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Preparing Your Speech
Home Up Speaking to Inform Communication Affects on Life The Process of Communication Listening One-to-One Communication Group Discussions Building Confidence Preparing Your Speech Delivering Your Speech


Lesson Objectives:

  • Identify ways to choose a speech topic that appeals to an audience.
  • Understand and put into practice research skills.
  • Prepare a speech outline.
  • Recognize the importance of rehearsal in preparation for a speech.

Wise speakers build their speeches like builders construct houses.  First you form the speech in your mind and then on paper.

Focusing On Your Topic

The first part of speech preparation involves focusing on your topic.  This process starts with your selecting a general subject, then deciding on your general speech purpose.  Once this has been done, you focus on your topic by narrowing it to fit the particular interests of your audience and the time limit available to you.

Find A Subject That Fascinates You

Begin by searching your mind for a general subject that you find interesting.  You should make this decision carefully because the choice of topic can make or break your speech.  Write down a list of single words or short phrases naming subjects that you find fascinating.

These topics can be:  Airplanes, Television, Camping, Nuclear Power, Health Care, Music, Sports, Computers, Education, etc.

Analyze Your Audience

Not every subject that is interesting to you will automatically be of interest to your audience.  Classmates who do not sew may be difficult to reach in a speech about dressmaking.  You should ask yourself "How can I make this topic interesting and acceptable to all the members of my audience?"  Answering this topic requires analysis, one of the most important steps in speech preparation.  Audience Analysis consists of asking yourself a series of questions about any topic you are considering for your speech.  Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do my audience members already know much about this topic?
  • What can I tell them about this topic that they do not already know?
  • Will this topic interest some audience members more than others?
  • If I stand on this issue, will my audience agree with me?
  • If they do not agree, what interest or needs do they have through which I might change their minds?

Asking and answering questions such as these about your audience will help you organize your topic presentation to a specific group of people.

Select Your General Speech Purpose

The general purpose for which speeches are given fall into a fairly small number of categories:

Speeches to Inform:  Here your general purpose is to teach your listeners new information.  You want them to know more about your topic after your speech than they did before.

Speeches to Persuade:  Persuasive speeches are designed to intensify or change listeners' attitudes, beliefs, or behavior patterns.

Speeches to Entertain:  Speeches to entertain are given simply for the enjoyment and relaxation of the listeners.  They are frequently delivered as after-dinner speeches.

Speeches of Introduction:  These are usually brief speeches for the purpose of giving an audience background information on a main speaker they are about to hear.

Speeches of Welcome:  These are given when a new person joins a company, club, or a fraternity, or when a dignitary visits a city or town for the first time.  Their purpose is to make the newcomer feel part of the group he or she is joining.

Speeches of Presentation and Acceptance:  Here the purpose is to highlight the presentation or acceptance of an award or gift to a deserving individual or organization.

In addition, speeches are given to dedicate buildings, to honor graduates from school, to eulogize those who have died, to say farewell when someone is moving, to demonstrate a product, to motivate groups to perform and achieve, and to inspire an audience.

The two primary speech purposes are to inform and to persuade.

Focus on Your Specific Purpose

Once you know your general topic and general speech purpose, you are ready to focus on the specific purpose for your speech.  The specific purpose is precisely what you want your listeners to know, think, believe, or do as a result of hearing your speech.  Once you identify your specific purpose, then develop a purpose sentence.  Examples of a purpose sentence are:

  • The purpose of this speech is to inform the listeners about the safety of commercial airline travel.
  • The purpose of this speech is to inform the audience about the history of commercial aviation.
  • The purpose of this speech is to tell the listeners about my most memorable airplane ride.
  • The purpose of this speech is to compare and contrast six different styles of commercial aircraft.

As you go about focusing on a specific purpose, keep in mind the time available for your speech.  Some topics are too broad for a short speech.  You must downsize your topic to the allotted time given for the speech.

Researching Your Topic

Once you have settled on a topic that is right for you, for your audience, and for the occasion, you need to begin your research.  You begin by taking stock of what you already know about your topic, then move to the library or other outside sources of information to complete your research.

Start with What You Already Know

Write down a list of key phrases and sentences that you already know about the topic you are giving a speech on.  If you know very little about your topic, you must usually do some preliminary research before you begin your outline.

Know What You Are Researching

Whether the purpose of your speech is to provide information or to persuade your audience to adopt new view, what you are looking for in your research is support for the various statements you will be making in your speech.  Support is needed mainly to prove the accuracy of your statements, but it can also be used to illustrate points and make them more interesting.  Audiences are accustomed to listening for distinct kinds of support.  Among the most common types are facts, statistics, testimony, narrative, examples, and comparisons.

For backing up the accuracy of your statements, facts offer the strongest form of support.  A fact is an event or a truth that is known to exist or has been observed.  A fact is very difficult to contradict or refute, especially if it has been witnessed by a large number of people.

Example:  Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was written when the composer was totally deaf.

Statistics are a second useful form of support for accuracy of statements.  Statistics are collections of facts stated in numerical terms.  They can be used to present facts in percentages, rank order, and averages.

Example:  Roughly 52% of the world's population is female, and 48% percent is male.

Another form of support, testimony, is the quoting or restating of another person's opinion to support a point.  Often the person quoted is a recognized expert in the field. 

Example:  As Helen Keller once wrote, "No barrier of the sense shuts me out from the sweet, gracious discourse of my book friends.  They talk to me without embarrassment or awkwardness"

Testimony is not as strong a form of support for accuracy as facts are since testimony is merely opinion. 

Narrative is supporting material in the form of a story, either real or imaginary.  Besides being enjoyable and interesting, narratives a often used in a speech to help make a point that has already been or will soon be supported by facts or statistics. 

Examples are specific instances or occurrences of a situation or principle you are attempting to describe.  Examples may be stated in the form of facts, statistics, testimony, or narrative.  Examples may be stated in the form of facts, statistics, testimony, or narrative.  Thus, examples are general kinds of support that may include one of several other forms.  Three examples are used to support the following sentence:

Example:  Some of this century's most noted speakers have been American presidents.  Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy are generally considered to have been excellent public speakers.

Examples may sometimes be used effectively to intensify or personalize your ideas.

Comparisons involve the equating of essentially unlike ideas or phrases.  They highlight the similarities that exist between basically dis-similar situations.  Like examples may include facts, statistics, testimony or narrative.  They may also include the speaker's opinions if the opinions seem to offer a useful means of illustrating the views being presented.

Get To Know Your Library

Libraries are a good place to do research for your speech topic.  Through the library you have exposure to the following:

  • Internet (a network of computers which provides information rapidly through websites)
  • Encyclopedias
  • Yearbooks
  • Biographic Aids (Who's Who in America, Dictionary of American Biography)
  • Atlases
  • Periodical Indexes (The Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature, Current Magazines, Newsweek, Reader's Digest, Time, U.S. News & World Report)
  • Computerized Datatbases (computerized research services allows you to find obsecure or highly specialized information rapidly through the use of computers)

Find Other Sources of Support

Although the library will often provide you with much of the information you need for a speech, do not overlook other valuable sources of information.  Interviews with people knowledgeable about your topic can prove very helpful.  If your topic concerns business, why not interview a teacher in the business department of your school or a local business leader?

Other sources of support frequently overlooked are television and radio, particularly news programs.  Since the main purpose of local and network news teams is to gather and sort out facts and testimony, their reports are a gold mine of current information with which to support your ideas.  Keep up with world and local news and jot down the date of the program as well as the source of the information whenever you hear an item that might prove useful.

Another form of support is taking an informal survey of public opinion among friends or neighbors.  You can also write to special interest groups to obtain information to support a controversial topic.

Record Your Evidence

As you discover facts, statistics, testimony, and other forms of support for your speech, be sure to write them down.  You may not be certain that you will use a piece of information, but it's a good practice to write it down and the source you discovered while it is before you. 

A good way to record information is by using 3 X 5 inch index cards.  You can also record information on a laptop computer or palm pilot since they are portable.

Organizing And Outlining Your Speech

As you go about researching your speech topic, you will also be deciding on an organizational pattern for your presentation.  Though you are free to arrange your speech materials in any manner you choose, over the years certain methods of arrangement have proved effective for particular occasions and audiences.  Your specific purpose will also have a great deal to do with the type of organizational pattern you select.

Select a Pattern of Speech Organization

One common pattern for speeches is the chronological pattern.  This arrangement proceeds from past to present, to future; in other words, the speech develops in the same order that the events developed in time.  The essential feature of the chronological pattern is that the ideas or events in the speech move forward according to a time sequence.

When parts of a speech are tied together by space arrangements rather than by time sequence, the organizational pattern is called spatial.  It is useful in speeches in which the speaker describes a place for the audience.  For example, if you wish to give a speech on "My Vacation trip to Disney World", you might choose a spatial pattern of organization in which the four major sections of the speech would be about Frontierland, Tomorrowland, Fantasylandy, and Adventureland.

A third organizational pattern, called topical, is also frequently used.  This is a broadly defined pattern in which the subject is broken down into its natural parts.  An example would be a speech about "The United States Congress" divided into the Senate and House, then subdivided into the Democrats and Republicans.

The problem-solution pattern is still another pattern used in speeches.  Here the speaker devotes roughly the first half of the speech to describing a problem that exists, or is about to occur, and the second half developing one or more solutions.  Presidential addresses on national television generally follow this format.  For example, if the issue is the drug problem in our country, the President might spend the first half of the time proving how serious the problem is and the second half calling on the American people to help him to find solutions.

Another pattern used especially by salespersons is called Monroe's Motivated Sequence.  This pattern was originally suggested by Alan H. Monroe for the use in persuasive speeches.  It consists of five separate steps:

1) The Attention Step (Gaining the audience's attention)
2) The Need Step (the salesperson shows them that they have needs not being met)
3) The Satisfaction Step (present a solution that will meet the unmet needs of the audience)
4) The Visualization Step (the salesperson helps them see the change that will occur)
5) The Action Step (involves telling the listeners what action they must take to bring about the improvement the speaker has promised)

Start Your Outline with a Purpose Sentence

A good outline is like a tree without its leaves.  All the basics are present in the tree---the overall direction, the necessary support, the division into branches.  Your speech outline also needs a basic purpose or direction, supporting materials, and appropriate subdivisions.  If your speech outline is to have any order about it, you must know clearly what your purpose is in making the speech. The best way to begin a clear speech outline is by writing at the top of your outline the purpose sentence you selected.  Remember, the purpose sentence states exactly what you hope to accomplish by giving the speech:  wht you hope your listeners will know, think, believe, or do as a result of hearing your speech.

Develop Main Heads and Subheads

The major divisions of a speech outline are referred to as main heads.  Most speeches should only have two or three main heads.  If you were outlining a speech on "School Vacations":

Purpose Sentence: "The purpose of this speech is to persuade the audience that our school calendar should include another week of vacation"

Main Heads: 
I.  Vacations help us become better students.
II. Our school has one week less vacation time than schools in neighboring towns.
III.  Our vacations should be the same as those of our friends in neighboring towns.

Subheads relate to main heads in the same manner that main heads relate to the purpose sentence.  They subdivide the main head into parallel parts.  Notice how the following subheads A, B, and C support the first main head in a speech titled "Skydiving"

I.  Skydiving is safer than most people imagine.
    A.  Only highly qualified personnel may serve as trainers.
    B.  Extensive training is mandatory before a "live" jump.
    C.  Chutes must be checked and rechecked before a jump.

Use Complete Sentences For Main Heads and Subheads

Main heads and subheads in speech outlines should be stated as complete sentences.  Writing down the basic ideas in complete thoughts forces you to think through the ideas and also helps set them in your memory.  Sentences should not be long, but brief and simple as possible.


Rehearsal is the crowning point of speech preparation.  Without rehearsal a speaker is like the beginning golfer entering the U.S. Open after having read all the golfing manuals, but never actually played.

One or two brief run-throughs does not constitute thorough rehearsal.  Start preparing your speech well before you deliver the speech.  Allow time for several rehearsal sessions.  Rehearsal that is crammed into one evening is ineffective compared to three or four rehearsal sessions on successive nights.

Since the actual speech will be spoken aloud, you need a place for rehearsal where you can speak aloud.  Simply saying the speech to yourself, or whispering it quietly, only allows you to practice the mental parts of the speech---the ideas.  But public speaking demands a number of physical skills as well.  You need to rehearse proper breathing and voice projection, clear articulation, good timing, and correct synchronization of words with body movements.

You can rehearse alone first, then with audience such as family or friends.  This is sort of a dress rehearsal.  While you are doing this, also consider timing yourself.  This can be critical because you don't want to have too little to speak on or too much and run over time.