The Major Types of Speeches Help (page 2)
Introduction to The Major Types of Speeches
Speak properly, and in as few words as you can, but always plainly; for the end of speech is not ostentation, but to be understood.
—William Penn, 1644–1718
Whatever your reason for speaking, this chapter will help you understand and achieve your goals on any speaking occasion.
As William Penn wisely remarked, the primary goal of any speech is to be understood, not to impress the audience with eloquence. Yet there are secondary goals to one's speech, beyond simple communication. Your secondary goal might be to teach the audience a new skill, or you might want to persuade the audience that one type of toothpaste is better than another, or you might simply want to entertain with warm and funny stories of the bride and groom.
Whatever your speech occasion may be, you will have two goals in mind before you even begin. The first goal is firm and fixed—to communicate and be understood—while the second goal will determine the type of speech you write. There are probably as many types of speech as there are speeches given, in the sense that every speech is unique, but we can categorize most speeches into four groups:
- Special Occasions
An informative speech is essentially a lecture. It is intended simply to inform your audience on some topic. If you're a student, you hear informative speeches all day long in your classes, as your teachers and professors stand up front and lecture on various subjects. Your teachers are trying to inform you, and their lectures are essentially informative speeches.
Some informative topics you might consider are:
- Current trends in…
- The future of…
- The history of…
- The pleasures of a particular hobby
- Common causes of allergies
- When to buy a home
- Famous explorers and their discoveries
- What equipment is needed for… [backpacking, kayaking, carpentry, etc.]
An informative speech is different from a how-to speech or a persuasive speech because it is only intended to provide information. You will leave it up to your audience to decide for themselves what to do with the information; you are not trying to persuade them to think as you do, nor are you specifically teaching them how to do something. You are only concerned with providing information for your audience on a particular topic.
Informative speeches are useful as an introduction to some topic that is unfamiliar to your audience. And this is where your audience research pays off, which you learned about in Lesson 1. You will want to be acquainted with what your audience already knows. After all, you wouldn't want to lecture on "The History of the Airplane" to an audience of NASA scientists. On the other hand, you could give an informative speech on "The Materials Used by the Wright Brothers for Their First Airplane" to that NASA audience. They might be well versed in the overall history of the airplane, but they might not know what exact materials were used at Kitty Hawk.
You will also want to know what topics will be of interest to your audience. Will your listeners care to learn about your favorite hobby, or will they be bored and distracted? The best way of answering this question, if you don't already know your audience, will be to conduct some basic interviews, beginning with the person who invited you to speak.
What to Do
Think about the best teachers you've ever had. Ask yourself what made those teachers so effective. How did they lecture? How did they interact with the students? How did they establish rapport with the students? These questions will help you gain insight into what makes an effective informative speech.
One of the most important things to include in an informative speech is, quite naturally, information. You will want to do research on facts and statistics, ensuring that your speech has something interesting to impart to the audience. Those facts and statistics will probably be best communicated with visual aids, such as charts, graphs, illustrations, and so forth.
Remember, however, to be practical. If you provide extensive information on allergies, for example, your audience will become anxious to know how to avoid allergies. Your speech should include some sort of practical application so that your audience will know what to do with the information you've provided. Your favorite teachers probably did this, whether you were aware of it or not. A dull math professor lectures on theory and problem-solving, but an interesting math professor will tell you how to use those theories in real-life situations. Do the same for your audience.
Lectures that are filled with information, however, run the risk of being dull (as we'll mention further in a moment). One way to avoid this danger is to interact with your audience. Your favorite teachers probably knew how to do this effectively, inviting students to answer questions, voice opinions, wrestle with problems, and so forth. Your best approach when giving an informative speech will be to get the audience involved. Here are a few ways to do this:
- Ask questions: You can use this to illustrate that most people have misconceptions on your topic, or to find out what they already know.
- Invite questions: Rather than pushing questions to the end of your talk (which is normally preferable), urge your audience to raise their hands as you go along if a question occurs to them. This helps them pay attention, and helps you to meet their needs.
- Solicit examples: You will want to provide examples and visual aids in your speech, but you can also ask the audience if they've had experience with what you're talking about. This will enrich your speech by providing the audience with more perspectives on the topic, and it will hold their attention.
- Make them apply the information: Remember that you want to provide practical application to your information. An ingenious way of doing this is to ask the audience what they will do with the information you've provided. You'll still need to have some practical applications of your own in mind, but they will undoubtedly think of things that you didn't.
What to Avoid
Every rule has its counter-rule, and informative speeches are no exception. We already noted that informative speeches need information, including facts and statistics, but the counter-rule is that too much information will undermine your efforts. Think again about those teachers whom you found boring and dull. It is likely that you've listened to someone drone on, endlessly spouting facts and figures and theories and principles and on and on—and you probably left that lecture feeling like your head was stuffed with cotton.
This is known as information overload (or TMI, as discussed in Lesson 2), and it's a common pitfall when giving an informative speech. You have chosen a topic about which you are knowledgeable, and you want to share that knowledge with your audience. But you'll first need to select what knowledge you want to share, and this will entail deciding in advance not to share other areas of knowledge.
Remember the shotgun analogy used in Lesson 2? A shotgun scatters many little pellets that don't go very deep, while a rifle fires one bullet that penetrates to a great depth. This illustration also applies to informative speeches: it's better to cover a few points in depth than to hit a thousand points on the surface. You don't want too little information in your speech, but you also don't want too much. Decide which information will be interesting to your audience, and focus your energy on that.
You can also overdo some of the techniques for involving the audience, which we discussed earlier. You want to include your listeners in the learning process, but you don't want to make them do your work for you. Always be prepared to answer your own questions, to provide your own applications and examples, and to inform your audience without their help. After all, you are the expert on the topic, and that's why you're addressing the audience in the first place.
The demonstrative speech is closely related to the informative speech because it centers on providing your audience with information. The main difference, however, is that the demonstrative speech is a "how-to" lecture. Rather than passing on raw information to your listeners, you are teaching them some very practical skills.
The best way to prepare a demonstrative speech is to ask yourself how and why questions. "How does a computer work?" "Why does ice float?" "How do I buy a new home?" "Why does electricity have positive and negative forces?" You would then answer those questions through a practical demonstration.
For example, if you wanted to explain how a computer works, you'd probably want to use a real-life computer to demonstrate. You'd also want visual aids, such as charts or diagrams, which explain the processes that can't be seen easily by the audience.
The key to a demonstrative speech is to focus on practical application, not on abstract facts and statistics. Your goal is to teach the audience how to, not to tell them what is—how to bake a chocolate cake, not what is a chocolate cake. Here are some topic ideas to get you brainstorming:
- How to make something
- How to repair something
- How not to make or repair something (using humor to teach how to)
- How something works
- How to play an instrument, paint a picture, write a book, raise a pet, etc.
- How to create a budget, save money, build a business, etc.
- How to raise children, choose a school, find a mate, plan a wedding, etc.
- How to read, write, speak a foreign language, etc.
What to Do
Use visual aids! These are helpful in any speech, but they are the very backbone of a demonstrative speech. If you want to tell your audience how to fix a computer, you'll certainly need a computer to demonstrate on. The same holds true for things that are more abstract, such as planning a wedding or learning a language. The visual aids may not be as self-evident as in fixing a computer, but they are still vitally important in helping your audience visualize the practical steps you are teaching.
And practical is what a demonstrative speech is all about. Remember to keep it that way, focusing on how to rather than what is. Before you begin writing your speech, determine what practical skill you want your audience to gain. Then ask yourself what steps are involved in accomplishing that skill—and you've got the major points of your speech all mapped out.
What to Avoid
Visual aids are critically important to your demonstrative speech, but you must also avoid letting them become a source of distraction. There are two groups who can be distracted by your visual aids: the audience, and you!
You want your audience to be paying primary attention to your words and actions, with a secondary focus on your visual aids. Remember that the visual aids are just that: aids. They are not the speaker, they are merely aiding the speaker. If you use diagrams and flow charts in your presentation, make sure they contain only what is necessary to illustrate your points. You want your audience to look at them as you speak, but you don't want them to be contemplating your lovely artwork rather than listening to your words.
Conversely, remember that you are speaking to an audience, not to a visual aid. I've seen many speakers who held up an object as an illustration but forgot to show it to the audience! One speaker recently recommended a book on his topic, then spent time looking at the cover of the book rather than showing it to his listeners. If you're telling the audience how to repair computers, don't bury your head inside the computer case and mumble into the hard drive; lift your head to face the audience and simply point to the objects that you're discussing.
As with too many facts in an informative speech, you can have too many visual aids. This will become a distraction to you as you fumble about moving objects around or searching for the right slide, and it will become overwhelming to the audience, leaving them with the same cotton-headed feeling they'd get from information overload.
Persuasive Speeches - Ethos, Logos, and Pathos
The persuasive speech is also related to the informative speech, except that you are doing more than simply providing information on your topic—you are also providing your own opinion on that topic and attempting to persuade your audience that your opinion is correct. And this element of opinion and persuasion is what makes the persuasive speech the most challenging of the four types.
The key to writing a persuasive speech is to begin by having an opinion—preferably an opinion that you feel strongly about. If you have no opinion on a topic, you won't be able to persuade anyone else to hold an opinion. You must first know what you believe and why you believe it. It isn't enough to say, "I believe that this toothpaste is better than that toothpaste, and I want you to believe it, too." Your audience will immediately ask you why you hold that belief.
So before you begin your speech, you must first ask yourself what you believe in strongly, and then ask yourself why you hold that belief. List the reasons why you believe that toothpaste A is better than toothpaste B—because it whitens, eliminates bad breath, and costs less. These reasons will become the major points in your speech with which you explain to your audience why toothpaste A is better than toothpaste B.
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher who lived in the fourth century b.c. He outlined the three basic ways in which a speaker can persuade his audience to embrace his beliefs. He used Greek words to describe these methods, but we'll update them into modern concepts as we go. They are:
- Ethos: Credibility, image, public reputation, perceived expertise
- Logos: Words, concepts, logic
- Pathos: Emotions, feelings, gut reactions