Chapter 8: Professional Presentations in Organizations

8.1 Speech Goals and the Audience

Anonymous and Scott T. Paynton (Ph.D) & Laura K. Hahn (Ph.D)

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Ancient Greek educators and philosophers wrote the first public speaking texts about 2,400 years ago. Aristotle’s On Rhetoric covers many of the same topics addressed in this unit of the book, including speech organization, audience analysis, and persuasive appeals. Even though these principles have been around for thousands of years and have been taught to millions of students, it’s still a challenge to get students to see the value of public speaking. Some students think they already know everything they need to know about speaking in public. In response I remind them that even the best speakers still don’t know everything there is to know about public speaking. Other students don’t think they’ll engage in public speaking very often, if at all. To them, I mention that oral communication and presentation skills are integral to professional and personal success. Last, some students are anxious or even scared by the thought of speaking in front of an audience. To them, I explain that speaking anxiety is common and can be addressed. Learning about and practicing public speaking fosters transferable skills that will help you organize your thoughts, outline information, do research, adapt to various audiences, and utilize and understand persuasive techniques. These skills will be useful in other college classes, your career, your personal relationships, and your civic life.

Speech Goals

Your speeches will usually fall into one of three categories. In some cases we speak to inform, meaning we attempt to teach our audience using factual objective evidence. In other cases, we speak to persuade, as we try to influence an audience’s beliefs, attitudes, values, or behaviors. Last, we may speak to entertain or amuse our audience. In summary, the general purpose of your speech will be to inform, to persuade, or to entertain.

You can see various topics that may fit into the three general purposes for speaking in Table 8.1 “General Purposes and Speech Topics”. Some of the topics listed could fall into another general purpose category depending on how the speaker approached the topic, or they could contain elements of more than one general purpose. For example, you may have to inform your audience about your topic in one main point before you can persuade them, or you may include some entertaining elements in an informative or persuasive speech to help make the content more engaging for the audience. There should not be elements of persuasion included in an informative speech, however, since persuading is contrary to the objective approach that defines an informative general purpose. In any case, while there may be some overlap between general purposes, most speeches can be placed into one of the categories based on the overall content of the speech.

Table 8.1 Speech Goals
To Inform To Persuade To Entertain
Civil rights movement Gun control Comedic monologue
Renewable energy Privacy rights My craziest adventure
Reality television Prison reform A “roast”

Specific Purpose

Once you have determined your goal, you can begin to draft your specific purpose statement or proposition. A specific purpose is a one-sentence statement that includes the objective you want to accomplish in your informative speech speech. A proposition is a one-sentence statement that identifies how you want your audience to think or behave after listening to your persuasive speech. You do not speak aloud these statement in your speech; you use them to guide your researching, organizing, and writing. A good specific purpose statement  or proposition is audience centered and realistic.

Audience Analysis

Good speakers should always assume a diversity of backgrounds and opinions among their audience members. (“Audience” by TEDx UniversityofTulsa – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Audience analysis is key for a speaker to achieve his or her speech goal. One of the first questions you should ask yourself is “Who is my audience?” While there are some generalizations you can make about an audience, a competent speaker always assumes there is a diversity of opinion and background among his or her listeners. You can’t assume from looking that everyone in your audience is the same age, race, sexual orientation, religion, or many other factors. Even if you did have a fairly homogenous audience, with only one or two people who don’t match up, you should still consider those one or two people. When I have a class with one or two older students, I still consider the different age demographics even though twenty other students are eighteen to twenty-two years old. In short, a good speaker shouldn’t intentionally alienate even one audience member. Of course, a speaker could still unintentionally alienate certain audience members, especially in persuasive speaking situations. While this may be unavoidable, speakers can still think critically about what content they include in the speech and the effects it may have.

Even though you should remain conscious of the differences among audience members, you can also focus on commonalities. When delivering a speech in a college classroom, you can rightfully assume that everyone in your audience is currently living in the general area of the school, is enrolled at the school, and is currently taking the same speech class. In professional speeches, you can often assume that everyone is part of the same professional organization if you present at a conference, employed at the same place or in the same field if you are giving a sales presentation, or experiencing the nervousness of starting a new job if you are leading an orientation or training. You may not be able to assume much more, but that’s enough to add some tailored points to your speech that will make the content more relevant. When possible, it’s a good idea to do some audience analysis. This can be done by using a focus group, or sending out a questionnaire to obtain information about the audience before developing you speech.



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8.1 Speech Goals and the Audience by Anonymous and Scott T. Paynton (Ph.D) & Laura K. Hahn (Ph.D) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.