The Basics of Writing a Good Speech


Beginning public speakers face what seems like a lot of ground to cover and often, as coaches, we forget that there is a lot to learn.  We will talk with you about a topic and some directions and tell you to come back tomorrow with an outline.  While everyone has probably worked with an outline at some point we forget that the average high school student is still a believer in "Retro-Outlining."  In other words, many novices think they can write the speech first (or term paper) and develop the outline later.  While that may have worked in high school it won't cut it in intercollegiate forensics.  You need to start with an outline.

While the outlining skills you learned in high school are probably not much different than those we use, it is sometimes helpful to begin with the basics just for those who may have forgotten, didn't pay attention the first time, or opted to do something else the year they taught outlining in school.  So here are the basics.


Research is the First Stop

Research Page Link


It is very important that you allow your research to drive the construction of the speech.  Do your research first.  In general you should have more research than you really need when you begin, I would suggest about 15-20 sources for Informative and Persuasive Speeches, at least a dozen for ADS, and five or six sources in addition to the Rhetorical Model and Artifact for a Rhetorical Criticism.

In general we are looking at sources that are no more than 18 months old.  Web sites are okay but you don't want to rely completely on those sources.  Specific examples, statistics, definitions, quoted testimony, and personal opinions are just a few of the types of information used in these speeches.  Each kind of speech is more prone to certain kinds of research but you should try to find as much pertinent information as possible.  Having a variety of sources is a good thing.  Look for newspaper articles, magazine articles, books, journals, statistical data (from Statistical Abstracts and similar publications), web sites, and even personal interview opportunities.  Look for consistency in the information you gather.  Check out the Research Links page for sources of information.


Sample Outline With Sources

The Basics of Outlining

The basic purpose of outlining is to give the speech structure and clarity.  A good speech isn't just a story, it is a clearly defined presentation of information.

How Many Points Should I Have? 
In general we see speeches that have three main points.  There are exceptions, for example, the Moral Outrage ADS only had two points.  There is nothing wrong with a two main point or four main point speech but they are very uncommon in forensics competition.  Because of that, some of the more inbred judges think that a three main point speech is the only kind of speech to give and will tell you to force fit a two point speech into a three point structure just to be like the rest.  In general, we do find that three point speeches work well for ADS, Crit, Inform, and Persuade.  That is, in part, a result of time limits.

What Should Those Points Be? 
Well, obviously that is going to differ from speech to speech but there are some common formats that can help you figure out what to do with the information you have found.  Again you should let the research drive the organization but here are some common organizational patterns.  (While much of the substructure changes from speech to speech the main points are fairly consistent.)


Persuasive Speeches 
Nearly all of the persuasive speeches we see are policy based issues.  Very few are value issues.  In general we look for potential problems and try to offer viable solutions to those problems.  Generally I prefer we stick to issues within the United States simply because it is much harder to solve for an international problem.  We are expected to provide reasonable/plausable solutions to the problems.  Typically we see three main points in persuasive speeches:  1) Problem/Effect, 2) Cause, and 3) Solutions.  However, from time to time we do see people run a simple Problem-Solution format.  The substructure of the samples below vary tremendously.

I.  Cause
       A.  History
       B.  Current Status
II. Effect
       A.  On Society/country
       B.  On Individuals
       C.  Extent
III. Solutions
       A.  Personal Level
       B.  Organizational/gov. level
       C.  Attitudinal
I.  Problem
     A.  Define Problem
     B.  Establish extent
II.  Cause
     A.  Major contributor A
     B.  Major Contributor B
III.  Solution
       A.  Personal Level
       B.  Organizational/gov. level
       C.  Attitudinal
I.  Problem
     A.  Define parameters
     B.  Identify Harms
     C.  Establish extent

II.  Solution
     A.  Personal Level
     B.  Organizational/gov. level
     C.  Attitudinal


If the problem is one the audience will immediately accept at face value as one of importance or significance then starting with the cause is most appropriate.  If the audience hears your topic and is likely to think "So?" then you probably need to start with the effects.


Informative Speeches 
Most, but not all, informative speeches follow a chronological organizational pattern.  The major points we usually find in most Informative speeches include History/Development, Advantages/Disadvantages, Implication/Future Uses, and/or some kind of explanation of how the topics works (if that is applicable).  If you want to simplify for the sake of sorting your information I would suggest sorting the information into four piles: 1) where the item/idea/concept came from, 2) who is currently doing what with it, 3) what could be done with it, and 4) miscellaneous other stuff of interest (don't let this pile get too big).

I.   Development 

II.  Implications

III Advantages/Disadvantages

I.    History

II.   Advantages/Disadvantages

III.  Future Applications

I.    History

II.   How it Works

III.  Future Applications


Rhetorical Criticism 
Rhetorical Criticism is a unique event.  Check out the Crit page for more details but in a nut shell what you are asked to do is take a communication act (speech, poster, song, campaign, or other act) and through the application of a communication model (see the Crit page) draw conclusions or implications about the communication act in terms of effectiveness, quality, potential, etc.  It is a complex event but the organization is fairly consistent because the event more or less spells it out for you.

In the introduction you need to identify and describe the communication act.  Because of this, the introduction for a Crit is usually a little longer than other speeches.  Usually the introductions for these speeches run a full two minutes.  Then you need to describe the critical model, apply that model, and provide us with insights about the results of the critical analysis.  The introduction should also present us with a "Research Question". The research question is what insight will be gained from the analysis. I would suggest having a coach help you with developing research questions. I would also suggest reading some of the samples at the botton of the page. 

I.    Model
       A.  Why this is an appropriate model
       B.  Description of the model
II.  Application of the Model
       A.  Application of model plank one
       B. Application of model plank two
       C. Repeat as needed
III. Conclusions about the Application
      A.  Was it effective
      B.  What made it effective/ineffective
I.    Model
       A.  Why this is an appropriate model
       B.  Description of the model
II.  Application of the Model
       A.  Application of model plank one
       B. Application of model plank two
       C. Repeat as needed
III.  Implications
      A.  Why was it effective/ineffective
      B.  What can we learn from the use of the 
            model or how could the model be changed


After Dinner Speaking 
ADS can use any of the organizational patterns listed above.  Again, I encourage you to check out the ADS page and allow your research to shape the speech.  In general, ADS seems to follow persuasive organizational patterns most often.


Introductions and Conclusions


Once the body of the speech is shored up and you feel fairly confident that the speech is organized the way you want it you are ready to work on the introductions and conclusions.  A common mistake among novice competitors is to sit down and try to write the speech from beginning to end.  Here is the flaw in that method.  Most public speaking textbooks will tell you that a good introduction contains four basic components:

 1.  An Attention Getter
 2.  A Statement of Significance
 3.  A Thesis Statement
 4.  A PreviewHow can you write the preview unless you know what is in the speech.  If  you happen to think of a good attention getter while you are researching that is fine, jot it down or make a note about it but remember it is supposed to lead us into your speech and until the speech is written you don't really know exactly where you are leading us.

What it comes time to end you speech there are some fundamental components that your conclusion should have as well.  These are standard rhetorical principles that date back as far as Aristotle.  Most public speaking textbooks will tell you that a conclusion should include:

 1.  A Review
 2.  A Summary of the Thrust of the Speech
 3.  Parting Comments Appropriate to the Situation 


Sorting and Using Evidence


We Need Hard Copies 
If you attend the national tournament you will need to be able to provide hard copies of all of your evidence.  We strongly suggest that you make hard copies of all of your evidence as you come across them and save them in a file in the squad room or other safe place.  This means when you use a web site you should print copies of web pages you use.  Sometimes those specific web pages disappear or change and can not be retrieved.  Printed copies are the only way to be sure we have what we need when we need them.


Turning the Stacks Into Speeches 
Ideally you will have at least one piece of supporting material for each point or subpoint.  The greater problem at first will be deciding what piece goes where.  The best way to get a handle on sorting all of the information is to divide and conquer.  Personally, I go through each piece of evidence and pull out the lines, statistics, or other snippets that I think will be most important.  Once I have highlighted the important snippets I type them all into a word processing document (make sure you keep your bibliographic data with each snippet so you know what source to cite in the speech).  Once you have the large document you need to divide it up.  (This is a good time ot be looking for a "kicker," that one great line about your topic.)  Take a look at some of the more common organizational patterns for your given event and try dividing the evidence into piles based on those points.  You can cut and paste on screen or do it with printed copies and scissors.  Now you have two or three piles of evidence.  Now it becomes a simple matter of sorting into subpoints.


Trimming the Fat 
Now you have a lot of stuff laid out in front of you.  You probably have about 10 minutes of material without anything other than just evidence.  That is a good position to be in.  At this point you might want to take what you have to a coach (or email it to us for suggestions).  The next step is to decide what doesn't make it.

First start by trimming things down.  Typically, the total amount of quoted material doesn't exceed 10-12 seconds per citation.  So start by trimming anything longer than 15 second of quoted material down to 15 second (or less) "sound bites."  Once everything is short and sweet you are ready to cull out the duplicated evidence.

We get duplication of evidence a lot.  Remember that we want to have information from a variety of sources.  As a rule, we try not to cite the same source more than twice (three times at the very outside).   You might want to keep in mind where the sources will be used in other parts of the speech as you cull things out.

Finally it is time to get choosey.  Pick out the things you like best or think are most important.  Again, you might want to consult one of the coaches about this.  Remember that you are also trying to maintain a balance between your main points.  In general you have about 2 to 2 1/2 minutes for each main point (add 1 min. for intro and another minute for the conclusion, plus transitions and you are there).  What you don't want is a 4 minute first point and 1 minute 2nd and 3rd points.  If you find yourself in that situation (contact your coaches) you have a couple of options: 1) find more material or 2) rethink your organizational pattern.


Time to Write the Speech 
We are finally at a point where you should actually try to write the speech.  The process becomes easy since now you know where you are going and what will be included.  You might want to take a look at the language used in the sample speeches to get a feel for the style of forensics speeches at the collegiate level.


The purpose of this web site isn't to keep you from coming to coaches.  We want to see you as you progress through these various stages.  Come in and see us or (if you aren't in the area) email us. This site is just to help you with the basics.  It is no substitute for face-to-face coaching.


Accept No Substitutes