks to everyone who participated, as a contestant or a voter.

Contest background

We were inspired by Pete Berg’s Web site about Six-Word Stories, which was itself inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s famous (though perhaps apocryphal) example of telling a whole story in only six words: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” This idea has also appeared in SMITH magazine’s Six-Word Memoirs, published in Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure.

We asked Pete Berg if we could borrow his idea for the speaking community—explaining that getting speakers to be brief would be beneficial to society—and he gave us his blessing.

Here was the only rule:

1. Write a six-word speech. Six words, no more, no fewer.

It can be on sales, leadership, customer service, motivation, time management, whatever. It should be aimed at a general audience (so use words we all know). We like to think that if you had to summarize your whole message in six words, these would be the six. Examples:

  • Motivation: Those who achieve must first believe.
  • Sales: “No” means the benefits aren’t clear.
  • Time management: Track how you spend your hours.

You can also say something about speaking itself. Examples:

  • Standing ovations mean nothing to me.
  • I love when they ask questions.
  • PowerPoint—the work of the devil.

Contest process

We had close to 400 entries. Many people sent one six-word speech. A number of people sent two or three, and a few prolific people sent many.

Some entries were judged ineligible because they had some number of words other than six. (!)

Others were ineligible because they didn’t really work as speeches—something to be said from the platform. They worked better as speech titles, or as slogans, but not as whole speeches. (Some of these were very good, and a few probably slipped into the final judging.)

Our judges—who could see only the entries, not who sent them in—selected from those remaining, ones that were clever, powerful, poignant, funny, insightful, or otherwise above average. These were categorized and posted online, and SNN readers were invited to vote for their favorites. More than 730 voters participated.

See the winners

(It was fun to see a short entry followed in the email by a speaker’s lengthy promotional signature. This led me to my own six-word thought; “Six-word speech; thousand-word signature.”)

SpeakerNet News is produced by Rebecca Morgan and Ken Braly. It is not affiliated with the National Speakers Association. Send comments or suggestions