Mt Sheridan Club Member Celia Berrell is proud to announce her article “Putting Poetry In Your Performance” appears in this month’s Toastmaster magazine (p30).

Sally McDonald, writer/editor from Port Douglas provided the following review:

“I read your article and think it is really well done. I publish quite a few articles like this – on different subjects, so I know what it is like to write for journals/magazines. I believe the whole article flows well, in the right order. I liked that you added a personal anecdote – about how you’ve been told you become animated when you recite some of your own poems (so true). I also like the conversational tone of the article; this is not always easy to achieve when you are (1) giving advice and (2) teaching technique. Yet you got the tone exactly right. You sound like an enthusiastic friend suggesting a new way of doing something in a non-threatening, conversational way. Well done on a great article.”


Poems can be powerfully moving, evocative and even funny.  Using a piece of poetry within your speech can add quality and depth to your message.

Throughout history, prominent leaders have incorporated pieces of poetry and lyrics within their speeches.  When William Lloyd Garrison, a 19th Century American social reformer, gave his speech “On the Death of John Brown” – in tribute to Brown, an abolitionist – he included his own lines of verse:

Onward, then, ye fearless band / Heart to heart, and hand to hand / Yours shall be the Christian’s stand / Or the martyr’s grave.”

Speaking to an audience about the assassination of the Rev Martn Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy quoted the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus:  “Even in our sleep pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop, upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”  The late Edward Kennedy, longtime senator of Massachusetts, gave what is regarded by many as his finest speech ever when he delivered the keynote address at the 1980 Democratic Convention in New York City.  Titled “The Cause Endures”, it had bits and pieces from the Tennyson poem “Ulysses”:  

I am a part of all that I have met.  Tho much has taken, much abides.  That which we are, we are – One equal temper of heroic hearts, … strong in will.  To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Adding poetic segments in your speech provides a great opportunity to expand your gestures and vocal techniques.  It’s an excuse to become more theatrical in your delivery.

As a prolific writer of rhyming verse, I have incorporated poetry within my speeches since becoming a Toastmaster more than four years ago.  Audiences have offered plenty of positive feedback and encouragement.  They’ve said my face lights up, and I grow more animated and enthusiastic.

To effectively present a piece of poetry within a speech, it is best if the poem is fairly short (maybe a couple of verses at a time).  It is possible to fit more than one example of poetry into a 5-7 minute speech, but you need to maintain a balance between the poetry and your prose so that the poem doesn’t take over your speech. 

Memorise the verses thoroughly and you’ll enjoy many benefits.  They become an anchor-point within your speech, making it easier to remember the other parts of your presentation.   Thus you become less dependent on your notes and freer as a speaker.  Most importantly, when you memorise the poetic section of your speech, you feel more confident which energises your presentation.

When you have a poem that encapsulates the sentiments of your speech, it’s tempting to place it at the beginning – and start with a bang!  Unfortunately, this is like giving a stranger an enthusiastic hug before you’ve been introduced.  It may be appreciated, but your audience is left wondering, “Wow.  What was that about?”  A good speech needs an introduction – and so does a poem.  Prepare your audience so they will be able to savour its subtle flavours when it’s delivered within the body or conclusion of your speech.

If the poem is not of your own creation, you need to acknowledge the author.  This is best done before reciting the poem so that the factual information doesn’t interrupt the momentum and emotional impact of the poetry.

Reading poetry on your own can benefit you in many ways, whether or not you incorporate it into your speeches.  If you are struggling to find a topic for your next speech, poems can provide what you’re seeking.  Many poems can be interpreted in different ways and touch our hearts and minds with their revelations.  When you find a line of verse that positively resonates within you, it will help to fire up your writing for that next dynamic speech.

Poetry is not to everyone’s liking and can be an acquired taste.  But you must start somewhere to acquire that taste.  Through your speeches, you might be the ideal person to introduce poetry to your club members, providing them with the opportunity to enjoy this diverse and inspirational art-form.

Celia Berrell AC-B CL is past-President of Mount Sheridan Toastmasters in Cairns, North Queensland, Australia, and she writes educational science poems.   Visit