Before You Choose a Topic
Speech planning begins with knowing your general and specific purpose, your time allotment, your audience, and the amount of information you have available. After you read, try the exercises at the end of the section.
Before You Choose a Topic
- Describe the steps in the process of planning a speech.
As you begin to think about choosing your topic, there are a few key factors to consider. These include the purpose of the speech, its projected time length, the appropriateness of the topic for your audience, and your knowledge or the amount of information you can access on the topic. Let's examine each of these factors.
Determine the General and Specific Purpose
is important for you to have a clear understanding of your purpose, as
all the other factors depend on it. Here's a brief review of the five
general purposes for speaking in public:
- Speech to inform. Increase the audience's knowledge, teach about a topic or issue, and share your expertise.
- Speech to demonstrate. Show the audience how to use, operate, or do something.
- Speech to persuade. Influence the audience by presenting arguments intended to change attitudes, beliefs, or values.
- Speech to entertain. Amuse the audience by engaging them in a relatively light-hearted speech that may have a serious point or goal.
- Ceremonial speech. Perform a ritual function, such as give a toast at a wedding reception or a eulogy at a funeral.
should be able to choose one of these options. If you find that your
speech may fall into more than one category, you may need to get a
better understanding of the assignment or goal. Starting out with a
clear understanding of why you are doing what you are supposed do will
go a long way in helping you organize, focus, prepare, and deliver your
Once you have determined your general purpose - or had it determined for you, if this is an assigned speech - you will still need to write your specific purpose. What specifically are you going to inform, persuade, demonstrate, or entertain your audience with? What type of ceremony is your speech intended for? A clear goal makes it much easier to develop an effective speech. Try to write in just one sentence exactly what you are going to do.
|To inform the audience about my favorite car, the Ford Mustang|
|To persuade the audience that global warming is a threat to the environment|
Can I Cover the Topic in Time?Your next key consideration is the amount of time in which you intend to accomplish your purpose. Consider the depth, scope, and amount of information available on the topic you have in mind. In business situations, speeches or presentations vary greatly in length, but most often the speaker needs to get the message across as quickly as possible - for example, in less than five minutes. If you are giving a speech in class, it will typically be five to seven minutes; at most it may be up to ten minutes. In those ten minutes, it would be impossible to tell your audience about the complete history of the Ford Mustang automobile. You could, however, tell them about four key body style changes since 1965. If your topic is still too broad, narrow it down into something you can reasonably cover in the time allotted. For example, focus on just the classic Mustangs, the individual differences by year, and how to tell them apart.
You may have been assigned a persuasive speech topic, linking global warming to business, but have you been given enough time to present a thorough speech on why human growth and consumption is clearly linked to global warming? Are you supposed to discuss "green" strategies of energy conservation in business, for example? The topic of global warming is quite complex, and by definition involves a great deal of information, debate over interpretations of data, and analysis on the diverse global impacts. Rather than try to explore the chemistry, the corporate debates, or the current government activities that may be involved, you can consider how visual aids may make the speech vivid for the audience. You might decide to focus on three clear examples of global warming to capture your audience's attention and move them closer to your stated position: "green" and energy-saving strategies are good for business.
Will My Topic Be Interesting to My Audience?Remember that communication is a two-way process; even if you are the only one speaking, the audience is an essential part of your speech. Put yourself in their place and imagine how to make your topic relevant for them. What information will they actually use once your speech is over?
For example, if you are speaking to a group of auto mechanics who specialize in repairing and maintaining classic cars, it might make sense to inform them about the body features of the Mustang, but they may already be quite knowledgeable about these features. If you represent a new rust treatment product used in the restoration process, they may be more interested in how it works than any specific model of car. However, if your audience belong to a general group of students or would-be car buyers, it would be more useful to inform them about how to buy a classic car and what to look for. General issues of rust may be more relevant, and can still be clearly linked to your new rust treatment product.
For a persuasive speech, in addition to considering the audience's interests, you will also want to gauge their attitudes and beliefs. If you are speaking about global warming to a group of scientists, you can probably assume that they are familiar with the basic facts of melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and ozone depletion. In that case, you might want to focus on something more specific, such as strategies for reducing greenhouse gases that can be implemented by business and industry. Your goal might be to persuade this audience to advocate for such strategies, and support or even endorse the gradual implementation of the cost- and energy-saving methods that may not solve all the problems at once, but serve as an important first step.
How Much Information about My Topic Is Readily Available?
Putting It All Together
Complete the following sentence for your speech: By the end of my
speech, I want the audience to be more informed (persuaded, have a
better understanding of, entertained by) about ___________________.
If you can't finish the sentence, you need to go back and review the steps in this section. Make sure you have given them sufficient time and attention. An effective speech requires planning and preparation, and that takes time. Know your general and specific purpose, and make sure you can write it in one sentence. If you don't know your purpose, the audience won't either.
- Make a list of topic that interest you and meet the objectives of the
assignment. Trade the list with a classmate and encircle three topics
that you would like to learn more about on their list. Repeat this
exercise. What topic received the most interest and why? Discuss the
results with your classmates.