Chapter 9 Public Speaking

9.6a Organization

Section Source[1]

Person putting together a metal puzzle

In a series of important and groundbreaking studies conducted during the 1950’s and 1960’s, researchers started investigating how a speech’s organization was related to audience perceptions of those speeches. The first study, conducted by Raymond Smith in 1951, randomly organized the parts of a speech to see how audiences would react. Not surprisingly, when speeches were randomly organized, the audience perceived the speech more negatively than when audiences were presented with a speech with clear, intentional organization. Smith also found that audiences who listened to unorganized speeches were less interested in those speeches than audiences who listened to organized speeches. Thompson furthered this investigation and found that unorganized speeches were also harder for audiences to recall after the speech. Basically, people remember information from speeches that are clearly organized—and forget information from speeches that are poorly organized. A third study by Baker found that when audiences were presented with a disorganized speaker, they were less likely to be persuaded, and saw the disorganized speaker as lacking credibility.

These three very important studies make the importance of organization very clear. When speakers are not organized they are not perceived as credible and their audiences view the speeches negatively, are less likely to be persuaded, and don’t remember specific information from the speeches after the fact.

Determining Your Main Ideas

Photograph of The Thinker, by Rodin

When creating a speech, it’s important to remember that speeches have three clear parts: an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. The introduction establishes the topic and orients your audience, and the conclusion wraps everything up at the end of your speech. The real “meat” of your speech happens in the body. In this section, we’re going to discuss how to think strategically about the body of your speech.

We like the word strategic because it refers to determining what is important or essential to the overall plan or purpose of your speech. Too often, new speakers just throw information together and stand up and start speaking. When that happens, audience members are left confused and the reason for the speech may get lost. To avoid being seen as disorganized, we want you to start thinking critically about the organization of your speech.

In this section, we will discuss how to take your speech from a specific purpose to creating the main points of your speech. We will then move to discussing how to create an effective introduction and conclusion.

 

From Specific Purpose to Main Points

Once you have written down your specific purpose, you can now start thinking about the best way to turn that specific purpose into a series of main points. Main points are the key ideas you present to enable your speech to accomplish its specific purpose. In this section, we’re going to discuss how to determine your main points and how to organize those main points into a coherent, strategic speech.

How Many Main Points Do I Need?

While there is no magic number for how many main points a speech should have, speech experts generally agree that the fewer the number of main points the better. First and foremost, experts on the subject of memory have consistently shown that people don’t tend to remember very much after they listen to a message or leave a conversation. While many different factors can affect a listener’s ability to retain information after a speech, how the speech is organized is an important part of that process.For the speeches you will be delivering in a typical public speaking class, you will usually have just two or three main points. If your speech is less than three minutes long, then two main points will probably work best. If your speech is between three and ten minutes in length, then it makes more sense to use three main points.

According to LeFrancois (1999), people are more likely to remember information that is meaningful, useful, and of interest to them; different or unique; organized; visual; and simple. Two or three main points are much easier for listeners to remember than ten or even five. In addition, if you have two or three main points, you’ll be able to develop each one with examples, statistics, or other forms of support. This breakdown of support is called subordinationthe act of placing in a lower rank or position. Using supporting or subordinate points help you to better understand how ideas are connected and how ideas or points are providing more information as you explain or provide more detail. Including support for each point will make your speech more interesting and more memorable for your audience.

Narrowing Down Your Main Points

When you write your specific purpose and review the research you have done on your topic, you will probably find yourself thinking of quite a few points that you’d like to make in your speech. Whether that’s the case or not, we recommend taking a few minutes to brainstorm and develop a list of points. In brainstorming, your goal is simply to think of as many different points as you can, not to judge how valuable or important they are. What information does your audience need to know to understand your topic? What information does your speech need to convey to accomplish its specific purpose? Consider the following example:

Specific Purpose

To inform a group of school administrators about the various open-source software packages that could be utilized in their school districts

Brainstorming List of Points

  • Define open-source software.
  • Define educational software.
  • List and describe the software commonly used by school districts.
  • Explain the advantages of using open-source software.
  • Explain the disadvantages of using open-source software.
  • Review the history of open-source software.
  • Describe the value of open-source software.
  • Describe some educational open-source software packages.
  • Review the software needs of my specific audience.
  • Describe some problems that have occurred with open-source software.

Now that you have brainstormed and developed a list of possible points, how do you go about narrowing them down to just two or three main ones? When you look over the preceding list, you can then start to see that many of the points are related to one another. Your goal in narrowing down your main points is to identify which individual, potentially minor points can be combined to make main points.

Specific Purpose

To inform a group of school administrators about the various open-source software packages that could be utilized in their school districts

Main Point I: School districts use software in their operations.

  • Define educational software.
  • List and describe the software commonly used by school districts.

Main Point II: What is open-source software?

  • Define open-source software.
  • Review the history of open-source software.
  • Explain the advantages of using open-source software.
  • Describe the value of open-source software.
  • Explain the disadvantages of using open-source software.
  • Describe some problems that have occurred with open-source software.

Main Point III: Name some specific open-source software packages that may be appropriate for these school administrators to consider.

  • Review the software needs of my specific audience.
  • Describe some educational open-source software packages.

You may notice that in the preceding list, the number of subpoints under each of the three main points is a little disjointed or the topics don’t go together clearly. That’s all right. Remember that these are just general ideas at this point. It’s also important to remember that there is often more than one way to organize a speech. Some of these points could be left out and others developed more fully, depending on the purpose and audience. We’ll develop the preceding main points more fully in a moment.

Helpful Hints for Preparing Your Main Points

Now that we’ve discussed how to take a specific purpose and turn it into a series of main points, here are some helpful hints for creating your main points.

Uniting Your Main Points

Once you’ve generated a possible list of main points, you want to ask yourself this question: “When you look at your main points, do they fit together?” For example, if you look at the three preceding main points (school districts use software in their operations; what is open-source software; name some specific open-source software packages that may be appropriate for these school administrators to consider), ask yourself, “Do these main points help my audience understand my specific purpose?” Suppose you added a fourth main point about open-source software for musicians—would this fourth main point go with the other three? Probably not. While you may have a strong passion for open-source music software, that main point is extraneous information for the speech you are giving. It does not help accomplish your specific purpose, so you’d need to toss it out.

Keeping Your Main Points Separate

The next question to ask yourself about your main points is whether they overlap too much. While some overlap may happen naturally because of the singular nature of a specific topic, the information covered within each main point should be clearly distinct from the other main points. Imagine you’re giving a speech with the specific purpose “to inform my audience about the health reasons for eating apples and oranges.” You could then have three main points: that eating fruits is healthy, that eating apples is healthy, and that eating oranges is healthy. While the two points related to apples and oranges are clearly distinct, both of those main points would probably overlap too much with the first point “that eating fruits is healthy,” so you would probably decide to eliminate the first point and focus on the second and third. On the other hand, you could keep the first point and then develop two new points giving additional support to why people should eat fruit.

Balancing Main Points

One of the biggest mistakes some speakers make is to spend most of their time talking about one of their main points, completely neglecting their other main points. To avoid this mistake, organize your speech so as to spend roughly the same amount of time on each main point. If you find that one of your main points is simply too large, you may need to divide that main point into two main points and consolidate your other main points into a single main point.

Let’s see if our preceding example is balanced (school districts use software in their operations; what is open-source software; name some specific open-source software packages that may be appropriate for these school administrators to consider). What do you think? Obviously, the answer depends on how much time a speaker will have to talk about each of these main points. If you have an hour to talk, then you may find that these three main points are balanced. However, you may also find them wildly unbalanced if you only have five minutes to speak because five minutes is not enough time to even explain what open-source software is. If that’s the case, then you probably need to rethink your specific purpose of ensuring that you can cover the material in the allotted time.

Creating Parallel Structure for Main Points

Another major question to ask yourself about your main points is whether or not they have a parallel structure. By parallel structure, we mean that you should structure your main points so that they all sound similar. When all your main points sound similar, it’s simply easier for your audiences to remember your main points and retain them for later. Let’s look at our sample (school districts use software in their operations; what is open-source software; name some specific open-source software packages that may be appropriate for these school administrators to consider). Notice that the first and third main points are statements, but the second one is a question. Basically, we have an example here of main points that are not parallel in structure. You could fix this in one of two ways. You could make them all questions: what are some common school district software programs; what is open-source software; and what are some specific open-source software packages that may be appropriate for these school administrators to consider. Or you could turn them all into statements: school districts use software in their operations; define and describe open-source software; name some specific open-source software packages that may be appropriate for these school administrators to consider. Either of these changes will make the grammatical structure of the main points parallel.

Maintaining Logical Flow of Main Points

The last question you want to ask yourself about your main points is whether the main points make sense in the order you’ve placed them. The next section goes into more detail of common organizational patterns for speeches, but for now, we want you to just think logically about the flow of your main points. When you look at your main points, can you see them as progressive, or does it make sense to talk about one first, another one second, and the final one last? If you look at your order, and it doesn’t make sense to you, you probably need to think about the flow of your main points. Often, this process is an art and not a science. But let’s look at a couple of examples.

School Dress Codes Example

Main Point One History of school dress codes
Main Point Two Problems with school dress codes
Main Point Three Eliminating school dress codes

Rider Law Legislation Example

Main Point One Why should states have rider laws?
Main Point Two What are the effects of a lack of rider laws?
Main Point Three What is rider law legislation?

When you look at these two examples, what are your immediate impressions of the two examples? In the first example, does it make sense to talk about history, and then the problems, and finally how to eliminate school dress codes? Would it make sense to put history as your last main point? Probably not. In this case, the main points are in a logical sequential order. What about the second example? Does it make sense to talk about your solution, then your problem, and then define the solution? Not really! What order do you think these main points should be placed in for a logical flow? Maybe you should explain the problem (lack of rider laws), then define your solution (what is rider law legislation), and then argue for your solution (why states should have rider laws). Notice that in this example you don’t even need to know what “rider laws” are to see that the flow didn’t make sense.

All speeches start with a general purpose and then move to a specific purpose that gives the who, what, where, and how for the speech. Transitioning from the specific purpose to possible main points means developing a list of potential main points you could discuss. Then you can narrow your focus by looking for similarities among your potential main points and combining ones that are similar. Shorter speeches will have two main points while longer speeches will generally have three or more main points. When creating your main points, make sure that they are united, separate, balanced, parallel, and logical.r do to fix your main points?

Organizational Formats-Informative Speeches

This section is going to provide you with a number of organizational patterns to help you create a logically organized speech. The organizational patterns below are the most commonly used structures for informative speeches. Persuasive speeches use different organizational formats that are not included in this section.

Topical

By far the most common pattern for organizing a speech is a topical organizational format, organizing by categories or dividing the topic into subtopics. The categories function as a way to help the speaker organize the message in a consistent fashion. The goal of a topical speech pattern is to create categories (or chunks) of information that go together to help support your original specific purpose. Let’s look at an example.

Specific Purpose: To inform a group of high school juniors about Generic University

Main Points

  1. Life in the dorms
  2. Life in the classroom
  3. Life on campus

In this case, we have a speaker trying to inform a group of high school juniors about Generic University. The speaker has divided the information into three basic categories: what it’s like to live in the dorms, what classes are like, and what life is like on campus. Almost anyone could take this basic speech and specifically tailor the speech to fit her or his own university or college. The main points in this example could be rearranged and the organizational pattern would still be effective because there is no inherent logic to the sequence of points. Let’s look at a second example.

Specific Purpose: To inform a group of college students about the uses and misuses of Internet dating

Main Points

  1. Define and describe Internet dating.
  2. Explain some strategies to enhance your Internet dating experience.
  3. List some warning signs to look for in potential online dates.

In this speech, the speaker is talking about how to find others online and date them. Specifically, the speaker starts by explaining what Internet dating is; then the speaker talks about how to make Internet dating better for her or his audience members; and finally, the speaker ends by discussing some negative aspects of Internet dating. Again, notice that the information is chunked into three categories or topics and that the second and third could be reversed and still provide a logical structure for your speech.

Comparison/Contrast

Another method for organizing main points is the comparison/contrast organizational patternmeasuring similarities and differences between two or more subjects. While this pattern clearly lends itself easily to two main points, you can also create a third point by giving basic information about what is being compared and what is being contrasted. Let’s look at two examples; the first one will be a two-point example and the second a three-point example.

Specific Purpose: To inform a group of physicians about Drug X, a newer drug with similar applications to Drug Y

Main Points

  1. Show how Drug X and Drug Y are similar.
  2. Show how Drug X and Drug Y differ.

Specific Purpose: To inform a group of physicians about Drug X, a newer drug with similar applications to Drug Y

Main Points

  1. Explain the basic purpose and use of both Drug X and Drug Y.
  2. Show how Drug X and Drug Y are similar.
  3. Show how Drug X and Drug Y differ.

If you were using the comparison/contrast pattern for persuasive purposes, in the preceding examples, you’d want to make sure that when you show how Drug X and Drug Y differ, you clearly state why Drug X is clearly the better choice for physicians to adopt. In essence, you’d want to make sure that when you compare the two drugs, you show that Drug X has all the benefits of Drug Y, but when you contrast the two drugs, you show how Drug X is superior to Drug Y in some way.

Spatial

The spatial organizational pattern organizes information according to how things fit together in physical space, either geographically or directionally. This pattern is best used when your main points are oriented to different locations that can exist independently. The basic reason to choose this format is to show that the main points have clear locations. We’ll look at two examples here, one involving physical geography and one involving a different spatial order.

Specific Purpose: To inform a group of history students about the states that seceded from the United States during the Civil War

Main Points

  1. Locate and describe the Confederate states just below the Mason-Dixon Line (Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee).
  2. Locate and describe the Confederate states in the Deep South (South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida).
  3. Locate and describe the western Confederate states (Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas).

If you look at a basic map of the United States, you’ll notice that these groupings of states were created because of their geographic location to one another. In essence, the states create three spatial territories to explain.

Now let’s look at a spatial speech unrelated to geography.

Specific Purpose: To explain to a group of college biology students how the urinary system works

Main Points

  1. Locate and describe the kidneys and ureters.
  2. Locate and describe the bladder.
  3. Locate and describe the sphincter and urethra.

In this example, we still have three basic spatial areas. If you look at a model of the urinary system, the first step is the kidney, which then takes waste through the ureters to the bladder, which then relies on the sphincter muscle to excrete waste through the urethra. All we’ve done in this example is create a spatial speech order for discussing how waste is removed from the human body through the urinary system. It is spatial because the organization pattern is determined by the physical location of each body part in relation to the others discussed.

Chronological

The chronological organizational pattern organizes the main idea in time order or in a sequential pattern—whether backward or forward. Here’s a simple example.

Specific Purpose: To inform my audience about the books written by Winston Churchill

Main Points

  1. Examine the style and content of Winston Churchill’s writings prior to World War II.
  2. Examine the style and content of Winston Churchill’s writings during World War II.
  3. Examine the style and content of Winston Churchill’s writings after World War II.

In this example, we’re looking at the writings of Winston Churchill in relation to World War II (before, during, and after). By placing his writings into these three categories, we develop a system for understanding this material based on Churchill’s own life. Note that you could also use reverse chronological order and start with Churchill’s writings after World War II, progressing backward to his earliest writings.

Specific Purpose: To inform my audience about the early life of Marilyn Manson

Main Points

  1. Describe Brian Hugh Warner’s early life and the beginning of his feud with Christianity.
  2. Describe Warner’s stint as a music journalist in Florida.
  3. Describe Warner’s decision to create Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids.

In this example, we see how Brian Warner, through three major periods of his life, ultimately became the musician known as Marilyn Manson.

Causal

The causal organizational pattern organizes and explains cause-and-effect relationships. When you use a causal speech pattern, your speech will have two basic main points: cause and effect. In the first main point, typically you will talk about the causes of a phenomenon, and in the second main point, you will then show how the causes lead to either a specific effect or a small set of effects. Let’s look at an example.

Specific Purpose: To inform my audience about the problems associated with drinking among members of Native American tribal groups

Main Points

  1. Explain the history and prevalence of drinking alcohol among Native Americans.
  2. Explain the effects that abuse of alcohol has on Native Americans and how this differs from the experience of other populations.

In this case, the first main point is about the history and prevalence of drinking alcohol among Native Americans (the cause). The second point then examines the effects of Native American alcohol consumption and how it differs from other population groups.

However, a causal organizational pattern can also begin with an effect and then explore one or more causes. In the following example, the effect is the number of arrests for domestic violence.

Specific Purpose: To inform local voters about the problem of domestic violence in our city

Main Points

  1. Explain that there are significantly more arrests for domestic violence in our city than in cities of comparable size in our state.
  2. List possible causes for the difference, which may be unrelated to the actual amount of domestic violence.

In this example, the possible causes for the difference might include stricter law enforcement, greater likelihood of neighbors reporting an incident, and police training that emphasizes arrests as opposed to other outcomes. Examining these possible causes may suggest that despite the arresting statistic, the actual number of domestic violence incidents in your city may not be greater than in other cities of similar size.

Selecting an Organizational Pattern

Each of the preceding organizational patterns is potentially useful for organizing the main points of your speech. However, not all organizational patterns work for all speeches. Your challenge is to choose the best pattern for the particular speech you are giving. When considering which organizational pattern to use, you need to keep in mind your specific purpose as well as your audience and the actual speech material itself to decide which pattern you think will work best. Ultimately, speakers must really think about which organizational pattern best suits a specific speech topic.

 

Creating an Introduction

Section Source[2]

 

The introduction for a speech is generally only 10 to 15 percent of the entire time the speaker will spend speaking. This means that if your speech is to be five minutes long, your introduction should be no more than forty-five seconds. If your speech is to be ten minutes long, then your introduction should be no more than a minute and a half. Unfortunately, that 10 to 15 percent of your speech can either make your audience interested in what you have to say or cause them to tune out before you’ve really gotten started. Overall, a good introduction should serve five functions. Let’s examine each of these.

Gain Audience Attention

The first major purpose of an introduction is to gain your audience’s attention and make them interested in what you have to say. One of the biggest mistakes that novice speakers make is to assume that people will naturally listen because the speaker is speaking. While many audiences may be polite and not talk while you’re speaking, actually getting them to listen to what you are saying is a completely different challenge. Let’s face it—we’ve all tuned someone out at some point because we weren’t interested in what they had to say. If you do not get the audience’s attention at the outset, it will only become more difficult to do so as you continue speaking.

Typically, there are four things to consider in choosing a specific attention-getting device.  First, when selecting an attention-getting device, you want to make sure that the option you choose is actually appropriate and relevant to your specific audience. Different audiences will have different backgrounds and knowledge, so you should use your audience analysis to determine whether specific information you plan on using would be appropriate for a specific audience. Second, you need to consider the basic purpose of your speech. As discussed earlier in this text, there are three basic purposes you can have for giving a speech: to inform, to persuade, and to entertain. When selecting an attention-getter, you want to make sure that you select one that corresponds with your basic purpose.  Remember, one of the basic goals of an introduction is to prepare your audience for your speech. If your attention-getter differs drastically in tone from the rest of your speech (e.g., dying in Africa when you want your audience to laugh), the disjointedness may cause your audience to become confused or tune you out completely. Your third basic consideration when picking an attention-getting device is your speech topic. Ideally, your attention-getting device should have a relevant connection to your speech. The last consideration when picking an attention-getting device involves the speech occasion. Different occasions will necessitate different tones, or particular styles or manners of speaking. For example, a persuasive speech about death and dying shouldn’t be happy and hilarious. An informative speech on the benefits of laughing shouldn’t be dull, dreary, and depressing. When selecting an attention-getter, you want to make sure that the attention-getter sets the tone for the speech.

Now that we’ve explored the four major considerations you must think of when selecting an attention-getter, let’s look at a range of different attention-getters you may employ.

Reference to Subject

The first attention-getting method to consider is to tell your audience the subject of your speech. This device is probably the most direct, but it may also be the least interesting of the possible attention-getters. Here’s an example:

We are surrounded by statistical information in today’s world, so understanding statistics is becoming paramount to citizenship in the twenty-first century.

This sentence explicitly tells an audience that the speech they are about to hear is about the importance of understanding statistics. While this isn’t the most entertaining or interesting attention-getter, it is very clear and direct.

Reference to Audience

The second attention-getting device to consider is a direct reference to the audience. In this case, the speaker has a clear understanding of the audience and points out that there is something unique about the audience that should make them interested in the speech’s content. Here’s an example:

As human resource professionals, you and I know the importance of talent management. In today’s competitive world, we need to invest in getting and keeping the best talent for our organizations to succeed.

In this example, the speaker reminds the audience of their shared status as human resource professionals and uses the common ground to acknowledge the importance of talent management in human resources.

Dave Dugdale – Attentive Audience – CC BY-SA 2.0.

Quotation

Another way to capture your listeners’ attention is to use the words of another person that relate directly to your topic. Maybe you’ve found a really great quotation in one of the articles or books you read while researching your speech. If not, you can also use a number of sources that compile useful quotations from noted individuals. Probably the most famous quotation book of all time isBartlett’s Familiar Quotations(http://www.bartleby.com/100), now in its seventeenth edition. Here are some other websites that contain useful databases of quotations for almost any topic:

Quotations are a great way to start a speech, so let’s look at an example that could be used for a speech on deception:

Oliver Goldsmith, a sixteenth-century writer, poet, and physician, once noted that “the true use of speech is not so much to express our wants as to conceal them.”

Reference to Current Events

Referring to a current news event that relates to your topic is often an effective way to capture attention, as it immediately makes the audience aware of how relevant the topic is in today’s world. For example, consider this attention-getter for a persuasive speech on frivolous lawsuits:

On January 10, 2007, Scott Anthony Gomez Jr. and a fellow inmate escaped from a Pueblo, Colorado, jail. During their escape the duo attempted to rappel from the roof of the jail using a makeshift ladder of bed sheets. During Gomez’s attempt to scale the building, he slipped, fell forty feet, and injured his back. After being quickly apprehended, Gomez filed a lawsuit against the jail for making it too easy for him to escape.

In this case, the speaker is highlighting a news event that illustrates what a frivolous lawsuit is, setting up the speech topic of a need for change in how such lawsuits are handled.

Historical Reference

You may also capture your listeners’ attention by referring to a historical event related to your topic. Obviously, this strategy is closely related to the previous one, except that instead of a recent news event you are reaching further back in history to find a relevant reference. For example, if you are giving a speech on the Iraq War that began in 2003, you could refer back to the Vietnam War as way of making a comparison:

During the 1960s and ’70s, the United States intervened in the civil strife between North and South Vietnam. The result was a long-running war of attrition in which many American lives were lost and the country of Vietnam suffered tremendous damage and destruction. Today, we see a similar war being waged in Iraq. American lives are being lost, and stability has not yet returned to the region.

In this example, the speaker is evoking the audience’s memories of the Vietnam War to raise awareness of similarities to the war in Iraq.

Story/Example

Another device you can use to start a speech is to tell a brief story related to interesting or humorous event. Notice the emphasis here is on the word “brief.” A common mistake speakers make when telling story is to make it too long. Remember, your entire introduction should only be 10 to 15 percent of your speech, so your attention-getter must be very short.

One type of story is a real story that emphasizes a speech’s basic message. For example, here is a story a speaker could use to begin a speech on how disconnected people are from the real world because of technology:

In July 2009, a high school girl named Alexa Longueira was walking along a main boulevard near her home on Staten Island, New York, typing in a message on her cell phone. Not paying attention to the world around her, she took a step and fell right into an open manhole (Whitney, 2009).

A second type of story is a parable or fable. A arable or fable is an allegory designed to teach general life lessons. The most widely known parables for most Americans are those given in the Bible and the best-known fables are Aesop’s Fables (http://www.aesopfables.com). For the same speech on how disconnected people are with the real world because of technology, the speaker could have used the Fable of The Boy and the Filberts:

The ancient Greek writer Aesop told a fable about a boy who put his hand into a pitcher of filberts. The boy grabbed as many of the delicious nuts as he possibly could. But when he tried to pull them out, his hand wouldn’t fit through the neck of the pitcher because he was grasping so many filberts. Instead of dropping some of them so that his hand would fit, he burst into tears and cried about his predicament. The moral of the story? “Don’t try to do too much at once” (Aesop, 1881).

After recounting this, the speaker could easily relate the fable to the notion that the technology in our society leads us to try to do too many things at once.

While parables and fables are short and entertaining, their application to your speech topic should be clear. We’ll talk about this idea in more detail later in this chapter when we discuss how to link your attention-getter explicitly to your topic.

Startling Statement

The eighth device you can use to start a speech is to surprise your audience with startling information about your topic. Often, startling statements come in the form of statistics and strange facts. The goal of a good startling statistic is that it surprises the audience and gets them engaged in your topic. For example, if you’re giving a speech about oil conservation, you could start by saying, “A Boeing 747 airliner holds 57,285 gallons of fuel.” You could start a speech on the psychology of dreams by noting, “The average person has over 1,460 dreams a year.” A strange fact, on the other hand, is a statement that does not involve numbers but is equally surprising to most audiences. For example, you could start a speech on the gambling industry by saying, “There are no clocks in any casinos in Las Vegas.” You could start a speech on the Harlem Globetrotters by saying, “In 2000, Pope John Paul II became the most famous honorary member of the Harlem Globetrotters.” All four of these examples came from a great website for strange facts (http://www.strangefacts.com).

Although startling statements are fun, it is important to use them ethically. First, make sure that your startling statement is factual. The Internet is full of startling statements and claims that are simply not factual, so when you find a statement you’d like to use, you have an ethical duty to ascertain its truth before you use it. Second, make sure that your startling statement is relevant to your speech and not just thrown in for shock value. We’ve all heard startling claims made in the media that are clearly made for purposes of shock or fear mongering. As speakers, we have an ethical obligation to avoid playing on people’s emotions in this way.

Question

Another strategy for getting your audience’s attention is to ask them a question. There are two types of questions commonly used as attention-getters: response questions and rhetorical questions. A response question is a question that the audience is expected to answer in some manner. For example, you could ask your audience, “Please raise your hand if you have ever thought about backpacking in Europe” or “Have you ever voted for the Electoral College? If so, stand up.” In both of these cases, the speaker wants her or his audience to respond. It is best to ask for a raise of hands, as opposed to a verbal response, as this allows the speaker to maintain control of the speaking situation. A rhetorical question, on the other hand, is a question to which no actual reply is expected. For example, a speaker talking about the importance of HIV testing could start by asking the audience, “I have two questions that I’d like you to think about. How many students on this campus have had sexual intercourse? Of those who have had sex, how many have been tested for HIV?” In this case, the speaker does not expect the audience to give an estimate of the numbers of students that fit into each category but rather to think about the questions as the speech goes on.

 Psychological Orientation

A second function of an introduction is to establish a connection between the speaker and the audience, and one of the most effective means of establishing a connection with your audience is to provide them with reasons why they should listen to your speech. The idea of establishing a connection is an extension of the notion of caring/goodwill. In the chapters on Language and Speech Delivery, we’ll spend a lot more time talking about how you can establish a good relationship with your audience. However, this relationship starts the moment you step to the front of the room to start speaking.

Instead of assuming the audience will make their own connections to your material, you should explicitly state how your information might be useful to your audience. Tell them directly how they might use your information themselves. It is not enough for you alone to be interested in your topic. You need to build a bridge to the audience by explicitly connecting your topic to their possible needs.

One of the most researched areas within the field of communication has been Aristotle’s concept of ethos or credibility. First, and foremost, the concept of credibility must be understood as a perception of receivers. You may be the most competent, caring, and trustworthy speaker in the world on a given topic, but if your audience does not perceive you as credible, then your expertise and passion will not matter. As public speakers, we need to make sure that we explain to our audiences why we are credible speakers on a given topic.

James C. McCroskey and Jason J. Teven have conducted extensive research on credibility and have determined that an individual’s credibility is composed of three factors: competence, trustworthiness, and caring/goodwill (McCroskey & Teven, 1999). Competence is the degree to which a speaker is perceived to be knowledgeable or expert in a given subject by an audience member. Some individuals are given expert status because of positions they hold in society. For example, Dr. Regina Benjamin, the US Surgeon General, is expected to be competent in matters related to health and wellness as a result of being the United States’ top physician.

Regina Benjamin
Source: Photo by Lawrence Jackson, White House photographer.

The second factor of credibility noted by McCroskey and Teven is trustworthiness, or the degree to which an audience member perceives a speaker as honest. Nothing will turn an audience against a speaker faster than if the audience believes the speaker is lying. When an audience does not perceive a speaker as trustworthy, the information coming out of the speaker’s mouth is automatically perceived as deceitful. The speaker could be 100 percent honest, but the audience will still find the information suspect. For example, in the summer of 2009, many Democratic members of Congress attempted to hold public town-hall meetings about health care. For a range of reasons, many of the people who attended these town-hall meetings refused to let their elected officials actually speak because the audiences were convinced that the Congressmen and Congresswomen were lying.

In these situations, where a speaker is in front of a very hostile audience, there is little a speaker can do to reestablish that sense of trustworthiness. These public town-hall meetings became screaming matches between the riled-up audiences and the congressional representatives. Some police departments actually ended up having to escort the representatives from the buildings because they feared for their safety. Check out this video from CNN.com to see what some of these events actually looked like: http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/bestoftv/2009/08/07/ldt.sylvester.town.hall.cnn?iref=videosearch. We hope that you will not be in physical danger when you speak to your classmates or in other settings, but these incidents serve to underscore how important speaker trustworthiness is across speaking contexts.

Caring/goodwill is the final factor of credibility noted by McCroskey and Teven. Caring/goodwill refers to the degree to which an audience member perceives a speaker as caring about the audience member. As noted by Wrench, McCroskey, and Richmond, “If a receiver does not believe that a source has the best intentions in mind for the receiver, the receiver will not see the source as credible. Simply put, we are going to listen to people who we think truly care for us and are looking out for our welfare” (Wrench, McCroskey & Richmond, 2008). As a speaker, then, you need to establish that your information is being presented because you care about your audience and are not just trying to manipulate them. We should note that research has indicated that caring/goodwill is the most important factor of credibility. This means that if an audience believes that a speaker truly cares about the audience’s best interests, the audience may overlook some competence and trust issues.

Logical Orientation

The last major function of an introduction is to preview the main ideas that your speech will discuss. A preview establishes the direction your speech will take. We sometimes call this process signposting because you’re establishing signs for audience members to look for while you’re speaking. In the most basic speech format, speakers generally have three to five major points they plan on making. During the preview, a speaker outlines what these points will be, which demonstrates to the audience that the speaker is organized.

A study by Baker found that individuals who were unorganized while speaking were perceived as less credible than those individuals who were organized (Baker, 1965). Having a solid preview of the information contained within one’s speech and then following that preview will definitely help a speaker’s credibility. It also helps your audience keep track of where you are if they momentarily daydream or get distracted.

Creating a Conclusion

A man waving a checkered flag
Paul Baker – Checkered flag – CC BY-SA 2.0.

As public speaking professors and authors, we have seen many students give otherwise good speeches that seem to fall apart at the end. We’ve seen students end their three main points by saying things such as “OK, I’m done”; “Thank God that’s over!”; or “Thanks. Now what? Do I just sit down?” It’s understandable to feel relief at the end of a speech, but remember that as a speaker, your conclusion is the last chance you have to drive home your ideas. When a speaker opts to end the speech with an ineffective conclusion—or no conclusion at all—the speech loses the energy that’s been created, and the audience is left confused and disappointed. Instead of falling prey to emotional exhaustion, remind yourself to keep your energy up as you approach the end of your speech, and plan ahead so that your conclusion will be an effective one.

Of course, a good conclusion will not rescue a poorly prepared speech. Thinking again of the chapters in a novel, if one bypasses all the content in the middle, the ending often isn’t very meaningful or helpful. So to take advantage of the advice in this section, you need to keep in mind the importance of developing a speech with an effective introduction and an effective body; if you have these elements, you will have the foundation you need to be able to conclude effectively. Just as a good introduction helps bring an audience member into the world of your speech, and a good speech body holds the audience in that world, a good conclusion helps bring that audience member back to the reality outside of your speech.

In this section, we’re going to examine the functions fulfilled by the conclusion of a speech. A strong conclusion serves to signal the end of the speech, help your listeners remember your speech, and remind them how the topic relates to them.

Logical Closure: Signaling the End & Summarizing

The first thing a good conclusion can do is to signal the end of a speech. You may be thinking that showing an audience that you’re about to stop speaking is a “no brainer,” but many speakers really don’t prepare their audience for the end. When a speaker just suddenly stops speaking, the audience is left confused and disappointed. Instead, we want to make sure that audiences are left knowledgeable and satisfied with our speeches.

The second reason for a good conclusion stems out of some very interesting research reported by the German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus back in 1885 in his bookMemory: A Contribution to Experimental Psychology(Ebbinghaus, 1885). Ebbinghaus proposed that humans remember information in a linear fashion, which he called theserial position effect. He found an individual’s ability to remember information in a list (e.g., a grocery list, a chores list, or a to-do list) depends on the location of an item on the list. Specifically, he found that items toward the top of the list and items toward the bottom of the list tended to have the highest recall rates. The serial position effect basically finds that information at the beginning of a list (primacy) and information at the end of the list (recency) are easier to recall than information in the middle of the list.

So what does this have to do with conclusions? A lot! Ray Ehrensberger wanted to test Ebbinghaus’ serial position effect in public speaking. Ehrensberger created an experiment that rearranged the ordering of a speech to determine the recall of information (Ehrensberger, 1945). Ehrensberger’s study reaffirmed the importance of primacy and recency when listening to speeches. In fact, Ehrensberger found that the information delivered during the conclusion (recency) had the highest level of recall overall.

Thus, when we preview our main points in the introduction, effectively discuss and make transitions to our main points during the body of the speech, and finally, review the main points in the conclusion, we increase the likelihood that the audience will retain our main points after the speech is over.

Psychological Closure: Connection to their lives

The last thing a good conclusion does is attempts to answer the basic audience question, “What’s in it for me?” The goal is to identify the direct benefits your speech has for audience members. For example, a speaker talking about stress reduction techniques could conclude by clearly listing all the physical health benefits stress reduction offers (e.g., improved reflexes, improved immune system, improved hearing, reduction in blood pressure). In this case, the speaker is clearly spelling out why audience members should care—what’s in it for them! The following are a few strategies to uses as you end your speech and reaffirm the connection to our audience’s lives.

Conclude with a Challenge

A challenge is a call to engage in some kind of activity that requires a contest or special effort. In a speech on the necessity of fund-raising, a speaker could conclude by challenging the audience to raise 10 percent more than their original projections. In a speech on eating more vegetables, you could challenge your audience to increase their current intake of vegetables by two portions daily. In both of these challenges, audience members are being asked to go out of their way to do something different that involves effort on their part.

Conclude by Visualizing the Future

The purpose of a conclusion that refers to the future is to help your audience imagine the future you believe can occur. If you are giving a speech on the development of video games for learning, you could conclude by depicting the classroom of the future where video games are perceived as true learning tools and how those tools could be utilized. More often, speakers use visualization of the future to depict how society would be, or how individual listeners’ lives would be different, if the speaker’s persuasive attempt worked. For example, if a speaker proposes that a solution to illiteracy is hiring more reading specialists in public schools, the speaker could ask her or his audience to imagine a world without illiteracy. In this use of visualization, the goal is to persuade people to adopt the speaker’s point of view. By showing that the speaker’s vision of the future is a positive one, the conclusion should help to persuade the audience to help create this future.

Conclude by Inspiration

By definition, the word inspire means to affect or arouse someone. Both affect and arouse have strong emotional connotations. The ultimate goal of an inspiration concluding device is similar to an “appeal for action” but the ultimate goal is more lofty or ambiguous; the goal is to stir someone’s emotions in a specific manner. Maybe a speaker is giving an informative speech on the prevalence of domestic violence in our society today. That speaker could end the speech by reading Paulette Kelly’s powerful poem “I Got Flowers Today.” “I Got Flowers Today” is a poem that evokes strong emotions because it’s about an abuse victim who received flowers from her abuser every time she was victimized. The poem ends by saying, “I got flowers today… / Today was a special day—it was the day of my funeral / Last night he killed me” (Kelly, 1994).

 


  1. "10.4: Orgazing Your Speech". Introduction to Public Communication. Department of Communication, Indiana State University. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
  2. "9.1 The Importance of an Introduction". Stand up, Speak out: The Practice and Ethics of Public Speaking. University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing edition, 2016. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

License

Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Comm 101 (Dutton) by Anonymous is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.