Preparing Informative and Persuasive Speeches


To give a speech is always a tricky business. Most of the times the topic itself causes no problems. You know what you want to talk about. The problem is: How do I gain the listeners' attention and what can I do that nobody falls asleep during my speech?
Speeches that can be given can include informative, persuasive, argumentative speeches.
Any of these kinds of speeches you can prepare using a 6 step process:

In this section you’ll learn more about each of these steps so you can prepare a really good speech.




  1. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
  2. What unusual or unique experiences have you had?
  3. What special knowledge or expertise do you have?
  4. What strong opinions and beliefs do you hold?
  5. What would you like to know more about?

After answering the five topic finder questions, sit down and decide which of the answers that you gave would make good topics for a speech.


The main point you make in your speech is the thesis of your speech. Here are some example thesis statements:

  1. To describe the educational programs of Chemawa Indian High School ( = informative)
  2. To show how to make caramel corn ( = informative)
  3. To show that silent school prayer violates church and state separation ( = persuasive)
  4. To show that the government should investigate Airline policies toward families of plane accident victims ( = Argument or Persuasive)

"How do you make a good thesis statement?"

My suggestion is to make sure your thesis:

  1. makes a point in a concise, complete sentence
  2. makes a specific point
  3. makes an original point that few others have made
  4. meets the speech’s requirements--that is, use an informative thesis for an informative speech

Using these four standards, how do you make a thesis statement for your topic? First, decide what you want to say about that topic. What point or points do you want to make? If your topic is on college sports, what point do you want to make about college sports? Do you want to tell how to play college sports? Fine. A better idea might be to describe what it is like to be a college sports player. Or maybe how to do your own ranking of college sports teams. In your thesis, make a point about your topic and make the point in a concise (8 to 14 word) complete sentence like:

Second, make sure your thesis statement is specific so that you can avoid broad, "generic" speeches. The college sports thesis statements in the previous paragraph are probably too broad. Remember, you only have four to five minutes to give your informative speech. How are you going to fit in all the different sports in that time and if you do, won’t the speech gloss over many important specific bits of information? I think so. I’d suggest narrowing the college sports thesis to maybe, volleyball, football, or swimming. Or you might narrow down the point you are making. For example, have a thesis that says, "How college sports affects student players’ grades." When you do research for your topic, you’ll probably see a need to refine your thesis even more. You may even find you want to alter your thesis slightly or even completely. Do it with the goal of having a specific thesis statement.

Third, make a "newsworthy" point in your thesis. Look, your instructor has heard many, many speeches. Many students have spoken on the death penalty, gun control, abortion, mairjuana, and A.I.D.S.. Now, that doesn’t mean your teacher doesn’t want to hear these important topics again. What it means is that your teacher wants you to take an approach to your topic that reflects your specific thinking on the topic and that makes a contribution to your audience’s understanding. So, make your thesis statement worth hearing. One excellent speech I heard was on Ramtha, a new age religion. I hadn’t heard of this new religion before and the unique insights the speaker had on the topic were fascinating. Your thesis statement should emulate this fresh, original example. Say something that comes from your own unique experience, research, and creativity. For example, after studying a sports topic you might find that athletes’ grades go down when their season is over. You might have a thesis, based in part on this new information, that says "Extra-curricular sports actually enhance students academic experience" (a persuasive thesis).

Fourth, and this really ought to be obvious, your thesis should meet the requirements for the speech assignment. In other words, if you want to do an informative speech, your thesis should be informative. If you’re going to do a persuasive speech, guess what? Yep, the thesis should be persuasive. Here is what you should do for your thesis statements for each type of speech:

What is the difference between an informative and persuasive speech? To answer this question, let’s start by defining persuasive and informative.
AN INFORMATIVE SPEECH IS A SPEECH WITH A THESIS THAT GIVES INFORMATION. Informative speeches describe, define, analyze, tell how to use, and synthesize. Example thesis statements that are informative include the following:

  1. I will describe what it’s like to be an exchange student.
  2. I will define existentialism.
  3. I will analyze the reasons why conservatives are so adamantly against tax increases.
  4. I will tell how to use Windows XP.
  5. I will synthesize the views of the Catholic Church toward women

A PERSUASIVE SPEECH is A SPEECH WITH A THESIS THAT EMPHASIZES YOUR OPINION. Typical persuasive speeches give an opinion about whether something is good or bad, should or should not be done, or is or is not meeting some valued goal. Here are some example persuasive thesis statements:

  1. I will argue that Affirmative action isn’t warranted.
  2. I believe that eating meat is not good for you and your friendly farm animal.
  3. I will show that Bill Clinton’s campaign was the first effective democratic campaign since 1964.
  4. I will argue that drug testing violates the right to privacy.
  5. I will show that gays and lesbians should be permitted to serve in the armed forces.

"But how do you tell the difference between an informative speech and a persuasive speech? How will I know that my thesis statement really does meet the requirements for my speech?"

You need to decide whether your thesis statement seeks to inform or if it states your opinion about information. An informative thesis might be to describe the character of Clarence Thomas. A persuasive thesis would give an opinion about this information and perhaps attempt to argue that Clarence Thomas’s character is good or bad. That seems pretty clear, but what if the thesis is, "I will describe the way in which Clarence Thomas’s character is bad"? Is such a thesis persuasive or informative? Hmm--does this thesis just give information or does it give an opinion about the information? In my opinion, since the word "bad" infers what the speaker’s opinion is, I’d say that the thesis is persuasive. What about a thesis on, "I will show why the Democrats thought Clarence Thomas’s character is bad"? This is probably informative since it isn’t the speaker’s opinion (see the definition of persuasive speeches above), it is the opinion of Democrats. So, essentially, the thesis gives information (about opinions), and hence this thesis is informative.


Hey! What’s the difference between an Argument Speech and a Persuasive Speech?

The Argument Speech is a type of Persuasive Speech with a few specific differences. First, in the Argument Speech you must advocate a change in government policy whereas in the Persuasive Speech you can advocate virtually anything--a change in policy, a change in your audience’s beliefs, a change in the audience’s actions, etc.. Second, in the Argument Speech you must respond to arguments against your speech whereas in the Persuasive Speech you respond to questions about your speech. Third, in the Argument Speech you use certain types of arguments and much more documentation than in the Persuasive Speeches. We’ll discuss the details of Argument and Persuasive speeches later in the packet.

In the meantime, write that thesis statement. Make your unique, specific point about your topic that meets the requirements for the speech you want to do. Oh, and by the way, have fun watching The Simpsons. Does the episode have a good thesis statement?



Have you ever seen an episode of Law and Order, the show where the homicide detectives and district attorney attempt to convict criminals? How is it that they usually win their cases? Sure, the scripts make them win, but aren’t the favorable verdicts the result of the strong cases the attorneys are able to make? In your speeches you’ll try to inform or convince your audience, much like the attorneys on Law and Order do. How will you be as successful? The answer is that you need to support your thesis strongly. Take a look at two speakers who presented persuasive speeches on health care. Ask yourself, "Who is more effectively making his or her point?"

Our health insurance system is wrong and harmful to people’s health. First, 37 million people lack health insurance and Medicare and Medicaid offer little assistance. Second, people without insurance suffer from poor health because they cannot get access to health care. Infants die unnecessarily because their mothers cannot afford prenatal care. Adults suffer from tuberculosis, heart attacks and other diseases because they do not have access to the system. And the elderly cannot get needed long term care because they do not have the money. Our health system needs help.

Our health insurance system is fine because it is. I’ve got insurance--who cares about other people. Doctors can prescribe drugs anyway. They do cost a lot but doctors are expensive. There are many hospitals and many people who want medical care. I think doctors and nurses do a good job. Our insurance system is fine.

Which side made a more convincing speech? The answer to that question is for you to decide, but it seems to me that Rochelle made clearer and better supported points. She had two clear points. I’m not sure what Steve’s points were, he doesn’t seem to care about other people and his ramblings about the many doctors and hospitals didn’t address the topic.

In your speeches, you want to make points like Rochelle did. Your speeches should make solid arguments that support your thesis statement--that way you’ll best convince or inform your audience. To give solid arguments, you need to come up with points that support your thesis. If your thesis was, "I will show that Speed Racer is a great show" (A persuasive thesis), what would three good points be for this thesis? Here are three points I came up with. First, Speed Racer has great voice dubbing. Second, Speed Racer’s animation is so bad that its good. Third, Speed always wins out against the odds. What points would work for an informative thesis like, "I will describe an unkempt refrigerator." Hmmm. I’d probably use points like the frozen follies, the leftovers that should have been left, and the notes on the door that were never noticed. All it takes to choose points for your speech is to think up main arguments that support your thesis. Give it a try--come up with points for your speech.


"Hey! I can’t think up any points!!!"

Are you sure? If your topic is your hobby or area of interest, you ought to know enough about it to come up with some points. Think about things you associate with the topic and group them into main areas. Is, "What to use to catch fish" your topic? If so, think about it. Poles, boats, lures, etc. come to my mind. Now group those things into main areas like, first, what a fisher uses to get close to fish--the boat, a good map--second, what a fisher uses to catch a fish--pole, bait, lure--and third, what a fisher uses for caught fish--knife, bucket, ice. There you go fisher speaker (for stereo lovers, there’s a really bad pun there), you now have three great points for your thesis.

If you are interested in your topic but don’t know much about it--do your research. Talk to experts, read articles, and study your subject. In fact, even if you do know something about your topic, especially for persuasive speeches, go out and research. The experts you’ll read and speak to will almost always give you new insights on your subject about which you hadn’t thought.

"Could you give some general tips for points?"

You bet. The key is to make your main points thematically connected. In other words—avoid a set of points that look like this:

Notice that the only thing connecting these main points together is the fact that they are about the Zapatistas. That isn’t going to make a cohesive speech. Instead, try these kinds of main points:

"Types"—where each main point addresses a different category of the thesis.

Example for a speech on Zapatista culture:

  1. Zapatista dance and music
  2. Zapatista conversation expectations
  3. Zapatista games
  4. Zapatista romance

"Chronological"—where each main point addresses the subject from beginning to end

Example for a speech on Zapatista history and future:

  1. Zapatistas in the past
  2. Zapatistas in today’s society
  3. Zapatistas in the future

"Step-by-Step"—where each main point explains what to do

Example for a speech on how to use Microsoft Word:

  1. Open Microsoft Word
  2. Type in your paper
  3. Save your paper
  4. Print your paper

"Narrative"—where each main point tells a part of the story of your speech

Example for a speech on suicide that focuses on a personal story:

  1. Talked with friend
  2. Heard he had attempted suicide
  3. Tried to talk to him
  4. He tried suicide again—that’s when I really spoke with him

By using thematic main points, you connect your ideas better and you make your speech more cohesive.


Time for your opinion

You always hear about public opinion polls. Ever wonder why they never ask you? I know I lay awake at nights thinking about that question. Well, here’s your chance to give your input. Take a look at examples of points people prepared in public speaking classes. Do the points sound like the speaker was ready to give a great speech?


Thesis Statement:

I will show what it is like to live on an Israeli kibbutz.


Thesis Statement:

I will show how puppets work


Thesis Statement:

I will describe the Ramtha religion


1. Family life in the home

2. Home life

3. School life


1. They have eyes and arms

2. They are used in shows


1. How it began

2. What its main beliefs are

3. Controversies surrounding the religion

What do you think? Here’s what I think. Joshua’s point one and two sound repetitious. Plus, his points don’t sound like a full description of what it’s like to live on a kibbutz. What about social life? Work? Felicity’s two points don’t even sound like they have anything to do with her thesis statement. Neither discusses how puppets work--they’re just points about puppets. Fritzie’s points sound fine.


"Hey, I thought you wanted my opinion. What gives?"

What gives is I wanted to give my opinion too. You’re entitled to yours. But when you do give your opinion please be sure to support that opinion with points that are different from each other and that fully develop your thesis.


"So--What do you want me to do?"

Do this: make sure your points are different from each other. Why have two points that say the same thing? For your audience it’s repetitious and boring. For you--it means a lack of clarity. Take a look at Sandy’s points for her thesis: A DESCRIPTION OF THE FALL LINEUP FOR THE NETWORKS. Help her!

  1. CBS has great programs
  2. There are good comedy programs
  3. ABC has good shows

Sandy needs help here alright. Do these points completely prove her thesis? What about the NBC and FOX networks? Plus, her organization gets messed up with the comedy part--why is that a separate category? Both the CBS and ABC categories could include comedy shows. So what should she do? One of two things: Change her points so that they completely support the thesis, or change her thesis so that the thesis is completely supported by the points. Here’s what she could do:

Thesis Statement
I will describe the fall lineup for the networks
New Points

  1. CBS is trying new programs
  2. NBC has great comedy shows
  3. ABC has good shows
  4. FOX has great shows for younger viewers


New Thesis Statement
I will describe the fall lineup for CBS and ABC.

  1. CBS has great programs
  2. ABC has good shows

Notice how the changes make the points completely support the thesis. What are you going to do to your thesis or to your points to make it more complete? The public opinion of your class is waiting. We want your opinion--but we want you to support it with points that properly support your thesis. Go for it!




Have you heard the "Ho-hum" speech? You know what I mean. It’s the speech that is just plain boring. Yawn. Even the best topics can be brought to a resounding snore. How can you "wake up" your speech? Choose from the below possibilities:


  1. Pour coffee or Mountain Dew over your speech outline.
  2. Make sure your audience is on No-Doze when you speak.
  3. Add interesting statistics, expert opinion, quotations, facts, studies, examples, humor, stories, visual aides, and your own personal views and experiences.

Unless you’re a real coffee achiever or you’re on no-doze big time, then you know the right answer is number 3. By adding statistics, stories, etc. to support the points you make, you’ll garner support for your speech--plus you’ll keep your audience interested and more than eager to hear what you have to say. Unfortunately, many speakers don’t include enough stories, expert quotations, and other supporting and entertaining elements in their speeches. The result is boring and inadequately supported speeches. Look at Ralph’s outline that does not support its points very well.


  1. ABC shows are poor
    1. Besides Rosanne, the comedies are weak
    2. The dramas have no zip
  2. NBC shows are pretty cool
    1. Friends and ER rock!
    2. But, the new fall shows on NBC are stupid
  3. CBS shows have no appeal
    1. CBS used to be very popular
    2. The new shows are not good

Ralph’s outline is well organized, but it has very few specifics--thereby reducing his audience’s attention and their conviction that he has supported his thesis effectively. The key to an interesting and well supported speech is in how you write your outline. You need to use supports. Notice in the T.V. shows outline that the three main points are supported by more points. I strongly suggest that you not do this. Support your points with visual aids and interest and evidence supports.


What are these support things and visual aids?

Just check out the following sections to find out about these "support things."


Evidence supports give solid, credible proofs for the points that you present. Statistics, expert opinion, facts, and quotations make excellent evidence supports.


STATISTICS: Specific numbers--usually from studies


Vic Kemper and Viveca Novak: Insurance PACs $19 million; 7 of top 20 medical PACs are insurance


According to Vic Kemper, Senior Editor of Common Cause Magazine and Viveca Novak, Senior Staff Writer for Common Cause in 1993: "Insurance PACs have contributed $19 million to congressional candidates since 1980, and seven of the top 20 medical industry PACs are affiliated with insurance companies or associations."

FACTS: Specific data about your subject.


B-1 bombers in the Iraq-Kuwait war.


The United States used one of most advanced fighter planes in the Iraq-Kuwait war--the B-1 bomber.

INTERVIEW DESCRIPTIONS: Specific arguments made by someone you interviewed.


Spoke with Suzanne Reynolds; 80% savings by recycling


I spoke with Suzanne Reynolds at the recycling center. She told me that recycling can reduce the need to use more aluminum, glass and plastic by up to 80% if everyone would just recycle.

STUDIES OR SURVEYS: Results and conclusions from studies or surveys.


The Lewin-VHI study, independent, Clinton plan will be cost effective


According to the results of an exhaustive study by the independent and highly respected non-partisan consultant, Lewin-VHI, concluded that Clinton’s health care proposal will save money and control the growth in medical expenses.

EXPERT OPINION: The ideas and arguments of authorities on your subject.


Olof Palme; former leader Sweden and UN, military spending hurts third world


Olof Palme, former leader of Sweden and United Nations development council activist, made the point clear: large military spending is a death sentence for millions of third world people because it diverts all the resources to weapons and away from food.

DIRECT QUOTATIONS: The exact words of people who speak on your subject.


According to Jeremy Rifkin, President of the Greenhouse Crisis Foundation in 1992

"The human toll of spreading desertification is beyond calculation: tens of millions of dispossessed and displaced human beings wandering across eroded fields, parched deserts, and denuded forest clearings, in search of a safe haven, finding only crowded urban slums, shanty towns, and sidewalk encampments at the end of their futile journeys."


Interest supports develop your points by increasing your audience’s attention. They also encourage people to visualize your ideas and thoughts in their minds.


EXAMPLES: Specific incidences of your subject.


Pinto gas tank


It isn’t hard to find examples of defective cars. The Pinto, by Ford Motor Company, was so dangerous, minor fender benders would cause the gas tank to explode into a firing volcano that quickly burned drivers and passengers alike.

STORIES: Detailed accounts of the experiences of others.


Six friends, talking, use Prozac--New York Times, August 12, 1997


In a recent New York Times article, six friends were having dinner and talking about politics. Suddenly one of them mentioned that she was on prozac. Three others of the six at the table stated that they were also on prozac.

PERSONAL EXPERIENCES: Detailed accounts of your experiences.


Bus trip Cleveland to Seattle


Traveling on the bus for short distances isn’t so bad. I ought to know. I used Greyhound all the time to travel between Seattle and Bellingham where I went to school. It’s a nice quiet ride. But long distance is nothing short of hell. On a trip from Cleveland, Ohio to Seattle, I faced three days without being able to shower and the smell of fellow passengers in the same bus. Sleep was almost impossible. Just try to sleep on one of those seats at 6 A.M. with a baby bawling its head off right behind you. I was so tired by the time we got to Spokane, I fell asleep in the bus terminal and almost missed the bus out. Skip the cross-country bus. Take a plane. Stay home. Do anything--just avoid long distance bus travel.

HUMOR: Avoid canned jokes--but make people laugh.


Phone service; pushing buttons; we’re not open now


I cannot believe how they work these answering services. Do you notice that there is never a real person on the line? (Imitating the phone service) "If you want the registrar, please push 1. If you want transcripts, please push 2." So, I push 2. Then I get another list of choices. Then another. And another. Finally, I get the right machine and it says, "We’re not open now. Call back tomorrow."

INTERACTION: Involve the audience in an activity


Handout "Test", they take test, go over answers


"Now--let’s test your knowledge of the Presidents. Answer the five questions on this handout." You pass out the handout--and waits 30 seconds for classmates to answer the questions. "How did you answer the first question?" Someone answers "John F. Kennedy." You respond "That’s true--but there’s someone else. Does anyone know?" (and you continue--asking for answers and then offering feedback on the answers).


Visual aids are large pictures, maps, bulleted lists, and more that you use during a speech to illustrate and emphasize a point. For example, you could show a graph with bars for the numbers of people killed in drunk driving accidents like the following on the lower left:


Video and Audio aids are videotapes, cassettes, CD’s, overhead projectors, slide shows, and more that you use during a speech to illustrate and emphasize a point. For example, you could play a videotape of parts of a rugby match to illustrate parts of the game. You could use an overhead projector to point to and draw parts of a hair drying machine.

Tips for Visual, Video and Audio Aids

When you use the Aid in your speech:





Use evidence and interest supports and aids in your outline to develop your points. Your outline should not be a series of main points supported by more points. Your outline should be three or four main points, each of which is followed by visual aids, and interest and evidence supports. For each of the points you make in your speech you should have at an absolute minimum two evidence supports and two interest supports. You should have more--but that is a minimum. You should also use visual, video and audio aids in each speech.



When you make your outline, you should have one purpose in mind--to have a clearly written statement of what you will say in your speech. So, you need to develop your outline so that you can use it during your speech in two ways. The first way is as a structured idea of what you will say. In other words, because you will have worked out the right organization for the speech and because you will know what you will be saying--you can speak extemporaneously in an effective manner. You will know the things you want to talk about, not the exact words, but the main things you want to get across. Second, the outline can help you get out of a tough spot where you might have forgotten what to say. Hey, we all have memory lapses (that’s one of many reasons why you should not memorize your speeches word for word) and the outline can help you ride over that tough part of your speech.


Here is an example of an outline that effectively uses interest and evidence supports and visual aids:

  1. I. ABC shows are poor
    1. John Voorhees article on the sad state of ABC
    2. Show V.A. with ABC statistics
    3. Rosanne episode about father visiting
    4. New York Times critic calls ABC shows "mindless pandering"
  2. II. NBC shows are pretty cool
    1. Friends episode
    2. Show V.A. with NBC statistics
    3. ER has won awards
    4. Recent ratings: NBC is just keeping up.
  3. III. CBS shows have no appeal
    1. T.V. Guide: CBS was the leader for seven straight years
    2. Can you name a good show on CBS?
    3. Show V.A. with CBS statistics

If you prepared this outline on television, you could look at it to remind you of the supports you wanted to present. Notice that the outline is not a word for word description of what you will say in your speech. Instead, the outline includes the main ideas that you will talk about when you speak. If you write out every word, or even most of the words you will use--your delivery will suffer. Your speech will sound canned and you won’t be able to adjust to your audience. Instead, you will sound like you memorized your speech ("gosh that sounds fake") or you will read your speech (yawn--snooze). WRITE DOWN IDEAS, NOT WORDS ON YOUR OUTLINE. If you ever are required to deliver a completely written out speech, you will need to take a lot of time to practice delivering so that you sound conversational and spontaneous.



When you speak, here is what you should do. Bring the outline up with you to the place where you will speak. Place the outline in a location where you will be able to see it if need be. Then, start speaking. If you’ve prepared the outline properly, you’ll have the main things to say imbedded in your mind. If you do forget--just look at the outline to refresh your memory.

The best way to use an outline is to use it before you speak. Write it clearly and practice using it until the main things you want to get across are imbedded in your mind. Again, that’s not each and every word. It is the main ideas of what you want to say. For example, knowing that the next thing you say after your horse story is to quote a racetrack expert who argues that horse racing is an exciting event. Knowing these things, you can get up and fill in the right words. And, if by chance you don’t remember the racetrack expert does come next--you can look at your handy dandy outline sitting in front of you. And that’s how to use your outline for your speeches.


"Using supports in my outline and writing down just the ideas and not the exact words sounds fine and dandy. Just one thing: where am I supposed to get these support things?"

Research! Yes, check out the library and contact people who know about your subject. In your speeches, you will want to get all the evidence and learn as much as you can about the topic you choose. That means you need to research.


"Ugh. I don’t want to research. That means I have to go to the library."

Research can be fun. I like looking for just the right information to make points in my speeches and I think you will too. Plus, you will meet neat people--not just in the library, but also at places where you talk to others directly involved in the subject of your speech. Researching for your speech will give you the evidence you need and will probably inform you of things you never knew. Did you know that drug testing may be persuading drug users to switch to worse drugs that go undetected? Did you know that a single payer system of health insurance would probably cost 60 to 70 billion dollars less than the current private insurance system? I know I learned a whole lot about the topics I spoke on because of my research. Researching also makes you a better speaker because you learn more about the topic and that makes you sound more knowledgeable. The library and interview sessions are two great ways to do your research.

Interviewing or Writing to Special Interest Groups

You can obtain valuable information on your topic by talking, or even mailing, to any group, business, individual, or program. These groups are almost always happy to present information favorable to their cause. Often their sole purpose is to offer information to the public. If you want to speak on pollution control, a variety of organizations could help including: The Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Industry organizations, Think tanks, and The Environmental Protection Agency.

Take care with the material you garner from special interest groups. Watch for biased sources. A quotation from a business manager who argues that her company’s products are safe holds little credibility because she has a vested interest in promoting her company’s products. Watch for uninformed sources. Even though special interest research places you where issues get developed and discussed, some people that you talk with may take rigid ideological stands, or express uninformed opinions on the subjects you discuss. Make sure the person you quote presents solid backing for his claim that communists are torturing thousands or her argument that abortions are more dangerous than any other medical procedure. Your credibility as a speaker depends on the quality of your support.

Using the Library

The library has books, magazines, pamphlets, newspapers and more which provide important and needed information. You find and use each of these library resources in different ways and you should use them for different purposes. USE THE LIBRARY APPENDIX IN THIS PACKET WHEN YOU GO TO THE LIBRARY.

Want a hint? Here it is--get qualified experts on your subject. U.S. News and World Report is a good place to start, but that’s about it. You need real experts--scholars who study your subject. Quoting an editor of a newspaper or newsmagazine usually isn’t very strong except for general statistics or stories. For quotations, you need strong, credible sources. If you were speaking on free speech, quoting Professor Haig Bosmajian of the University of Washington would be good because he is a first amendment expert. Obviously, quoting Lyndon LaRouche, who claims that England’s Queen Elizabeth is a drug runner, will not work well. The Department of State Bulletin is a promotional magazine for the state department--hence using it to "prove" that our foreign policy is good is not very strong. You need experts on the subject. You need independent sources--expert sources who do not have a vested interest in promoting their viewpoint. Turn to journals and find these scholars. Read the longer, more detailed articles in the newspapers--the ones where there are quotations from experts, or where there is an article written by an expert.


"Hey!!! The Information I’ve found doesn’t fit my points. What do I do now?"

I’d suggest making new points. The information that you find is the basis for building your speech. If that information says something different than the points you originally came up with--change those points so they reflect the support your information gives. In fact, if the information is really different from what you thought it would be, you might even want to revise your thesis. Be flexible. On the other hand, don’t shift back and forth at the whim of every author’s opinion. More research may very well give the support you need for the point you wanted to make in the first place. In the end--choose the best supported stand on the issue you are addressing.

Whatever you do--include evidence and interest supports in your speeches. That way your audience can skip the Jolt Cola and No-Doze and still be entertained by your speech.




How will you begin your speech? Would you abruptly begin like this "I, uh, think dogs should be shot. I mean pit bulls should be shot and I have three reasons for this?" Hopefully not. This would be awkward and I doubt your audience would be very interested. That is why speakers use introductions. A good introduction does just that--it introduces you, the speaker, and your topic to the audience in an interesting manner. Good introductions include:

  1. An attention getter--something to gain the audience’s attention.
  2. The thesis of the speech.
  3. The reason you are interested and/or have expertise in the topic.
  4. How the topic relates to experiences that the audience has had.

Look at the introduction below that a speaker used for his persuasive speech against the sale of arms to Indonesia. Each of the four elements of an introduction is noted in ( )’s.


Example Outline of an Introduction

I. Introduction

  1. (Attention getter) 350 miles off Australia lies blood stained East Timor.
  2. (The speaker’s interest/expertise) My study of the situation
  3. (The thesis:) I believe it is time for the United States to cut off all arms sales to Indonesia.
  4. (How the topic relates to the audience’s experiences:) If assistance to the flooded Midwest and the movie "Killing Fields" concerned you, murdering the equivalent of 330 Whitman Colleges should too.

The Introduction as delivered

350 miles off the coast of Australia lies East Timor, a nation whose shores are stained with the blood of its people. For in 1976, the 200th year of American freedom, Indonesia, a neighboring country invaded East Timor, ending their independence and locking them into the chains of suppression. Ironically, United States arms sales to Indonesia form the chains for they enforce the invading troops presence. As a political science major I have spent many hours of questioning, researching, and I have found only troubling answers. I believe it is time for the United States to cut off all arms sales to Indonesia. I hope you will too. East Timor may seem remote but if the Midwest flooding heightened your concern and if the movie "The Killing Fields" made you care about the Cambodian people, I hope the starvation and outright murdering of an entire people the size of 330 Whitman Colleges will make you not only care but also angry enough to demand action.

Make sure your introduction neatly and cohesively gains your attention, states the thesis, states the speaker’s involvement in the topic, and relates to the audience’s experiences as this intro does.


"I want to use an attention getter--I just can’t think of any."

There are many kinds of attention getters that you can use to begin your speech. The following are examples of four different types of attention getters for a speech against the use of bail.




John Stacy stood up . . .


John Stacy stood up and began to move back cautiously. The two tall, rough looking men in his cell moved toward him. He ran to the cell’s bars, screaming for help. No one heard. John Stacy would never be heard from again because he was viciously murdered while waiting for his trial. It is time we stopped sitting by while innocent Americans are thrown into jail merely because they do not have enough money to post bail.



Bail a disgrace; Swetnam: "Justice like lightning, ever should appear. To few men’s ruin, but to all men’s fear."


America’s bail system is a disgrace. It is neither just nor safe. Swetnam once said, "Justice like lightning, ever should appear. To few men’s ruin, but to all men’s fear." Today, bail strikes the poor and brings no fear, except to those who wait in crowded, filthy cells. That is why courts should stop using bail.



America an infant; filthy jails--innocent before proven guilty


America was born an infant struggling for freedom. Today, many Americans continue that struggle as they wait in filthy and dangerous jails because America’s court system jails the innocent before they are proven guilty. The bail system should grow up and that is why courts should stop using bail.



70% in jail never found guilty


Did you know that nearly 70% of all people held on jail are never even found guilty of any crime? Why are innocent people forced to stay in jail? It is because they don’t have the money to pay the bail. That is why my speech will support the thesis, courts should stop using bail.


"How can I effectively show that I am interested in the topic?"

There are several ways to show that you are interested in or involved in your topic. You can show that you work in the field that your speech addresses. For example:

I’ve interned at a Seattle law firm and my work with defendants waiting to go to trial convinced me that poor people stay in jail while the rich get out.

You can demonstrate that you have actively researched and studied your topic. For example:

Bail is a terrible disgrace. I’ve talked to a law professor, a defense attorney, and reviewed legal rulings and I am convinced that bail is not an effective nor fair means of pretrial detention.

An extremely effective way to demonstrate your involvement with your topic is to show that it directly effects your life or the lives of your friends and relatives. Examples of this include:

In fact, my own cousin was thrown into jail for over eleven hours for a crime she didn’t even commit. That is why I strongly believe that courts should stop using bail.

I myself had to go in for questioning because of something my friend did and that the police thought I was involved in.


When you begin your speech your audience will want to know how your speech relates to their lives. In order to make them pay close attention to your speech you need to demonstrate that your topic directly effects them in some way. Take a look at these examples:

Ask yourself--could you pay five or six hundred dollars to get out?

You could be one of those 70% who are forced to answer questions, to sit in a crowded cell with other people you’d rather not know. It might be for something you’re suspected of or it may be for a friend you just happened to be with. Do you have a friend that smokes marijuana? How about a relative that drives a bit too fast? How about yourself--have you done no thing that could get you into trouble? If so--you may find yourself in trouble.

One note on getting your audience’s involvement--DO NOT FOCUS ON FUTURE BENEFITS TO THE AUDIENCE. Talk about the here and now--relate your topic to what the audience is doing now or has recently done. Audience involvement appeals like, "You never know--you might get into trouble", and, "Bail now incarcerates over a million people--you could be next," do not get the audience involved enough. The audience just will not see directly how they might wind up on bail. You need to make the connection to your audience’s current lives--demonstrate that what they do now places them at risk of being put on bail that they can’t pay.

In addition, skip the "this is important to you" lines like, "You should care because of the danger to the country." Develop ideas like that in the body of your speech. In your introduction, you need to connect your speech topic to the audience’s lives--not to other’s lives. For example, one speaker in my class discussed South Dakota. To connect the topic with his audience--he asked how many in the audience were wearing silver. A number of students rose their hands. He then noted that much of the silver in America came from the Black Hills in South Dakota. The audience was ready to listen.


A good conclusion:

  1. Ties the speech together.
  2. Builds to a higher point.
  3. Gives a sense that the speech is over.

A good conclusion ties the speech together. Your conclusion should lightly review your main points--but I strongly suggest that you NOT do a summary of your speech. Instead of repeating the details of each of your three points, review the main ideas that led you to support your thesis. For example, after speaking on three points that we are spending too much and that people refuse to be more prudent, you could say, "We are facing a crisis in America. We are unwilling to sacrifice for the future and as a result we have none."

Use your light review to build to a higher point. Your conclusion should examine some underlying assumption of your thesis. If you have discussed drug testing’s invasion of privacy in your speech, you might want to discuss the general phenomenon of greater governmental and business intrusion into people’s private lives. For example, "Drug testing represents merely one of the many ways that businesses are intruding on our personal lives. Secret video cameras, the passing of confidential information, and even private detectives are part of a broader phenomenon of intrusion. We need to stop this attack on our personal lives." SO, BUILD TO A HIGHER POINT--DEVELOP AN IMPORTANT THEME IN YOUR SPEECH. This theme should show us the "news" you have presented--it should tell us what new information we have learned and how it is useful to us.

Give your speech a sense of closure. Your speech should give a feeling that your speech is over. The key way way to do this is to use your voice inflection to give a sense that you are finished. Another good way to accomplish this is to refer back to your attention getter or an important part of the introduction. Examine the following introduction and conclusion. The elements of a good conclusion are noted in parentheses.


I. Introduction

  1. Shawna Mills has cancer
  2. My neighborhood creek
  3. It is the polluter’s responsibility to clean up their wastes.
  4. 355 hours next to toxic site; Gas Works, Kent landfill, Seattle/Tacoma EPA top priority


Shawna Mills has cancer. Her neighbor has a liver disease. In fact, 40% of the people in Shawna’s neighborhood have a fatal disease. What’s the reason? A toxic waste site. Toxic waste sites litter the entire nation and threaten other neighborhoods as well. In fact, in my own neighborhood, a creek that runs in backyards of many homes is filled with chemicals and sludge from a cement factory. That is why I feel that it is the polluter’s responsibility to clean up their wastes. You should feel the same way. Did you know that, on average, you will spend over 355 hours a year next to a toxic waste site? If that doesn’t hit home--consider Gas Works Park, the Kent Landfill site, and that both of the bays in Seattle and Tacoma are E.P.A. top priority cleanup sites.


V. Conclusion

  1. (Tie the speech together)
    Threat and industry failure mean US should make polluters act
  2. (Build to a higher point)
    Key to overall environmental responsibility
  3. (Give the speech closure)
    If responsible, Shawna and my neighborhood safer


Because toxic waste sites threaten the health of the country and because industry can but won’t stop this threat, the United States should make polluters clean up their mess. The toxic waste issue represents one way in which we can protect our precious environment. Every day thousands of tons of waste are dumped, thousands of rivers are polluted, the very air we breathe is threatened. If polluters were forced to be responsible, neighborhoods like Shawna’s and mine would be much safer.

So, do you know how to begin and conclude a speech? Building and satisfying your audience’s interest is a fundamental element of a speech. Building interest is the difference between an audience that thinks your speech is important and an audience that wishes the whole thing would not even start.


What’s the number one fear in America? Nuclear war? A depression? An election in which George Bush wins? Actually, the number one fear in America, according to a 1985 Wall Street Journal Article, is: (you guessed it) Speaking in front of an audience. What is it about an audience--a group of people--that makes speakers fear for their lives? I remember my first speech. It was in a debate. I had to respond to a case that I didn’t even understand! I spoke for 45 seconds--30 seconds of this time in silence--and then meekly sat down, too embarrassed to answer questions. Ugh! Professor Dan Rothwell, a former instructor at Western Washington University, told about one student who got up to speak and completely lost her voice!

What is it that makes speakers so nervous? Fear of the audience’s reaction? You know what Franklin Delano Roosevelt had to say about this don’t you? He said, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." Roosevelt’s phrase worked during the great depression crisis because to a large degree the nation believed. That phrase can work for your speaking "crisis" in the same way if you just believe it. And there’s plenty of reason to believe. Think about it. Everyone’s in the same boat--and we don’t want you to sink. Your teacher wants you to do well and so do the other students in the class.


P A N I C K I N G ?

Everyone does. The best speakers still get that tingling chill when they go up to speak. I know I do. The question is what to do with that knot in your stomach, that dizzy spinning, that uncontrollably shaking hand. The answer is: direct your energies. Look, the bottom line is those anxieties are not going to go away, so do something constructive with them. Direct your tense feelings into energy. Turn that knot into exciting movements, that shaking hand into fine gestures, that dizzy spinning into a speaking frenzy! You can do it! Plus, start thinking about your audience as your friends. Talk with them as you would in a conversation. Professor John Campbell’s apt definition of Public Speaking, a conversation with foresight, really hits the nail on the head. Just talk with us. Speeches are not performances. I repeat, speeches are not performances. They are speeches where you talk to a group of friends. You’re having a conversation with your teacher and fellow students. They want to hear what you have to say. And, again, they’re there to support you. You can do it!

A student in one of my first Public Speaking classes gave this analogy to speaking: "It’s like when you meet someone you really like. You get nervous, your eyes dart, you shake a little, but you really want to talk to that person." If you don’t feel that tingle--you’re not ready to converse--you’re ready to read your speech. There’s nothing more boring than a speaker who isn’t nervous about speaking! Comfortably reading that manuscript in front of the class is going to comfortably put the class to sleep. You need to create that speech as you present it--with the class. If you’re nervous--it’s because you understand the most important element of a speech: the connection between a speaker and his or her audience. You understand that tension--you want to speak, but you’re scared, yet speaking is worth the fear. You really want to create that connection with your audience.

George Herbert Mead, a professor at the University of Chicago during the 1920’s and 1930’s, created the concept of "symbolic interaction." Symbolic interaction is the notion of creating meaning between people. Speech is not a stimulus-response event where the speaker injects thoughts into the audience’s minds. It is a two way process--the speaker offers ideas that the audience thinks about and reacts to, and then the speaker reacts to those reactions.


You as a speaker need to create your speech as you speak, by speaking with both your thoughts and the audience reactions to your thoughts in mind. As we noted in constructing in your outlines: DON’T WRITE OUT ALL THE WORDS OF YOUR SPEECH. That is a fatal mistake. So many speakers with written out manuscripts are just plain dull. No wonder--they’ve already given their speech when they wrote it. They’re just reading it--not giving it. There are exceptions to this rule. Ronald Reagan did do well with his teleprompters and speech manuscripts (up until press conferences that is, where his mistakes were so common, the press often waited for White House corrections before they would go to print). Instead, WRITE DOWN IDEAS AND THEN CREATE THE WORDS AS YOU SPEAK.

Have in mind the basic points you want to get across and then create the right words as you speak. For example, you may want to discuss the danger of nuclear power and you say:

"Nuclear power plants are dangerous (audience looks like "prove it", so you react to their reaction). Just to prove it, a study being conducted by the federal government shows even low levels of radiation that all (you emphasize that) plants emit cause cancer. People, (you meant a different word, so you change words) Communities near nuclear power plants are turning up as leukemia clusters."

On the spot speech creation makes your speech lively. It allows you to interact with your audience because you can dump parts that you don’t think are going well, and add more to parts that are.

John Campbell writes in his book Speech Preparation, "A speech is an incarnation, an idea in flesh--personality and personal contact are its very lifeblood" (1981, p. 41). Your speech derives its life from the connection you create with your audience. I could list out all the differing common elements of good speaking, but that list would be of little use. Speaking, for me, is not eye contact, gestures, and vocal inflection--those are symptoms, not the real health of a speech. Speaking is your interest in the topic. It is your interest in your audience. And it is the connection you create between your topic and your audience. Robin Williams goes wild on stage, and it’s really interesting because he gets you involved in what he’s doing. Representative Patricia Schroeder’s speaking isn’t awesome because of her gestures, it’s because of her incredible concern that the sexual harassment in the armed served end and her desire to convince Americans of this. Show your concern for your topic and for your audience. Your delivery will give the signs of a healthy speech. Oh sure, you might need to work on an awkward gesture or on making your voice sound more lively--but that’s frosting on the cake made from your enthusiasm for your audience and your topic.

So, what’s your number one fear of speaking? I’m sure its still, "giving the speech", but I hope you can see that the greatest fear is not having any fear because you know that fear comes from the key ingredient of a good speech: the anticipation of a connection between yourself, your topic, and your audience. We’re waiting to hear your speech and we’re excited to be in a conversation with you. We want you to do well. I know my next speech after the 45 second nightmare went much better. And the speechless woman went on to give great speeches. You will too.

© The Whitman College Speech and Debate Team

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