The Major Types of Speeches Help (page 3)
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
Ethos - Appealing to Authority
First, a persuasive speaker must be a credible speaker, fitting into Aristotle's category of ethos or credibility. The audience needs to recognize that you know what you're talking about, and that you are qualified to be telling them the difference between right (your opinion) and wrong (your opponents' opinions). The old adage "practice what you preach" fits into this category. You are not likely to be persuaded to some moral standard by a speaker who doesn't follow that standard him or her self.
Similarly, you must let your audience know two things: that you have the expertise in your topic which qualifies you to hold a strong opinion, and that you make decisions yourself based upon that opinion—decisions which have better results than those to which the opposite opinion would lead.
Second, you must use either strong logic or strong emotional appeals—or both—to persuade your audience that your opinion is the correct one. Having credentials and credibility is not enough; you will need to give your audience a reason to embrace your opinion, and you might need to give them a reason to care about your topic in the first place.
Logos - Appealing to Logic
Logic is more difficult to master than emotional appeals, but it is far more effective. You build a logical argument by stating an opinion, then explaining a number of reasons that logically support that opinion, and finally, providing examples of each that illustrate your point and prove that it's true.
Let's use the toothpaste example once more. Here is how you might structure the outline for your persuasive speech, in which you want to persuade your audience that toothpaste A is better than toothpaste B:
- Thesis: Toothpaste A is better than toothpaste B.
- Point 1: Toothpaste A prevents cavities, while toothpaste B does not.
- Illustration: A recent study by the Molar Meddler's Guild demonstrated that toothpaste A provided 82% more cavity coverage than any other brand.
- Point 2: Toothpaste A brightens while it cleans, whereas toothpaste B turns teeth green.
- Illustration: Visual aids showing closeup photos of teeth brightened by A and made quite colorful by B.
- Point 3: Toothpaste A costs less than B.
- Illustration: I conducted a personal survey of 12 local pharmacies and grocery stores, and found that, on average, A cost 12 cents less than B.
- Conclusion: On every level, toothpaste A is better than toothpaste B.
Notice that you have stated several reasons for your thesis (the opinion you intend to prove to your audience), and have given examples that demonstrate each reason. This approach uses logic (Aristotle's logos) to persuade your audience.
Pathos - Appealing to Emotions
You can also appeal to the emotions of your audience (Aristotle's pathos) with an argument that has little basis on logical fact. Here is an outline for such a speech:
- Thesis: Toothpaste A is better than toothpaste B.
- Point 1: Toothpaste A tastes good, but toothpaste B is yucky.
- Illustration: Toothpaste A reminds me of a cool ocean breeze on a hot summer's day, but the last time I tried B, I nearly gagged.
- Point 2: Toothpaste A is fun to use, and kids love it.
- Illustration: Visual aid showing photos of the colorful stripes in toothpaste A, compared to the muddy brown of toothpaste B.
- Point 3: I interviewed more than a dozen people, and they all preferred toothpaste A.
- Illustration: Visual aid video showing interesting people describing how much they enjoy brushing with toothpaste A.
- Conclusion: On every level, toothpaste A is better than toothpaste B.
As you can see, this outline provides no logical proof that one toothpaste is any better than the other. Your argument might persuade some in the audience to switch toothpastes, but another emotional appeal from another speaker could easily sway them back to a different opinion. The better method is to use both logic and emotional appeals to persuade your audience.
What to Do
Remember that your thesis is an opinion, and your opinion must be proven if you want to persuade your audience. It does no good to say, "I like toothpaste A and you should, too!" That will not persuade anybody; you need to give them clear reasons why they should embrace your opinion.
When building a logical argument, think of it as though you were a lawyer proving your case in court. Let's say that you want to prove that John Smith murdered Bill Jones. Here's how you would construct your case:
- Thesis: John Smith murdered Bill Jones.
- Evidence 1: Here is the revolver that he used to shoot him.
- Explanation: It has been proven that this gun fired the fatal bullet, and Smith's fingerprints were found on the handle.
- Evidence 2: Jones and Smith were seen arguing just before the shooting.
- Explanation: Smith was angry with Jones and threatened to kill him, and three witnesses heard him just prior to the gunshots.
- Evidence 3: Smith has no alibi for where he was at the time of the shooting.
- Explanation: Since Smith was seen by witnesses at the scene just moments before the crime, it is beyond doubt that he committed it.
- Conclusion: There is no reasonable doubt that John Smith shot Bill Jones.
This same formula can be applied to any persuasive speech. Remember that your thesis is merely an opinion, and opinions must be accompanied with proof if you want to persuade your audience.
What to Avoid
The danger of logical arguments is that they can become a mere brow-beating in which you hammer your audience over the heads with facts and statistics. Simply repeating your opinion over and over will not convince the audience; you must provide a variety of evidence to support your thesis.
On the other hand, emotional appeals can become repulsive if they are heavy-handed. If your audience detects that you are trying to appeal to their emotions, they will probably react in the opposite direction from what you intended.
Finally, remember the old saying: "It's easier to attract flies with honey than with vinegar." An angry or belligerent attitude will cause your audience to become defensive, and you will have a difficult time persuading them to your opinion. Body language, delivery, word choices—even the very evidence that you present—will all influence how your audience responds to your message. Remember Aristotle's concept of ethos or credibility: You want to be perceived as a credible and reliable speaker on your topic, and the best place to start is to appear friendly and approachable while you speak.
This final category of speechmaking is quite broad and differs significantly from the others. You might be asked to "say a few words" at a special occasion, which could be as little as a one-minute toast or as lengthy as a 30-minute speech. Here are some examples:
- Toasting the bride and groom at a wedding
- Introducing the main speaker at a conference
- Summarizing your project status at a business meeting
- Eulogizing a friend at a funeral
- Presenting or accepting an award at a banquet
There are two subtypes of speeches within this category: the prepared speech, and the impromptu speech.
Making a Prepared Speech at a Special Occasion
If you're warned ahead of time that you'll be called upon to say a few words at some special occasion, you will follow all the same techniques that we've been discussing thus far. You'll want to think about your audience, considering who will be present when you speak and what they'll want to hear you say.
Your topic will be defined for you, to some extent. For example, if your boss wants you to summarize your projects, your topic will be the relevant projects on which you're currently working. If the bride and groom want you to open the wedding banquet with a toast or introductory remarks, your topic will be the happy couple. But what you say on those topics will still be up to you, and you will want to consider setting an appropriate tone.
The tone of a speech is defined as the mood you want to create. Humor is very appropriate at a wedding banquet, while sober thoughts on finances and marital hurdles might be out of place. The opposite is probably true at a business meeting with your boss and coworkers, where the audience is not expecting to be entertained with jokes but wants to hear about financial matters, project problems, expected completion dates, and so forth.
Tone will be as important as topic in most special occasion speeches. Humor is acceptable at a funeral; indeed, it is often very healing to those who are grieving. Yet you also don't want to be flippant, causing the mourners to feel as though you are making light of their grief and loss. Setting the right tone requires that you put yourself in the place of your audience, asking yourself what you would think appropriate or inappropriate if you were in their shoes. If there's any doubt, it's best to remember the famous line from a once-popular TV detective show: "Just the facts, ma'am." Stick to facts, and you won't go wrong.
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