8 Preparing and Supporting a Speech


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 (Aristotle, 367-322 BCE/2007). Even though these principles have been around for thousands of years, it is still a challenge to get students to see the value of public speaking. Even the best speakers still do not know everything there is to know about public speaking. Other students do not think they will engage in public speaking very often, if at all. 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. 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.

8.1 Selecting and Narrowing a Topic

Many steps go into the speech-making process. Many people do not approach speech preparation in an informed and systematic way, which results in many poorly planned or executed speeches that are not pleasant to sit through as an audience member and do not reflect well on the speaker. Good speaking skills can help you stand out from the crowd in increasingly competitive environments. While a polished delivery is important, good speaking skills must be practiced much earlier in the speech-making process (James Madison University Writing Center, 2021).

Analyze Your Audience

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 cannot 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 homogenous audience, with only one or two people who do not match up, you should still consider those one or two people. 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 (James Madison University Communication Center, 2021).

Demographic Audience Analysis

Demographics are broad sociocultural categories, such as age, gender, race, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, education level, religion, ethnicity, and nationality used to segment a larger population. Since you are always going to have diverse demographics among your audience members, it would be unwise to focus solely on one group over another. Being aware of audience demographics is useful because you can tailor and vary examples in order to appeal to different groups of people (James Madison University Communication Center, 2021).

Psychological Audience Analysis

Psychological audience analysis considers the audience’s psychological dispositions toward the topic, the speaker, and the occasion as well as how their attitudes, beliefs, and values inform those dispositions (Dlugan, 2012). When considering your audience’s disposition toward your topic, you want to assess your audience’s knowledge of the subject. You would not include a lesson on calculus in an introductory math course. You also would not go into the intricacies of a heart transplant to an audience with no medical training.

The audience may or may not have preconceptions about you as a speaker. One way to engage positively with your audience is to make sure you establish your credibility. In terms of credibility, you want the audience to see you as competent, trustworthy, and engaging. If the audience is already familiar with you, they may already see you as a credible speaker because they have seen you speak before, have heard other people evaluate you positively, or know that you have credentials and/or experience that make you competent. If you know you have a reputation that is not as positive, you will want to work hard to overcome those perceptions. To establish your trustworthiness, you want to incorporate good supporting material into your speech, verbally cite sources, and present information and arguments in a balanced, non-coercive, and non-manipulative way. To establish yourself as engaging, you want to have a well-delivered speech, which requires you to practice, get feedback, and practice some more. Your verbal and nonverbal delivery should be fluent and appropriate to the audience and occasion.

Photograph of a conference room with 4 people sitting at a table. There's a powerpoint on the tv in the background.
Figure 8.1: Mandatory work meetings are an example of captive audiences.

The circumstances that led your audience to attend your speech will affect their view of the occasion (Dlugan, 2012).  A captive audience includes people who are required to attend your presentation. Mandatory meetings are common in workplace settings. Whether you are presenting for a group of your employees, coworkers, classmates, or even residents in your dorm if you are a resident advisor, you should not let the fact that the meeting is required give you license to give a half-hearted speech. In fact, you may want to build common ground with your audience to overcome any potential resentment for the required gathering. In your speech class, your classmates are captive audience members.

View having a captive classroom audience as a challenge, and use this space as a public speaking testing laboratory. You can try new things and push your boundaries more, because this audience is very forgiving and understanding since they have to go through the same things you do. In general, you may have to work harder to maintain the attention of a captive audience. Since coworkers may expect to hear the same content they hear every time at this particular meeting (and classmates have to sit through dozens and dozens of speeches), use your speech as an opportunity to stand out from the crowd or from what has been done before.

A voluntary audience includes people who have decided to come hear your speech. To help adapt to a voluntary audience, ask yourself what the audience members expect (Dlugan, 2012). Why are they here? If they have decided to come and see you, they must be interested in your topic or you as a speaker. Perhaps you have a reputation for being humorous, being able to translate complicated information into more digestible parts, or being interactive with the audience and responding to questions. Whatever the reason or reasons, it is important to make sure you deliver on those aspects. If people are voluntarily giving up their time to hear you, you want to make sure they get what they expected.

A final aspect of psychological audience analysis involves considering the audience’s attitudes, beliefs, and values, as they will influence all the perceptions mentioned previously (Dlugan, 2012). As you can see in the figure below, think of our attitudes, beliefs, and values as layers that make up our perception and knowledge.

3 circles nested inside eachother. From outermost circle to the innermost: Attitudes, beliefs, values.
Figure 8.2: Layers that make up our perception and knowledge.

At the outermost level, attitudes are our likes and dislikes, and they are easier to influence than beliefs or values because they are often reactionary (Dlugan, 2012). If you have ever followed the approval rating of a politician, you know that people’s likes and dislikes change frequently and can change dramatically based on recent developments. This is also true interpersonally. For those of you who have siblings, think about how you can go from liking your sisters or brothers, maybe because they did something nice for you, to disliking them because they upset you. This seesaw of attitudes can go up and down over the course of a day or even a few minutes, but it can still be useful for a speaker to consider. If there is something going on in popular culture or current events that has captured people’s attention and favor or disfavor, then you can tap into that as a speaker to better relate to your audience.

When considering beliefs, we are dealing with what we believe “is or isn’t” or “true or false.” We come to hold our beliefs based on what we are taught, experience for ourselves, or believe (Dlugan, 2012). Our beliefs change if we encounter new information or experiences that counter previous ones. As people age and experience more, their beliefs are likely to change, which is natural.

Our values deal with what we view as right or wrong, good or bad (Dlugan, 2012). Our values do change over time but usually because of a life transition or life-changing event such as a birth, death, or trauma. For example, when many people leave their parents’ control for the first time and move away from home, they have a shift in values that occurs as they make this important and challenging life transition. In summary, audiences enter a speaking situation with various psychological dispositions, and considering what those may be can help speakers adapt their messages and better meet their speech goals.

General Purpose

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 the table below “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, we place most speeches into one of the categories based on the overall content of the speech.

[table id=6 /]

Choosing a Topic

Once you have determined (or been assigned) your general purpose, you can begin the process of choosing a topic (James Madison University Communication Center, 2021). In class, an instructor may give you the option of choosing any topic for your informative or persuasive speech, but in most academic, professional, and personal settings, there will be some parameters set that will help guide your topic selection. It is likely that speeches will be organized around the content covered in the class. Speeches delivered at work will usually be directed toward a specific goal, such as welcoming new employees, informing employees about changes in workplace policies, or presenting quarterly sales figures. We are also usually compelled to speak about specific things in our personal lives, like addressing a problem at our child’s school by speaking out at a school board meeting. In short, it is not often that you will be starting from scratch when you begin to choose a topic.

Whether you have received parameters that narrow your topic range or not, the first step in choosing a topic is brainstorming (James Madison University Writing Center, 2021). Brainstorming involves generating many potential topic ideas in a fast-paced and nonjudgmental manner. Brainstorming can take place multiple times, as you narrow your topic. For example, you may begin by brainstorming a list of your personal interests that you can narrow down to a speech topic. It makes sense that you will enjoy speaking about something that you care about or find interesting. The research and writing will be more interesting, and the delivery will be easier since you will not have to fake enthusiasm for your topic. Speaking about something you are familiar with and interested in can also help you manage speaking anxiety.

While it is good to start with your personal interests, some speakers may be stuck here if they do not feel like they can make their interests relevant to the audience. In that case, you can look around for ideas. If your topic is something being discussed in newspapers, on television, in the lounge of your dorm, or around your family’s dinner table, then it is likely to be of interest and be relevant, since it is current. Figure 8.3 shows how brainstorming works in stages. A list of topics that interest the speaker are on the top row. The speaker can brainstorm subtopics for each idea to see which one may work the best. In this case, the speaker could decide to focus his or her informative speech on three common ways people come to own dogs: through breeders, pet stores, or shelters.


Flow chart. Top row: Sports broadcasting, revival of music on vinyl, dogs, freeganism, occupy Wall Street, "Hipster" culture. Dogs arrow to breeds and owning. Breeds: arrow to large and small. Large: arrow to herding group and hounds. Small: arrow to toy group and terriers. Owning: arrow to buying and training. Buying: Arrow to breeders and pet stores and shelters. Training: arrow to at home and professionally.
Figure 8.3: Brainstorming and narrowing a topic.

Overall, you can follow these tips as you select and narrow your topic:

  1. Brainstorm topics that you are familiar with, interest you, and/or are currently topics of discussion.
  2. Choose a topic appropriate for the assignment/occasion.
  3. Choose a topic that you can make relevant to your audience.
  4. Choose a topic that you have the resources to research (access to information, people to interview, etc.).

Specific Purpose

Once you have brainstormed, narrowed, and chosen your topic, you can begin to draft your specific purpose statement (James Madison University Communication Center, 2021). Your specific purpose is a one-sentence statement that includes the objective you want to accomplish in your speech. You do not speak aloud your specific purpose during your speech; you use it to guide your researching, organizing, and writing. A good specific purpose statement is audience centered, agrees with the general purpose, addresses one main idea, and is realistic.

An audience-centered specific purpose statement usually contains an explicit reference to the audience—for example, “my audience” or “the audience.” Since a speaker may want to see if he or she effectively met his or her specific purpose, write the objective so that it could be measured or assessed. Moreover, since a speaker actually wants to achieve his or her speech goal, the specific purpose should also be realistic. You will not be able to teach the audience a foreign language or persuade an atheist to Christianity in a six- to nine-minute speech. The following is a good example of a good specific purpose statement for an informative speech: “By the end of my speech, the audience will be better informed about the effects the green movement has had on schools.” The statement is audience-centered and matches with the general purpose by stating, “The audience will be better informed.” The speaker could also test this specific purpose by asking the audience to write down, at the end of the speech, three effects the green movement has had on schools.

Thesis Statement

Your thesis statement is a one-sentence summary of the central idea of your speech that you either explain or defend (James Madison University Communication Center, 2021). You would explain the thesis statement for an informative speech, since these speeches are based on factual, objective material. You would defend your thesis statement for a persuasive speech, because these speeches are argumentative and your thesis should clearly indicate a stance on a particular issue. In order to make sure your thesis is argumentative and your stance clear, it is helpful to start your thesis with the words “I believe.” When starting to work on a persuasive speech, it can also be beneficial to write out a counterargument to your thesis to ensure that it is arguable.

The thesis statement is different from the specific purpose in two main ways. First, the thesis statement is content centered, while the specific purpose statement is audience centered. Second, the thesis statement is incorporated into the spoken portion of your speech, while the specific purpose serves as a guide for your research and writing and an objective that you can measure (Goodwin, 2017). A good thesis statement is declarative, agrees with the general and specific purposes, and focuses and narrows your topic. Although you will likely end up revising and refining your thesis as you research and write, it is good to draft a thesis statement soon after drafting a specific purpose to help guide your progress. As with the specific purpose statement, your thesis helps ensure that your research, organizing, and writing are focused so you don’t end up wasting time with irrelevant materials. Keep your specific purpose and thesis statement handy (drafting them at the top of your working outline is a good idea) so you can reference them often. The following examples show how a general purpose, specific purpose, and thesis statement match up with a topic area:

Example 1

Topic: My Craziest Adventure

General purpose: To Entertain

Specific purpose: By the end of my speech, the audience will appreciate the lasting memories that result from an eighteen-year-old visiting New Orleans for the first time.

Thesis statement: New Orleans offers young tourists many opportunities for fun and excitement.

Example 2

Topic: Renewable Energy

General purpose: To Inform

Specific purpose: By the end of my speech, the audience will be able to explain the basics of using biomass as fuel.

Thesis statement: Biomass is a renewable resource that releases gases that can be used for fuel.

Example 3

Topic: Privacy Rights

General purpose: To Persuade

Specific purpose: By the end of my speech, my audience will believe that parents should not be able to use tracking devices to monitor their teenage child’s activities.

Thesis statement: I believe that it is a violation of a child’s privacy to be electronically monitored by his or her parents.

8.2 Researching and Supporting Your Speech

We live in an age where access to information is more convenient than ever before. The days of photocopying journal articles in the stacks of the library or looking up newspaper articles on microfilm are over for most. Yet, even though we have all this information readily available, research skills are more important than ever. Our challenge now is not accessing information but discerning what information is credible and relevant. Even though it may sound inconvenient to have to go physically to the library, students who did research before the digital revolution did not have to worry as much about discerning. If you found a source in the library, you could be assured of its credibility because a librarian had subscribed to or purchased that content. When you use Internet resources like Google or Wikipedia, you have no guarantees about some of the content that comes up.

Finding Supporting Material

As was noted earlier, it is good to speak about something with which you are already familiar. So existing knowledge forms the first step of your research process. Depending on how familiar you are with a topic, you will need to do more or less background research before you actually start incorporating sources to support your speech. Background research is just a review of summaries available for your topic that helps refresh or create your knowledge about the subject. It is not the more focused and academic research that you will actually use to support and verbally cite in your speech.

Your first step for research in college should be library resources, not Google, Bing, or other general search engines. In most cases, you can still do your library research from the comfort of a computer, which makes it as accessible as Google but gives you much better results. Excellent and underutilized resources at college and university libraries are reference librarians. Reference librarians are not like the people who likely staffed your high school library. They are information-retrieval experts. At most colleges and universities, you can find a reference librarian who has at least a master’s degree in library and information sciences, and at some larger or specialized schools, reference librarians have doctoral degrees. Research can seem like a maze, and reference librarians can help you navigate the maze. There may be dead ends, but there is always another way around to reach the end goal.

Two met sit at a table in the library. A older female librarian is standing beside the table speaking to them. Books line the walls in the background.
Figure 8.4: If you get stuck in your research, ask a reference librarian!

Unfortunately, many students hit their first dead end and give up or assume that there is not enough research out there to support their speech. If you have thought of a topic to do your speech on, someone else has thought of it, too, and people have written and published about it. Reference librarians can help you find that information (Matook, 2020). Meet with a reference librarian face-to-face and take your assignment sheet and topic idea with you. In most cases, students report that they came away with more information than they needed, which is good because you can then narrow that down to the best information. If you cannot meet with a reference librarian face-to-face, many schools now offer the option to do a live chat with a reference librarian, and you can contact them by e-mail or phone.

Aside from the human resources available in the library, you can also use electronic resources such as library databases. Library databases help you access more credible and scholarly information than what you will find using general Internet searches. These databases are quite expensive, and you cannot access them as a regular citizen without paying for them. Luckily, some of your student fee dollars go to pay for subscriptions to these databases so that you can access them as a student. Through these databases, you can access newspapers, magazines, journals, and books from around the world. Of course, libraries also house stores of physical resources like DVDs, books, academic journals, newspapers, and popular magazines (James Madison University Libraries, 2021). You can usually browse your library’s physical collection through an online catalog search. A trip to the library to browse is especially useful for books. Since most university libraries use the Library of Congress classification system, books are organized by topic. That means if you find a good book using the online catalog and go to the library to get it, you should take a moment to look around that book, because the other books in that area will be topically related. On many occasions, I have used this tip and gone to the library for one book but left with several.

Although Google is not usually the best first stop for conducting college-level research, Google Scholar is a separate search engine that narrows results down to scholarly materials. This version of Google has improved much over the past few years and has served as a good resource for my research, even for this book. A strength of Google Scholar is that you can easily search for and find articles not confined to a particular library database. The pool of resources you are searching in is much larger than what you would find by using a library database. The challenge is that you have no way of knowing if the articles that come up are available to you in full-text format. As noted earlier, you will find most academic journal articles in databases that require users to pay subscription fees. Therefore, you are often only able to access the abstracts of articles or excerpts from books that come up in a Google Scholar search. You can use that information to check your library to see if the article is available in full-text format, but if it is not, you have to go back to the search results. When you access Google Scholar on a campus network that subscribes to academic databases, however, you can sometimes click through directly to full-text articles. Although this resource is still being improved, it may be a useful alternative or backup when other search strategies are leading to dead end.

Types of Sources


Periodicals include magazines and journals that are published periodically. Many library databases can access periodicals from around the world and from years past. A common database is Academic Search Premiere (a similar version is Academic Search Complete). Many databases, like this one, allow you to narrow your search terms, which can be very helpful as you try to find good sources that are relevant to your topic. You may start by typing a key word into the first box and searching. Sometimes a general search like this can yield thousands of results, which you obviously would not have time to look through. In this case, you may limit your search to results that have your keyword in the abstract, which is the author-supplied summary of the source. If there are still too many results, you may limit your search to results that have your keyword in the title. At this point, you may have reduced those ten thousand results down to a handful, which is much more manageable.

Within your search results, you will need to distinguish between magazines and academic journals. In general, academic journals are considered more scholarly and credible than magazines because most of the content in them is peer reviewed. The peer-review process is the most rigorous form of review, which takes several months to years and ensures that the information that is published has been vetted and approved by numerous experts on the subject. Academic journals are often affiliated with professional organizations rather than for-profit corporations, and neither authors nor editors are paid for their contributions.

Newspapers and Books

Newspapers and books can be excellent sources but must still be evaluated for relevance and credibility. Newspapers are good for topics that are developing quickly, as they are updated daily. While there are well-known newspapers of record like the New York Times, smaller local papers can also be credible and relevant if your speech topic does not have national or international reach. You can access local, national, and international newspapers through electronic databases like LexisNexis.

To evaluate the credibility of a book, you will want to know some things about the author. You can usually find this information at the front or back of the book. If an author is a credentialed and recognized expert in his or her area, the book will be more credible. However, just because someone wrote a book on a subject does not mean he or she is the most credible source. The publisher of a book can also be an indicator of credibility. Books published by university/academic presses (University of Chicago Press, Duke University Press) are considered more credible than books published by trade presses (Penguin, Random House), because they are often peer reviewed and they are not primarily profit driven.

Reference Tools

The transition to college-level research means turning more toward primary sources and away from general reference materials. Primary sources are written by people with firsthand experiences or by researchers/scholars who conducted original research (National WW II Museum, n.d.). Unfortunately, many college students are reluctant to give up their reliance on reference tools like dictionaries and encyclopedias. While reference tools like dictionaries and encyclopedias are excellent for providing a speaker with a background on a topic, they should not be the foundation of your research unless they are academic and/or specialized.

Dictionaries are handy tools when we are not familiar with a particular word. However, citing a dictionary like Merriam-Webster’s as a source in your speech is often unnecessary. A dictionary is useful when you need to challenge a Scrabble word, but it is not the best source for college-level research.

Many students have relied on encyclopedias for research in high school, but most encyclopedias, like World Book, Encarta, or Britannica, are not primary sources. Instead, they are examples of secondary sources that aggregate, or compile, research done by others in a condensed summary (James Madison University Libraries, 2019). Reference sources like encyclopedias are excellent resources to get you informed about the basics of a topic, but at the college level, primary sources are expected. Many encyclopedias are internet-based, which makes them convenient, but they are still not primary sources, and their credibility should be even more scrutinized.

Wikipedia revolutionized how many people retrieve information and pioneered an open-publishing format that allowed a community of people to post, edit, and debate content. While this is an important contribution to society, Wikipedia is not considered a scholarly or credible source. Like other encyclopedias, Wikipedia should not be used in college-level research, because it is not a primary source. In addition, since its content can be posted and edited by anyone, we cannot be sure of the credibility of the content. Even though there are self-appointed “experts” who monitor and edit some of the information on Wikipedia, we cannot verify their credentials or the review process that information goes through before it is posted.


When conducting an interview for a speech, you should access a person who has expertise in or direct experience with your speech topic. If you follow the suggestions for choosing a topic that mentioned earlier, you may already know something about your speech topic and may have connections to people who would be good interview subjects. Previous employers, internship supervisors, teachers, community leaders, or even relatives may be appropriate interviewees, given your topic. If you do not have a connection to someone you can interview, you can often find someone via the Internet who would be willing to answer some questions. Many informative and persuasive speech topics relate to current issues, and most current issues have organizations that represent their needs.

Open-ended questions cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no” but they can provide descriptions and details that will add to your speech. Quotes and paraphrases from your interview can add a personal side to a topic or at least convey potentially complicated information in a more conversational and interpersonal way. Closed questions can be answered with one or two words and can provide a starting point to get to information that is more detailed. However, the interviewer must have prepared follow-up questions. Unless the guidelines or occasion for your speech suggest otherwise, you should balance your interview data with the other sources in your speech. Do not let your references to the interview take over your speech.


We already know that utilizing library resources can help you automatically filter out content that may not be scholarly or credible, since the content in research databases is selected and restricted. However, some information may be better retrieved from websites. Even though research databases and websites are electronic sources, two key differences between them may affect their credibility (Brigham Young University Library, 2021).

First, most of the content in research databases is or was printed but was converted to digital formats for easier and broader access. In contrast, most of the content on websites has not been printed. Second, most of the content on research databases has gone through editorial review, which means a professional editor or a peer editor has reviewed the material to make sure it is credible and worthy of publication. Most content on websites is not subjected to the same review process, as just about anyone with internet access can self-publish information on a personal website, blog, wiki, or social media page. Therefore, what sort of information may be better retrieved from websites, and how can we evaluate the credibility of a website?

A key way to evaluate the credibility of a website is to determine the site’s accountability (Brigham Young University Library, 2021). Accountability means determining who is ultimately responsible for the content put out and whose interests the content meets. The more information that is included on a website, the better able you will be to determine its accountability. Ideally all or most of the following information would be included: organization/agency name, author’s name and contact information, date the information was posted or published, name and contact information for person in charge of web content (i.e., web editor or webmaster), and a link to information about the organization/agency/ business mission. While not all this information has to be present to warrant the use of the material, the less accountability information is available, the more you should scrutinize the information.

You can also begin to judge the credibility of a website by its domain name. Some common domain names are .com, .net, .org, .edu, .mil, and .gov. For each type of domain, there are questions you may ask that will help you evaluate the site’s credibility. You can see a summary of these questions in table 8.2.

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Types of Supporting Material 

There are several types of supporting material you can add to your speech. They include examples, explanations, statistics, analogies, testimony, and visual aids. You will want to have a balance of information, and you will want to include the material that is most relevant to your audience and is most likely to engage them.


An example is a cited case that is representative of a larger whole. Examples are especially beneficial when presenting information that may be unfamiliar to an audience. They are also useful for repackaging or reviewing information that has been presented previously. Examples are used in many different ways, so you should let your audience, purpose and thesis, and research materials guide your use. You may pull examples directly from your research materials, making sure to cite the source. The following is an example used in a speech about the negative effects of standardized testing: “Standardized testing makes many students anxious, and even ill. On March 14, 2002, the Sacramento Bee reported that some standardized tests now come with instructions indicating what teachers should do with a test booklet if a student throws up on it.” You may also cite examples from your personal experience, if appropriate: “I remember being sick to my stomach while waiting for my SAT to begin.”

You may also use hypothetical examples, which can be useful when you need to provide an example that is extraordinary or goes beyond most people’s direct experience (Beare, 2020). Capitalize on this opportunity by incorporating vivid description into the example that appeals to the audience’s senses. Always make sure to indicate when you are using a hypothetical example, as it would be unethical to present an example as real when it is not. Including the word imagine or something similar in the first sentence of the example can easily do this.


Explanations clarify ideas by providing information about what something is, why something is the way it is, or how something works or came to be. One of the most common types of explanation is a definition. Definitions do not have to come from the dictionary. Many times, authors will define concepts as they use them in their writing, which is a good alternative to a dictionary definition. As you do your research, think about how much your audience likely knows about a given subject. You do not need to provide definitions when information is common knowledge. Anticipate audience confusion and define legal, medical, or other forms of jargon as well as slang and foreign words.


Statistics are numerical representations of information (Barnard, 2017). They are very credible in our society, as evidenced by their frequent use by news agencies, government offices, politicians, and academics. As a speaker, you can capitalize on the power of statistics if you use them appropriately. Unfortunately, speakers often intentionally or unintentionally misuse statistics and misconstrue the numbers to support their argument. They do so without examining the context from which the statistic emerged. All statistics are contextual, so plucking a number out of a news article or a research study and including it in your speech without taking the time to understand the statistic is unethical.

Although statistics are popular as supporting evidence, they can also be boring. There will inevitably be people in your audience who are not good at processing numbers. Even people who are good with numbers have difficulty processing through a series of statistics presented orally. Remember that we have to adapt our information to listeners who do not have the luxury of pressing a pause or rewind button. For these reasons, it is a good idea to avoid using too many statistics and to use startling examples when you do use them (Barnard, 2017). Startling statistics should defy our expectations. When you give the audience a large number that they would expect to be smaller, or vice versa, you will be more likely to engage them, as the following example shows: “Did you know that 1.3 billion people in the world do not have access to electricity? That’s about 20 percent of the world’s population according to a 2009 study on the International Energy Agency’s official website.”


Analogies involve a comparison of ideas, items, or circumstances (Segar, 2016). When you compare two things that actually exist, you are using a literal analogy—for example, “Germany and Sweden are both European countries that have had nationalized health care for decades.” Another type of literal comparison is a historical analogy. In Mary Fisher’s now famous 1992 speech to the Republican National Convention, she compared the silence of many U.S. political leaders regarding the HIV/AIDS crisis to that of many European leaders in the years before the Holocaust.

A figurative analogy compares things not normally related, often relying on metaphor, simile, or other figurative language devices. In the following example, wind and revolution are compared: “Just as the wind brings changes in the weather, so does revolution bring change to countries.”

When you compare differences, you are highlighting contrast—for example, “Although the United States is often thought of as the most medically advanced country in the world, other Western countries with nationalized health care have lower infant mortality rates and higher life expectancies.” To use analogies effectively and ethically, you must choose ideas, items, or circumstances to compare that are similar enough to warrant the analogy.


Testimonies are quoted information from people with direct knowledge about a subject or situation. Expert testimony is from people who are credentialed or recognized experts in a given subject (Davis, 2020). Lay testimony is often a recounting of a person’s experiences, which is more subjective. Both types of testimony are valuable as supporting material. We can see this in the testimonies of people in courtrooms and other types of hearings. Lawyers know that juries want to hear testimony from experts, eyewitnesses, and friends and family. Congressional hearings are similar.

When using testimony, make sure you indicate whether it is expert or lay by sharing with the audience the context of the quote. Share the credentials of experts (education background, job title, years of experience, etc.) to add to your credibility or give some personal context for the lay testimony (eyewitness, personal knowledge, etc.).

Visual Aids

Visual aids help a speaker reinforce speech content visually, which helps amplify the speaker’s message (Beqiri, 2018). They can be used to present any of the types of supporting materials discussed previously. Speakers rely heavily on an audience’s ability to learn by listening, which may not always be successful if audience members are visual or experiential learners. Even if audience members are good listeners, information overload or external or internal noise can be barriers to a speaker achieving his or her speech goals. Therefore, skillfully incorporating visual aids into a speech has many potential benefits.


Three-dimensional objects that represent an idea can be useful as a visual aid for a speech (Beqiri, 2018). They offer the audience a direct, concrete way to understand what you are saying. I often have my students do an introductory speech where they bring in three objects that represent their past, present, and future. Students have brought in a drawer from a chest that they were small enough to sleep in as a baby, a package of Ramen noodles to represent their life as a college student, and a stethoscope or other object to represent their career goals, among other things. Models also fall into this category, as they are scaled versions of objects that may be too big (the International Space Station) or too small (a molecule) to actually show to your audience.

Chalkboards, Whiteboards, and Flip Charts

Two men move sticky notes around on a whiteboard.
Figure 8.5: Whiteboards are a great way to interact with your audience.

Chalkboards, whiteboards, and flip charts can be useful for interactive speeches (Beqiri, 2018). If you are polling the audience or brainstorming, you can write down audience responses easily for everyone to see and for later reference. They can also be helpful for unexpected clarification. You can also have audience members write things on boards or flip charts themselves, which helps get them engaged and takes some of the pressure off you as a speaker.

Posters and Handouts

Posters generally include text and graphics and often summarize an entire presentation or select main points (Beqiri, 2018). We frequently use posters to present original research, as they can be broken down into the various steps to show how a process worked. Posters can be useful if you are going to have audience members circulating around the room before or after your presentation, so they can take the time to review the poster and ask questions. Posters are not often good visual aids during a speech, because it is difficult to make the text and graphics large enough for a room full of people to see adequately. The best posters are those created using computer software and professionally printed on large laminated paper.

These professional posters come at a price. If you opt to make your own poster, take care to make it look professional. Use a computer and printer to print out your text; do not handwrite on a poster. Make sure anything you cut by hand has neat, uniform edges. You can then affix the text, photos, and any accent backing to the poster board. Double-sided tape works well for this, as it does not leave humps like those left by rolled tape or the bubbles, smearing, or sticky mess left by glue.

Handouts can be a useful alternative to posters. Think of them as mini-posters that audience members can reference and take with them. Audience members will likely appreciate a neatly laid out, one-page handout that includes the speaker’s contact information. It can be appropriate to give handouts to an audience before a long presentation where note taking is expected, complicated information is presented, or the audience will be tested on or have to respond to the information presented. In most regular speeches less than fifteen minutes long, it would not be wise to distribute handouts ahead of time, as they will distract the audience from the speaker. It is better to distribute the handouts after your speech or at the end of the program, if others speaking after you.


Photographs, paintings, drawings, and sketches fall into the pictures category of visual aids. Pictures can be useful when you need to show an exact replication about which you are speaking. Pictures can also connect to your audience on a personal level, especially if they evoke audience emotions (Beqiri, 2018). Think about the use of pictures in television commercials asking for donations or sponsorships. Organizations like Save the Children and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals successfully use pictures of malnourished children or abused animals to pull at the heartstrings of viewers. A series of well-chosen and themed pictures can have a meaningful impact on an audience.

Diagrams and Drawings

Diagrams are good for showing the inner workings of an object or pointing out the most important or relevant parts of something (Neal, 2016). Think about diagrams as blueprints that show the inside of something—for example, key bones in the human body in a speech about common skateboarding injuries. Diagrams are good alternatives to pictures when you only need to point out certain things that may be difficult to see in a photograph.

Charts and Tables

Spreadsheet with three columns(values top to bottom): Color of shirt (Yellow, blue, black, pink), number of sales (3471, 7164, 9718, 2591), and total amount earned (52065, 107460, 145770, 38865).
Figure 8.6: Example of a sales spreadsheet.

Charts and tables are useful for compiling and cross-referencing larger amounts of information (Presentation Magazine, 2011). The combination of rows and columns allows you to create headers and then divide them up into units, categories, dates, and so on. Medical information is put into charts so that periods of recorded information, such as vital signs, can be updated and scanned by doctors and nurses. Charts and tables are also good for combining text and numbers, and they are easy to make with word processing software like Microsoft Word or spreadsheet software like Excel.

Pie chart titled "End uses of water in office buildings." Largest to smallest pie slice: Domestic/restroom (37%), cooling and heating (28%), landscaping (22%), kitchen/dishwashing (13%)
Figure 8.7: Example of a pie chart.

Think of presenting your department’s budget and spending at the end of a business quarter. You could have headers in the columns with the various categories and itemized deductions in the rows ending with a final total for each column.

A pie chart is an alternative representation of textual and numerical data that offers audience members a visual representation of the relative proportions of a whole. In a pie chart, each piece of the pie corresponds to a percentage of the whole, and the size of the pie varies with the size of the percentage. As with other charts and tables, most office software programs can now make pie charts.


Line graph on top, bar graph on bottom. Top: x-axis is age (years) from 0 to 90, y-axis is number of fish from 0 to 1000. Line is exponential in shape (concave up, y decreases as x increases). Bottom: x-axis is year from 2009 to 2021, y-axis is Amazon's revenue in billions. Each year has a separate bar to represent its revenue. Overall shape is exponential (Concave up, y increases as x increases). Amazon's 2021 revenue is over 450 billion.
Figure 8.8: Examples of a line graph (top) and a bar graph (bottom).

Graphs are representations that point out numerical relationships or trends and include line graphs and bar graphs (Presentation Magazine, 2011). Line graphs are useful for showing trends over time. For example, you could track the rising cost of tuition for colleges and universities in a persuasive speech about the need for more merit-based financial aid.

Bar graphs are good for comparing amounts. In the same speech, you could compare the tuition of two-year institutions to that of four-year institutions. Graphs help make numerical data more digestible for your audience and allow you to convey an important numerical trend visually and quickly without having to go into lengthy explanations. Remember to label clearly your x-axis and y-axis and to explain the basics of your graph to your audience before you go into the specific data. If you use a graph created by someone else, make sure it is large and clear enough for the audience to read and that you cite the original source.



Video clips as visual aids can be powerful and engaging for an audience, but they can also be troublesome for speakers (Gallo, 2017). Whether embedded in a PowerPoint presentation, accessed through YouTube, or played from a laptop or DVD player, video clips are notorious for tripping up speakers. They require more than one piece of electronics when they are hooked to a projector and speaker. They may also require an Internet connection. The more electronic connection points, the more chances for something to go wrong. Therefore it is very important to test your technology before your speech, have a backup method of delivery if possible, and be prepared to go on without the video if all else fails.

Although sometimes tempting, you should not let the video take over your speech (Gallo, 2017). Make sure your video is relevant and cued to where it needs to be. One useful strategy for incorporating video is to play a video without audio and speak along with the video, acting as a narrator. This allows the speaker to have more control over the visual aid and to adapt it and make it more relevant to a specific topic and audience. Additionally, video editing software like iMovie is readily available to college students and relatively easy to use. Some simple editing to cut together various clips that are meaningful or adding an introductory title or transitions can go a long way toward making your video look professional.

Presentation Software

The prevalence of computers and projectors in most schools, offices, and other presentation facilities has made using computer-generated visual aids more convenient. PowerPoint is the most commonly used presentation software and has functionality ranging from the simplest text-based slide to complicated transitions, timing features, video/sound imbedding, and even functionality with audience response systems like Turning Point that allow data to be collected live from audience members and incorporated quickly into the slideshow. Despite the fact that most college students have viewed and created numerous PowerPoint presentations, we have all seen many poorly executed slideshows that detracted from the speaker’s message. PowerPoint should be viewed as a speech amplifier. Like an amplifier for a guitar, it does not do much without a musician there to play the instrument. The speaker is the musician, the speech is the instrument, and PowerPoint is the amplifier. Just as the amplifier does not dictate what the guitar player does, neither should PowerPoint take over the speaker (Rielly, 2020).

Presentations are generally longer than speeches, at least fifteen minutes long, and are content heavy. College lectures and many professional conference presentations fall into this category. In these cases, PowerPoint generally runs along with the speaker throughout the presentation, reviewing key points and presenting visual aids such as pictures and graphs. The constant running of the slideshow also facilitates audience note taking, which is also common during presentations.

Speeches, on the other hand, are usually fifteen minutes or less, have repetition and redundancy built in (as they are adapted to a listening audience), and carry less expectation that the audience will take detailed notes. In this case, PowerPoint should be used more as a visual aid, meaning that it should be simpler and amplify particular components of the speech rather than run along with the speaker throughout the speech (Rielly, 2020).

8.3 Organizing

When organizing your speech, you want to start with the body. Even though most students want to start with the introduction, it is difficult to introduce and preview something that you have not yet developed. A well-structured speech includes an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Think of this structure as a human body. This type of comparison dates back to Plato, who noted, “every speech ought to be put together like a living creature” (Winans, 1917). The introduction is the head, the body is the torso and legs, and the conclusion is the feet. The information you add to this structure from your research and personal experience is the organs and muscle. The transitions you add are the connecting tissues that hold the parts together, and a well-practiced delivery is the skin and clothing that makes everything presentable.

Organizing the Body of Your Speech

Writing the body of your speech takes the most time in the speech-writing process. Your specific purpose and thesis statement should guide the initial development of the body, which will then be more informed by your research process (LibreTexts, 2021). You will determine main points that help achieve your purpose and match your thesis. You will then fill information into your main points by incorporating the various types of supporting material discussed previously. Before you move on to your introduction and conclusion, you will connect the main points together with transitions and other signposts.

Determining Your Main Points

Think of each main point as a miniature speech within your larger speech. Each main point will have a central idea, meet some part of your specific purpose, and include supporting material from your research that relates to your thesis. Reviewing the draft of your thesis and specific purpose statements can lead you to research materials.

As you review your research, take notes on and/or highlight key ideas that stick out to you as useful, effective, relevant, and interesting. It is likely that these key ideas will become the central ideas of your main points, or at least sub-points. Once you have researched your speech enough to achieve your specific purpose, support your thesis, and meet the research guidelines set forth by your instructor, boss, or project guidelines, you can distill the research down to a series of central ideas. As you draft these central ideas, use parallel wording, which is similar wording among key organizing signposts and main points that helps structure a speech. Using parallel wording in your central idea statement for each main point will also help you write parallel key signposts like the preview statement in the introduction, transitions between main points, and the review statement in the conclusion.

While writing each central idea using parallel wording is useful for organizing information at this stage in the speech-making process, you should feel free to vary the wording a little more in your actual speech delivery. You will still want some parallel key words woven throughout the speech, but sticking too close to parallel wording can make your content sound forced or artificial.

After distilling your research materials down, you may have several central idea statements. You will likely have two to five main points (depending on what your instructor prefers), time constraints, or the organizational pattern you choose. Not all of the central idea may be converted into main points; some may end up becoming sub-points and some may be discarded. Once you get your series of central ideas drafted, you will then want to consider how you might organize them, which will help you narrow your list down to what may actually end up becoming the body of your speech.

Organizing Your Main Points

There are several ways you can organize your main points. Some patterns correspond well to a particular subject area or speech type. Determining which pattern you will use helps filter through your list of central ideas generated from your research and allows you to move on to the next step of inserting supporting material into your speech. Here are some common organizational patterns.

Topical Pattern

When you use the topical pattern, you are breaking a large idea or category into smaller ideas or subcategories (Davis, 2021). In short, you are finding logical divisions to a whole. While you may break something down into smaller topics that will make two, three, or more main points, people tend to like groups of three. In a speech about the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, for example, you could break the main points down to (1) the musicians who performed, (2) the musicians who declined to perform, and (3) the audience. You could also break it down into three specific performances—(1) Santana, (2) The Grateful Dead, and (3) Creedence Clearwater Revival—or three genres of music—(1) folk, (2) funk, and (3) rock.

The topical pattern breaks a topic down into logical divisions but does not necessarily offer any guidance in ordering them. To help determine the order of topical main points, you may consider the primacy or recency effect (Morrison, Conway, & Chein, 2014). You prime an engine before you attempt to start it and prime a surface before you paint it. The primacy effect is similar in that you present your best information first in order to make a positive impression and engage your audience early in your speech. The recency effect is based on the idea that an audience will best remember the information they heard most recently. Therefore, you would include your best information last in your speech to leave a strong final impression. Both primacy and recency can be effective. Consider your topic and your audience to help determine which would work best for your speech.

Chronological Pattern

Arrow pointing right connecting three boxes: preparing for the event, what happened during the event, and the aftermath of the event.
Figure 8.9: Example of a chronological pattern of events.

A chronological pattern helps structure your speech based on time or sequence. If you order a speech based on time, you may trace the development of an idea, product, or event (LibreTexts, 2020). A speech on Woodstock could cover the following: (1) preparing for the event, (2) what happened during the event, and (3) the aftermath of the event. Ordering a speech based on sequence is also chronological and can be useful when providing directions on how to do something or how a process works. This could work well for a speech on baking bread at home, refinishing furniture, or harvesting corn. The chronological pattern is often a good choice for speeches related to history or demonstration speeches.

Spatial Pattern

The spatial pattern arranges main points based on their layout or proximity to each other. A speech on Woodstock could focus on the layout of the venue, including (1) the camping area, (2) the stage area, and (3) the musician/crew area. A speech could also focus on the components of a typical theater stage or the layout of the new 9/11 memorial at the World Trade Center site.

Problem–Solution Pattern

The problem-solution pattern entails presenting a problem and offering a solution (LibreTexts, 2020). This pattern can be useful for persuasive speaking—specifically, persuasive speeches focused on a current societal issue. This can also be coupled with a call to action, asking an audience to take specific steps to implement a solution you offered. This organizational pattern can be applied to a wide range of topics and can be organized easily into two or three main points. You can offer evidence to support your claim that a problem exists in one main point and then offer a specific solution in the second main point. To be more comprehensive, you could set up the problem, review multiple solutions that have been proposed, and then add a third main point that argues for a specific solution out of the ones reviewed in the second main point. Using this pattern, you could offer solutions to the problem of rising textbook costs or offer your audience guidance on how to solve conflicts with roommates or coworkers.

Cause–Effect Pattern

The cause-effect pattern sets up a relationship between ideas that shows a progression from origin to result (LibreTexts, 2020). You could also start with the current situation and trace back to the root causes. You can use this pattern for informative or persuasive speeches. When used for informing, the speaker is explaining an established relationship and citing evidence to support the claim—for example, accessing unsecured, untrusted websites or e-mails leads to computer viruses. When used for persuading, the speaker is arguing for a link that is not as well established and/or is controversial—for example, violent video games lead to violent thoughts and actions. In a persuasive speech, a cause-effect argument is often paired with a proposed solution or call to action, such as advocating for stricter age restrictions on who can play violent video games. When organizing an informative speech using the cause-effect pattern, be careful not to advocate for a particular course of action.

Monroe’s Motivated Sequence

Monroe’s Motivated Sequence is a five-step organization pattern that attempts to persuade an audience by making a topic relevant, using positive and/or negative motivation, and including a call to action. The five steps are (1) attention, (2) need, (3) satisfaction, (4) visualization, and (5) action (Monroe & Ehninger, 1964).

You accomplish the attention step in the introduction to your speech. Whether your entire speech is organized using this pattern or not, any good speaker begins by getting the attention of the audience. We will discuss several strategies in Section 9 “Getting Your Audience’s Attention” for getting an audience’s attention. The next two steps set up a problem and solution.

After getting the audience’s attention you will want to establish the need step and that there is a need for your topic to be addressed. You will want to cite credible research that points out the seriousness or prevalence of an issue. In the attention and need steps, it is helpful to use supporting material that is relevant and proxemic to the audience.

Once you have set up the need for the problem to be addressed, you move on to the satisfaction step, where you present a solution to the problem. You may propose your own solution if it is informed by your research and reasonable. You may also propose a solution that you found in your research.

The visualization step is next and incorporates positive and/or negative motivation as a way to support the relationship you have set up between the need and your proposal to satisfy the need. You may ask your audience to visualize a world where things are better because they took your advice and addressed this problem. This capitalizes on positive motivation. You may also ask your audience to visualize a world where things are worse because they did not address the issue, which is a use of negative motivation. Now that you have hopefully persuaded your audience to believe the problem is worthy of addressing, proposed a solution, and asked them to visualize potential positive or negative consequences, you move to the action step.

The action step includes a call to action where you are saying, “Now that you see the seriousness of this problem, here’s what you can do about it.” The call to action should include concrete and specific steps an audience can take. Your goal should be to facilitate the call to action, making it easy for the audience to complete. Instead of asking them to contact their elected officials, you could start an online petition and make the link available to everyone. You could also bring the contact information for officials that represent that region so the audience does not have to look them up on their own. Although this organizing pattern is more complicated than the others are, it offers a proven structure that can help you organize your supporting materials and achieve your speech goals.

Incorporating Supporting Material

So far, you have learned several key steps in the speech creation process. Now you will begin to incorporate more specific information from your supporting materials into the body of your speech. You can place the central ideas that fit your organizational pattern at the beginning of each main point and then plug supporting material in as sub-points.

This information will also make up the content of your formal and speaking outlines. Remember that you want to include a variety of supporting material (examples, analogies, statistics, explanations, etc.) within your speech. The information that you include as sub-points helps back up the central idea that started the main point. Depending on the length of your speech and the depth of your research, you may also have sub-sub-points that back up the claim you are making in the sub-point. Each piece of supporting material you include eventually links back to the specific purpose and thesis statement. This approach to supporting your speech is systematic and organized and helps ensure that your content fits together logically and that your main points are clearly supported and balanced.

One of the key elements of academic and professional public speaking is verbally citing your supporting materials so your audience can evaluate your credibility and the credibility of your sources (James Madison University Communication Center, 2010). You should include citation information in three places: verbally in your speech, on any paper or electronic information (outline, PowerPoint), and on a separate reference sheet. Since much of the supporting material you incorporate into your speech comes directly from your research, it is important that you include relevant citation information as you plug this information into your main points. Do not wait to include citation information once you have drafted the body of your speech. At that point, it may be difficult to retrace your steps to locate the source of a specific sentence or statistic. As you paraphrase or quote your supporting material, work the citation information into the sentences; do not clump the information together at the end of a sentence, or try to cite more than one source at the end of a paragraph or main point. It is important that the audience hear the citations as you use the respective information so it is clear which supporting material matches up with which source.

Writing key bibliographic information into your speech will help ensure that you remember to verbally cite your sources and that your citations will be more natural and flowing and less likely to result in fluency hiccups. At minimum, you should include the author, date, and source in a verbal citation (James Madison University Communication Center, 2010). Sometimes more information is necessary. When citing a magazine, newspaper, or journal article, it is more important to include the source name than the title of the article, since the source name—for example, Newsweek—is what the audience needs to evaluate the speaker’s credibility. For a book, make sure to cite the title and indicate that the source is a book. When verbally citing information retrieved from a website, you do not want to try to recite a long and cumbersome URL in your speech. Most people do not even make it past the “www.” before they mess up. It is more relevant to audiences for speakers to report the sponsor/author of the site and the title of the web page, or section of the website, where they obtained their information.

When getting information from a website, it is best to use “official” organization websites or government websites. When you get information from an official site, make sure you state that in your citation to add to your credibility. For an interview, state when it took place, the name of the interviewee, their credentials. Advice for verbally citing sources and examples from specific types of sources follow:


Signposts on highways help drivers and passengers navigate places they are not familiar with and give us reminders and warnings about what to expect down the road (Amadeba, 2021). Signposts in speeches are statements that help audience members navigate the turns of your speech. There are several key signposts in your speech. In the order you will likely use them, they are preview statement, transition between introduction and body, transitions between main points, transition from body to conclusion, and review statement (see the table below for a review of the key signposts with examples). While the preview and review statements are in the introduction and conclusion, respectively, the other signposts are all transitions that help move between sections of your speech.

[table id=8 /]

There are also signposts that can be useful within sections of your speech. Words and phrases like Aside from and While are good ways to transition between thoughts within a main point or sub-point. Organizing signposts like First, Second, and Third can be used within a main point to help speaker and audience move through information (Amadeba, 2021). The preview in the introduction and review in the conclusion need not be the only such signposts in your speech. You can also include internal previews and internal reviews in your main points to help make the content more digestible or memorable.

In addition to well-written signposts, you want to have well-delivered signposts. Nonverbal signposts include pauses and changes in rate, pitch, or volume that help emphasize transitions within a speech. Here are some ways you can use nonverbal signposting: pause before and after your preview and review statements so they stand out, pause before and after your transitions between main points so they stand out, and slow your rate and lower your pitch on the closing line of your speech to provide closure.


We all know that first impressions matter. Research shows that students’ impressions of instructors on the first day of class persist throughout the semester (Laws, Apperson, Buchert, & Bregman, 2010). First impressions are quickly formed, sometimes spontaneous, and involve little to no cognitive effort. Despite the fact that first impressions are not formed with much conscious effort, they form the basis of inferences and judgments about a person’s personality (Lass-Hennemann, Kuehl, Schulz, Oitzl, & Schachinger, 2011). For example, the student who approaches the front of the class before their speech wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt, looks around blankly, and lets out a sigh before starting has not made a very good first impression. Even if the student is prepared for the speech and delivers it well, the audience has likely already associated what they observed with personality traits of the student (i.e., lazy, indifferent), and those associations now have staying power in the face of contrary evidence that comes later.

Your introduction is only a fraction of your speech, but in that first minute or so, your audience decides whether they are interested in listening to the rest of the speech. You should accomplish four objectives in your introduction. They include getting your audience’s attention, introducing your topic, establishing credibility and relevance, and previewing your main points.

Getting Your Audience’s Attention

Several strategies can get the attention of your audience. Although each can be effective on its own, combining these strategies is also an option. A speaker can get their audience’s attention negatively, so think carefully about your choice. The student who began his speech on Habitat for Humanity by banging on the table with a hammer definitely got his audience’s attention during his 8:00 a.m. class, but he also lost credibility in that moment because many in the audience probably saw him as a joker rather than a serious speaker. The student who started her persuasive speech against animal testing with a little tap dance number ended up stumbling through the first half of her speech when she was thrown off by the confused looks the audience gave her when she finished her “attention getter.” These cautionary tales point out the importance of choosing an attention getter that is appropriate, meaning that it’s unusual enough to get people interested—but not over the top—and relevant to your speech topic.

Use Humor

Three people outside sitting on a rock ledge laughing at eachother
Figure 8.10: Before using humor in your speech, reflect on if it is the right occasion.

In one of my favorite episodes of the television show The Office, titled “Dwight’s Speech,” the boss, Michael Scott, takes the stage at a regional sales meeting for a very nervous Dwight, who has been called up to accept an award. In typical Michael Scott style, he attempts to win the crowd over with humor and fails miserably.

In general, when a speech is supposed to be professional or formal, as many in-class speeches are, humor is more likely to be seen as incongruous with the occasion. However, there are other situations where a humorous opening might fit perfectly (Ginger Leadership Communications, 2019). For example, a farewell speech to a longtime colleague could start with an inside joke. When considering humor, it is good to get feedback on your idea from a trusted source.

Cite a Startling Fact or Statistic

As you research your topic, take note of any information that defies your expectations or surprises you. If you have a strong reaction to something you learn, your audience may, too. When using a startling fact or statistic as an attention getter, it is important to get the most bang for your buck. You can do this by sharing more than one fact or statistic that builds up the audience’s interest (Ginger Leadership Communications, 2019).

When using numbers, it is also good to repeat and/or repackage the statistics so they stick in the audience’s mind, which you can see in the following example: “In 1994, sixteen states reported that 15–19 percent of their population was considered obese. Every other state reported obesity rates less than that. In 2010, no states reported obesity rates in that same category of 15–19 percent, because every single state had at least a 20 percent obesity rate. In just six years, we went rom no states with an obesity rate higher than 19 percent, to fifty. Currently, the national obesity rate for adults is nearly 34 percent. This dramatic rise in obesity is charted on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, and these rates are expected to continue to rise.”

The speaker could have just started by stating that nearly 34 percent of the US adult population was obese in 2011. However, statistics are not meaningful without context. So sharing how that number rose dramatically over six years helps the audience members see the trend and understand what the current number means. The fourth sentence repackages and summarizes the statistics mentioned in the first three sentences, which again sets up an interesting and informative contrast. Last, the speaker provides a verbal citation for the source of the statistic.

Use a Quotation

Some quotations are attention getting and some are boring. Some quotations are relevant and moving and some are abstract and stale. If you choose to open your speech with a quotation, choose one that is attention getting, relevant, and moving.

Just because a quote seems relevant to you does not mean the audience will also notice that relevance, so it is best to make that explicit right after you use and cite the quote. Also, evaluate the credibility of the source on which you found the quote. Many websites that make quotations available care more about selling pop-up ads than the accuracy of their information. Students who do not double-check the accuracy of the quote may end up attributing the quote to the wrong person or citing a made-up quote.

Ask a Question

Starting a speech with a question is a common attention getter, but in reality many of the questions that I have heard start a speech are not very attention getting. It is important to note that just because you use one of these strategies that does not make it automatically appealing to an audience. A question can be mundane and boring just like a statistic, quotation, or story can (Ginger Leadership Communications, 2019).

A rhetorical question is different from a direct question. When a speaker asks a direct question, they actually want a response from their audience. A rhetorical question will elicit a mental response from the audience, not a verbal or nonverbal one. In short, a rhetorical question makes an audience think. Asking a direct question of your audience is warranted only if the speaker plans to do something with the information they get from the audience.

A safer bet is to ask a rhetorical question that elicits only a mental response. A good rhetorical question can get the audience primed to think about the content of the speech. When asked as a series of questions (and combined with startling statistics or facts), this strategy can create suspense and hook an audience.

Tell a Story

When you tell a story, whether in the introduction to your speech or not, you should aim to paint word pictures in the minds of your audience members (Ginger Leadership Communications, 2019). You might tell a story from your own life or recount a story you found in your research. You may also use a hypothetical story, which has the advantage of allowing you to use your creativity and help place your audience in unusual situations that neither you nor they have actually experienced. When using a hypothetical story, you should let your audience know it is not real, and you should present a story to which the audience can relate. Speakers often let the audience know a story is not real by starting with the word imagine.

Introducing the Topic

Introducing the topic of your speech is the most obvious objective of an introduction, but speakers sometimes forget to do this or do not do it clearly. As the author of your speech, you may think that what you are talking about is obvious. Sometimes a speech topic does not become obvious until the middle of a speech. By that time, however, it is easy to lose an audience that was not clearly told the topic of the speech in the introduction. Introducing the topic is done before the preview of main points and serves as an introduction to the overall topic. The following are two ways a speaker could introduce the topic of childhood obesity: “Childhood obesity is a serious problem facing our country,” or “Today I’ll persuade you that childhood obesity is a problem that can no longer be ignored.”

Establishing Credibility and Relevance

The way you write and deliver your introduction makes an important first impression on your audience. However, you can also take a moment in your introduction to set up your credibility in relation to your speech topic. If you have training, expertise, or credentials (e.g., a degree, certificate, etc.) relevant to your topic, you can share that with your audience. It may also be appropriate to mention firsthand experience, previous classes you have taken, or even a personal interest related to your topic. For example, a student delivers a speech persuading the audience that the penalties for texting and driving should be stricter. In his introduction, he mentioned that his brother’s girlfriend was killed when a car driven by someone who was texting hit her. His personal story shared in the introduction added credibility to the overall speech.

Previewing Your Main Points

The preview of main points is usually the last sentence of your introduction and serves as a map of what is to come in the speech (Davis, 2021). The preview narrows your introduction of the topic down to the main ideas you will focus on in the speech. Your preview should be one sentence, should include wording that is parallel to the key wording of your main points in the body of your speech, and should preview your main points in the same order you discuss them in your speech. Make sure your wording is concise so your audience does not think there will be four points when there are only three. The following example previews the main points for a speech on childhood obesity: “Today I’ll convey the seriousness of the obesity epidemic among children by reviewing some of the causes of obesity, common health problems associated with it, and steps we can take to help ensure our children maintain a healthy weight.”


How you conclude a speech leaves an impression on your audience (Barnard, 2017). There are three important objectives to accomplish in your conclusion. They include summarizing the importance of your topic, reviewing your main points, and closing your speech.

Summarizing the Importance of Your Topic

After you transition from the body of your speech to the conclusion, you will summarize the importance of your topic (Abhishek, 2020). This is the “take-away” message, or another place where you can answer the “so what?” question. This can often be a rewording of your thesis statement. You could summarize the speech about childhood obesity by saying, “Whether you have children or not, childhood obesity is a national problem that needs to be addressed.”

Reviewing Your Main Points

Once you have summarized the overall importance of your speech, you review the main points (Abhishek, 2020). The review statement in the conclusion is very similar to the preview statement in your introduction. You do not have to use the exact same wording, but you still want to have recognizable parallelism that connects the key idea of each main point to the preview, review, and transitions. The review statement for the childhood obesity speech could be “In an effort to convince you of this, I cited statistics showing the rise of obesity, explained common health problems associated with obesity, and proposed steps that parents should take to ensure their children maintain a healthy weight.”

Closing Your Speech

Like the attention getter, your closing statement is an opportunity for you to exercise your creativity as a speaker (Abhishek, 2020). Many students have difficulty wrapping up the speech with a sense of closure and completeness. In terms of closure, a well-written and well-delivered closing line signals to your audience that your speech is over, which cues their applause. You should not have to put an artificial end to your speech by saying “thank you”, that is it, or that is all I have In terms of completeness, the closing line should relate to the overall speech and should provide some “take-away” message that may leave an audience thinking or propel them to action. A sample closing line could be “For your health, for our children’s health, and for our country’s health, we must take steps to address childhood obesity today.” You can also create what I call the “ribbon and bow” for your speech by referring back to the introduction in the closing of your speech. For example, you may finish an illustration or answer a rhetorical question you started in the introduction.

Although the conclusion is likely the shortest part of the speech, students should practice it often. Even a well-written conclusion can be ineffective if the delivery is not good. Conclusions often turn out bad because they are not practiced enough. If you only practice your speech starting from the beginning, you may not get to your conclusion very often because you stop to fix something in one of the main points, get interrupted, or run out of time. Once you have started your speech, anxiety may increase as you near the end and your brain becomes filled with thoughts of returning to your seat, so even a well-practiced conclusion can fall short. Practicing your conclusion by itself several times can help prevent this.


Think of your outline as a living document that grows and takes form throughout your speech-making process.  When you first draft your general purpose, specific purpose, and thesis statement, you could create a new document on your computer and plug those in, essentially starting your outline. As you review your research and distill the information down into separate central ideas that support your specific purpose and thesis, type those statements into the document. After choosing your organizational pattern and are ready to incorporate supporting material, you can quote and paraphrase your supporting material along with the bibliographic information needed for your verbal citations into the document. By this point, you have a good working outline, and you can easily cut and paste information to move it around and see how it fits into the main points, sub-points, and sub-sub-points (James Madison University Communication Center, n. d.). As your outline continues to take shape, you will want to follow established principles of outlining to ensure a quality speech.

The Formal Outline

The formal outline is a full-sentence outline that helps you prepare for your speech. It includes the introduction and conclusion, the main content of the body, key supporting materials, citation information written into the sentences in the outline, and a references page for your speech (Dlugan, 2008). The formal outline also includes a title, the general purpose, specific purpose, and thesis statement. It is important to note that an outline is different from a script. While a script contains everything that will be said, an outline includes the main content. Therefore, you should not include every word you are going to say on your outline. This allows you more freedom as a speaker to adapt to your audience during your speech. Students sometimes complain about having to outline speeches or papers, but it is  a skill that will help in other contexts. Being able to break a topic down into logical divisions and then connect the information together will help ensure that you can prepare for complicated tasks or that you are prepared for meetings or interviews.

Principles of Outlining

There are principles of outlining you can follow to make your outlining process more efficient and effective. Four principles of outlining are consistency, unity, coherence, and emphasis (DuBois, 1929). In terms of consistency, you should follow standard outlining format. In standard outlining format, you indicate main points by capital roman numerals, sub-points by capital letters, and sub-sub-points by Arabic numerals. You indicate further divisions by either lowercase letters or lowercase roman numerals.

The principle of unity means that each letter or number represents one idea. One concrete way to help reduce the amount of ideas you include per item is to limit each letter or number to one complete sentence. If you find that one sub-point has more than one idea, you can divide it into two sub-points. Limiting each component of your outline to one idea makes it easier to plug in supporting material and helps ensure that your speech is coherent.

Following the principle of unity should help your outline adhere to the principle of coherence, which states that there should be a logical and natural flow of ideas, with main points, sub-points, and sub-sub-points connecting to each other (Winans, 1917). Shorter phrases and keywords can make up the speaking outline, but you should write complete sentences throughout your formal outline to ensure coherence.

The principle of coherence can also be met by making sure that when dividing a main point or sub-point, you include at least two subdivisions. After all, it defies logic that you could divide anything into just one part. Therefore, if you have an A, you must have a B, and if you have a 1, you must have a 2. If you can easily think of one sub-point but are having difficulty identifying another one, that sub-point may not be robust enough to stand on its own.

The principle of emphasis states that the material included in your outline should be engaging and balanced. As you place supporting material into your outline, choose the information that will have the most impact on your audience. Choose information that is proxemic and relevant, meaning that it can be easily related to the audience’s lives because it matches their interests or ties into current events or the local area.

Remember primacy and recency discussed earlier and place the most engaging information first or last in a main point depending on what kind of effect you want to have (Morrison, Conway, & Chein, 2014). Also, make sure your information is balanced. The outline serves as a useful visual representation of the proportions of your speech. You can tell by the amount of space a main point, sub-point, or sub-sub-point takes up in relation to other points of the same level whether your speech is balanced. If one sub-point is a half a page, but a main point is only a quarter of a page, then you may want to consider making the sub-point a main point. Each part of your speech does not have to be equal. The first or last point may be more substantial than a middle point if you are following primacy or recency, but overall the speech should be relatively balanced.

The Speaking Outline

The formal outline is a full-sentence outline that helps as you prepare for your speech, and the speaking outline is a keyword and phrase outline that helps you deliver your speech. While the formal outline is important to ensure that your content is coherent and your ideas are balanced and expressed clearly, the speaking outline helps you get that information out to the audience. Make sure you budget time in your speech preparation to work on the speaking outline. Skimping on the speaking outline will show in your delivery.

You may convert your formal outline into a speaking outline using a computer program. You may also choose, or be asked to, create a speaking outline on note cards. Note cards are a good option when you want to have more freedom to gesture or know you will not have a lectern on which to place notes printed on full sheets of paper. In either case, this entails converting the full-sentence outline to a keyword or key-phrase outline. Speakers will need to find a balance between having too much or too little content on their speaking outlines. You want to have enough information to prevent fluency hiccups as you stop to retrieve information, but you do not want to have so much information that you read your speech, which lessens your eye contact and engagement with the audience.

Budgeting sufficient time to work on your speaking outline will allow you to practice your speech with different amounts of notes to find what works best for you. Since the introduction and conclusion are so important, it may be useful to include notes to ensure that you remember to accomplish all the objectives of each.

Aside from including important content on your speaking outline, you may want to include speaking cues. Speaking cues are reminders designed to help your delivery. You may write “(PAUSE)” before and after your preview statement to help you remember that important nonverbal signpost. You might also write “(MAKE EYE CONTACT)” as a reminder not to read unnecessarily from your cards. Overall, my advice is to make your speaking outline work for you. It is your last line of defense when you are in front of an audience, so you want it to help you, not hurt you.



Figure 8.1: Mandatory work meetings are an example of captive audiences. Rodeo Project Management Software. 2020. Unsplash license. https://unsplash.com/photos/ONe-snuCaqQ

Figure 8.2: Layers that make up our perception and knowledge. Kindred Grey. 2022. CC BY 4.0.

Figure 8.3: Brainstorming and narrowing a topic. Kindred Grey. 2022. CC BY 4.0.

Figure 8.4: If you get stuck in your research, ask a reference librarian! Tima Miroshnichenko. 2021. Pexels license. https://www.pexels.com/photo/an-elderly-woman-talking-to-a-student-9572566/

Figure 8.5: Whiteboards are a great way to interact with your audience. Bonneval Sebastien. 2019. Unsplash license. https://unsplash.com/photos/UIpFY1Umamw

Figure 8.6: Example of a sales spreadsheet. Kindred Grey. 2022. CC BY 4.0.

Figure 8.7: Example of a pie chart. Kindred Grey. 2022. CC BY 4.0.

Figure 8.8: Examples of a line graph (top) and a bar graph (bottom). Kindred Grey. 2022. CC BY 4.0.

Figure 8.9: Example of a chronological pattern of events. Kindred Grey. 2022. CC BY 4.0.

Figure 8.10: Before using humor in your speech, reflect on if it is the right occasion. Omar Lopez. 2017. Unsplash license. https://unsplash.com/photos/rwF_pJRWhAI

Section 8.1

Aristotle (2007). On rhetoric: A theory of civic discourse (G. A. Kennedy, Trans.) (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. (Original work published ca. 367-322 BCE)

Dlugan, A. (2012, November 15). Audience analysis: A guide for speakers. http://sixminutes.dlugan.com/audience-analysis/

Goodwin, J. (2017, December 11). Writing a thesis statement for a speech. https://magoosh.com/pro-writing/writing-thesis-statement-for-a-speech/

James Madison University Communication Center. (2021). Developing a presentation. https://www.jmu.edu/commcenter/presentation-support/developing.shtml

James Madison University Writing Center. (2021). Choosing a topic. https://www.jmu.edu/uwc/link-library/writing-process/choosing-topic.shtml

Section 8.2

Beare, K. (2020, January 21). How to discuss hypothetical situations in English. https://www.thoughtco.com/how-to-discuss-hypothetical-situations-in-english-4177287

Beqiri, G. (2018, June 21). Using visual aids during a presentation or training session. https://virtualspeech.com/blog/visual-aids-presentation

Brigham Young University Library. (2021, July 15). Step-by-step guide & research rescue: Evaluating credibility. https://guides.lib.byu.edu/c.php?g=216340&p=1428399

Davis, B. (2020, August 16). What is the main value of using expert testimony in a speech? https://www.mvorganizing.org/what-is-the-main-value-of-using-expert-testimony-in-a-speech/#What_is_the_main_value_of_using_expert_testimony_in_a_speech

Gallo, C. (2017, January 31). Four easy tips on using video to make your presentation stand out. https://www.forbes.com/sites/carminegallo/2017/01/31/four-easy-tips-on-using-video-to-make-your-presentation-stand-out/?sh=74ce88146e3a

James Madison University Libraries. (2019, September 16). Primary, secondary, and tertiary sources: Definitions. https://guides.lib.jmu.edu/sources

James Madison University Libraries. (2021). Quick overview of JMU Libraries services & resources for fall 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_nHy3rstl0

Matook, M. E. (2020). The impactful research appointment: Combating research anxiety and library stereotypes. The Reference Librarian, 61(3-4), 185-198. https://doi.org/10.1080/02763877.2020.1837710

National WW II Museum. (n.d.). Guidelines for using primary sources in your classroom. https://www.nationalww2museum.org/sites/default/files/2017-07/using-primary-sources.pdf

Presentation Magazine. (2011, April 11). Top tips for using graphs and charts in your presentations. https://www.presentationmagazine.com/top-tips-for-using-graphs-and-charts-in-your-presentations-6686.htm

Rielly, T. (2020, May 12). The #1 rule for improving your presentation slides. https://masterclass.ted.com/blog/visual-presentations-series-less-is-more

Segar, G. (2016, September 12). Three types of relevant analogies to use in speeches. https://potentspeaking.com/relevant-analogies/

Section 8.3

Abhishek, K. G. (2020, November 16). How to end a speech: The best tips and examples. https://www.orai.com/blog/how-to-end-a-speech-the-best-tips-and-examples/

Amadeba, E. (2021, September 4). What is signposting in speech? https://www.acethepresentation.com/signposts-in-speech/

Barnard, D. (2017, November 6). Different ways to end a presentation or speech. https://virtualspeech.com/blog/different-ways-to-end-presentation-speech

Davis, B. (2021, April 30). What are the five organizational patterns? https://www.mvorganizing.org/what-are-the-five-organizational-patterns/

Davis, B. (2021, May 8). What is a preview statement example? https://www.mvorganizing.org/what-is-a-preview-statement-example/

Dlugan, A. (2008, February 29). Speech preparation #3: Don’t skip the speech outline. http://sixminutes.dlugan.com/speech-preparation-3-outline-examples/

DuBois, W. C. (1929). Essentials of public speaking. Prentice Hall.

Ginger Leadership Communications. (2019, December 13). How to start a speech with power and confidence. https://www.gingerleadershipcomms.com/article/how-to-start-a-speech-with-power-and-confidence

James Madison University Communication Center (n. d.). Creating an outline. https://www.jmu.edu/commcenter/_files/Outline-Tip-Poster.pdf

James Madison University Communication Center. (2010). Oral source citations. https://www.jmu.edu/commcenter/_files/Oral%20Citation%20Guide.pdf

Lass-Hennemann, J., Kuehl L. K., Schulz, A., Oitzl, M. S., & Schachinger, H. (2011). Stress strengthens memory of first impressions of others’ positive personality traits. PLoS ONE, 6(1), e16389. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0016389

Laws, E. L., Apperson, J. M., Buchert, S., & Bregman, N. J. (2010). Student evaluations of instruction: When are enduring first impressions formed? North American Journal of Psychology, 12(1), 81–92.

LibreTexts. (2020, August 12). Patterns of organization and methods of development. https://human.libretexts.org/Bookshelves/Composition/Introductory_Composition/Book%3A_The_Word_on_College_Reading_and_Writing_(Babin_et_al.)/Part_2/08%3A_Drafting/8.07%3A_Patterns_of_Organization_and_Methods_of_Development

LibreTexts. (2021, February 20). Formulating a specific purpose statement. https://socialsci.libretexts.org/Bookshelves/Communication/Public_Speaking/Exploring_Public_Speaking_(Barton_and_Tucker)/04%3A_Selecting_Your_Approach_and_Main_Points/4.02%3A_Formulating_a_Specific_Purpose_Statement

Monroe, A. H., & Ehninger, D. (1964). Principles of speech (5th ed.). Scott, Foresman.

Morrison A., Conway, A., & Chein, J. (2014). Primacy and recency effects as indices of the focus of attention. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8(Article 6), 1-14. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2014.00006

Winans, J. A. (1917). Public speaking. Century.



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