How to Use Pop Culture in Speeches

Suit & TieThis past weekend, I attended the PRSSA National Assembly in Albuquerque, New Mexico. During this annual event, PRSSA Chapter delegates elect the upcoming PRSSA National Committee.

After watching numerous speeches (and delivering one of my own), I was inspired by how well some of my peers incorporated pop culture into speeches. With the help of a few fellow PRSSA members, I’ve created a list of tips speechwriters can use as they put pop culture in their speeches.

1. “Know your audience” – Ben Butler, Geneva College

Every National Assembly delegate is a college student. Ben knew this when he crafted his speech. He also knew that Justin Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie” is on the Billboard Top 100, which many college students listen to. The popular song played a significant role in his speech. He made the audience laugh, but he also used the song to help communicate how he would make a great National Committee member. Ben’s speech won over the crowd because it was creative and successful at communicating key messages.

2. “Make sure the speech can be understood without the pop culture reference.” –Chelsey Rodowicz, University of Delaware

While Chelsey structured her speech around the Hunger Games, the series was not her main focus. As someone who has never read the books and only seen the movie once, I still understood her message. “You don’t want pop culture to engulf your speech,” Chelsey said. It should merely enhance the material already there. By the end of the speech, I knew why she was a strong candidate, and it had nothing to do with her skills with a bow and arrow.

3. If you pick a theme, stick to it.

There are two main ways to incorporate pop culture into a speech. You can either frame your speech around one pop culture reference, as Chelsey did with the Hunger Games, or you can make brief references to pop culture during asides and anecdotes. The latter is easier because you do not have to consistently use the same reference.

If you do choose to use a pop culture theme for your speech, make sure you are consistent. If you pick a movie to guide each of your points, avoid bringing up other movies, books, songs, etc. Also, as the second point states, make sure anyone who is unfamiliar with your theme receives a quick summary or can still understand what you are saying, even without prior knowledge.

4. Make references that represent your personality.

I may appreciate Lady Gaga, but I would never give a speech that relates her traits to mine. As far as I know, we’re very different people. However, I was able to make a reference to Mean Girls because I had experiences similar to those in the movie, and as a member of the National Committee later pointed out, I was also wearing pink. For those who choose to reference songs, Ben advises to “make sure the feel of the song echoes your character.” In Ben’s case, delegates unanimously agreed that “Suit & Tie” was the perfect fit.

5. Don’t force it.

You may have an obsession with Beyoncé. However, if you can’t make her fit seamlessly into your speech, don’t force her there. Only reference pop culture when it works with the speech you are preparing. Never use it just to seem trendy or because you have a personal interest in it. If you want to mention current events or popular culture, look for examples that have obvious connections to your topic. There are plenty to choose from.

*Thank you to Ben Butler and Chelsey Rodowicz for their help. I couldn’t have written this post without their inspiration at National Assembly.

More tips? Feel free to share them!


One thought on “How to Use Pop Culture in Speeches

  1. Pingback: Traveling to New Heights after Assembly | The Cosmopolitan Experience

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