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Don't Speak Like A Loser (Public Speaking Post Part 2)

Updated on January 8, 2018
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Yong earned a bachelor's degree in communication studies in 1999. His interests include history, traveling, mythology, and video gaming.

Tips for public speaking: Types of speeches and how to approach them.
Tips for public speaking: Types of speeches and how to approach them.

If you haven’t, please read part 1 of my double post on public speaking. In this post, I'd focus on the three main types of speeches for public speaking.

As stated in part 1, content is far more important than style for public speaking. You might be all stylish and eloquent, but you still suck if your content is nonsensical. Especially so for persuasive speeches. Therefore, knowing what the various types of speeches are, and what to do or avoid for each, are crucial steps towards successful public speaking.

Recap -the Fundamentals of Good Public Speaking

All types of speeches share the same basic requisites. I wouldn’t go into detail for these are fundamentals that any public speaker should already know.

  • You need to know your audience. Not to say you must possess precise details about your audience, but you should at least be aware of their demographics or dispositions. Knowing so helps you craft a better speech. It also helps you determine the suitable tone of speech to use.
  • You need to know your topic. Obviously you need to know your stuff. Fluff and jokes only get you that far before you start to make a fool of yourself. Don’t even attempt to talk to the public about something you are unclear about.
  • You need to relax. Easier said than done, admittedly. Just tell yourself that no matter how bad it gets, it’s not going to kill you. Moreover, if you have followed proper steps when writing your speech, you have already safeguarded yourself. Things are likely to turn out better than you expect.

The Informative Speech

Informative speeches aim to explain events, persons, objects or places. In other words, an informative speech shares details about a chosen subject, with the subtler aim of facilitating easier comprehension through elaboration.

Informative speeches are not as straight-forward as they might seem, for frequently they cross over to being persuasive speeches too. (See next section). For example, is a sales demonstration informative or persuasive? It is up to you to decide what the primary objective should be i.e. to inform or to persuade. My personal take on this, aim for the objective that is most appropriate at the moment of speaking. If you are expected to inform, do so. Don’t take on double objectives at the same time.

Don't Overload

Overloading is when you cramp so many details into your speech, it becomes painful to listen to. You are literally introducing new facts every half a minute. What happens when you do that? The audience shuts off.

Overloading is also when you use overly complicated props, or do not give enough time for your audience to understand visuals. To avoid overloading, place yourself in the audience’s shoes. Assume that you know only the barest about the subject. How would you expect to be informed? What sort of timing would be comfortable for you to digest both the speech and the visuals? Craft your speech based on these expectations. Never write it from the viewpoint of a person who already knows, i.e. yourself.

Inform, Don't Simply Tell

I’ve mentioned in Part 1 that a good public speaker communicates; he doesn’t just speak. Likewise, when doing an informative speech, inform, don’t simply tell. By choosing to listen to you, your audience is already expecting elaboration. In some cases, they want your analysis or opinions too. Always go beyond just regurgitating facts. Share your expertise and knowledge, together with your facts.

Be Comprehensive

Most things need to be explained in sequence. However irrelevant one “step” might be, don’t skip it. At least give it a mention.

You never know. Someone in your audience might be that particular. He might be puzzled by why you didn’t do so-and-so before attempting so-and-so. Be comprehensive, in other words. Neither skim nor skip. When informing, always aim to provide a complete picture.

Avoid Being Too Technical

Jargons. A sprinkling gives the impression you are knowledgeable. Too much and you baffle your audience. Moreover, there might be different jargons for the same thing. Or your audience has different interpretions of the terms. As a general rule of thumb, minimise the usage of jargon. If you do use them, accompany each with a brief elaboration. Ensure that there is no unhelpful misunderstanding or puzzlement left in the air.

Informative speeches can be very overwhelming. When preparing one, always evaluate your script from the viewpoint of your audience.
Informative speeches can be very overwhelming. When preparing one, always evaluate your script from the viewpoint of your audience.

The Persuasive Speech

A persuasive speech aims to convince the audience into embracing the speaker’s point of view. It is typically structured to include various justifications or evidence. As spice, there might also be anecdotes or stories. Often, persuasive speeches end with a specific call-to-action. To buy a product, to reject another viewpoint, to vote for someone, etc. Because of their intentions, persuasive speeches can sometimes get very, very fiery.

In my opinion, out of all types of speeches, persuasive ones are the easiest to trip with. This is because they are fundamentally dealing with subjective viewpoints. Thus, when writing one, stay cool. Don't blind yourself with your own convictions. Approach every argument from an objective overview, always.

Limit Your Objectives

A strong persuasive speech must have specific objectives. Everything resolves around these objectives. Some textbooks and articles advocate having one to three, but I feel there should only be one. This is to avoid sticky situations like your audience accepting your first viewpoint but rejecting the rest. How are you going to analyse that later? Did you speak too little about your other viewpoints? Or did accepting the first viewpoint somehow prevented the audience from embracing the rest? How are you going to remedy this situation in your next speech? To avoid such prickly situations, have one clear objective. Put your all and best into it. Don’t spread out your effort.

Avoid Fallacious Arguments Like The Plague

Fallacious arguments are the worst pitfalls for any persuasive speech. They are hazardous because they tend to achieve dramatic short-term effects, thus falsely implying that you are getting somewhere with your audience.

There are many types of fallacious arguments. (By the way, other types of speeches can contain them too) All share the traits of standing on false, exaggerated, or assumed information. To use such arguments not only compromises the actual accomplishment of your objective, your reputation and credibility are tainted. However attractive their immediate effects might be, don’t succumb to their temptation.

Here’s a long list of fallacious arguments. Out of these, three common ones I often encounter are:

  1. Straw man arguments: A rhetoric way of arguing, by painting an exaggerated, distorted or misrepresented scenario of the opposing viewpoint(s). When you use straw man arguments in persuasive speeches, you are actually not justifying your own position. You are misdirecting. You are hoping for irrational fear to drive your audience to your viewpoint. Your audience will despise you for making a fool of them, or lying, when you are debunked.
  2. Ad Hominem: This is Latin for “attacking the man.” It means you aren’t attacking an opposing viewpoint or reinforcing your own. You are attacking the believers of opposing viewpoints. This gets really dangerous because you could easily venture into slanderous areas. Avoid this unless you love to be sued for libel.
  3. Unrepresentative statistics: This is when you claim certain people to be benefiting from adopting your position. Or you cite testimonials. Not to say that you are lying, but small statistics like that do not prove the worth of your viewpoint. Besides, the stories might be misleading. For example, your friends and family might be praising your product out of politeness, not because it works. Salespeople should especially be very careful about using such “statistics.” Some laws consider it as trickery.

Forecast Audience Resistance

You wouldn’t be able to forecast everything, but at least try to predict some potential counter arguments to your speech. When you rehearse, put yourself into the shoes of the audience. Think like them. How would they react to your justifications? What are the possible reasons for them resisting your argument? As much as possible, factor these resistances into the content of your speech. While doing so, please be brutally honest too. You are not going to defend against the worst, if you aren’t willing to consider the worst.

Be Concise, Authentic, and Structured

Simply put, this is to be coherent. In order to persuade someone to buy your position, you must be logical and sequential. Your position must be distinct, and your justifications clear. At the end of your speech, there ought to be some sort of call-to-action too. Your audience should not be left with the thought, “Yeah. I agree. But what do you want me to do now?”

This is easy to accomplish. There are different structures of persuasive speeches you could use, such as this one. In general, your speech could also follow such a structure:

  • Step 1: Introduction. (Secure attention. Establish your topic or position. State your credentials)
  • Step 2: Body. (Present two to three reasons that justify your position, including supporting data or facts. Address counter arguments succinctly at appropriate intervals)
  • Step 3: Conclusion. (Reiterate your position. Reinforce it. Deliver a call to action)

Using fallacious arguments in persuasive speeches can have dramatic short-term gains. But ultimately, you discredit yourself.
Using fallacious arguments in persuasive speeches can have dramatic short-term gains. But ultimately, you discredit yourself.

The Special Occasion Speech

Special occasion speeches are those that, well, address a particular event or moment. They could be toasts, or welcome statements, or prize-giving introductions, or even eulogies. A lot often involve impromptu situations too, thus making them quite harrowing. Fear not. As long as you adopt the same principles for other types of speeches when preparing your content, they are really no different from the rest. You are also expected to be terse most of the time, so that makes special occasion speeches the easiest to get over with.

Adapt to the Audience

This is rudimentary. You are addressing an occasion, and so of course you have to respect the mood of the occasion. No inane jokes during eulogies. No exposé of the groom’s bedroom secrets during wedding toasts! For impromptus situations, always observe the audience for a few moments before beginning. Lots of people wear their emotions on their faces. That gives you good indication whether to restrain yourself or to go all out with the banter.

Be Concise

Unlike the other two types of speeches, you play a secondary role when giving a special occasion speech. Your duty is to complement an event, or at the most, provide relevant background information about it. Because of that, don’t rant. Don’t go on and on and on. Ever listened to a welcome statement and wished that the speaker would end soon? That’s how wearisome it can get within seconds. Be concise. Do your duty and scoot off.

The Importance of Background Information, When Applicable

Special occasion speeches include things like anniversary statements. Or prize awarding. Or project inaugurations. For these, it is necessary to include background information in your speech. Not all the details, just salient, digestible bits to add flesh to the occasion. The lack of such background information wouldn’t exactly destroy your speech, but including them infuses deeper meaning. That is, by the way, one of the primary objective of any special occasion speech. And the difference between a memorable special occasion speech, and a dry one.

Speak About the Occasion

Remember, you are not the star here. Even if you are giving a thank-you statement for a prize, you are not the star. The star is the event that awarded you the prize. For this reason, do not cast the limelight on yourself. You address the occasion, not yourself.

This is especially important for crisis management. A statement about a crisis is also a special occasion speech, yes? Your audience expects to hear about the occasion/incident. Don’t start whining about how badly you are suffering too, or how hard you are working. Speak about the occasion only, or at least angle all your content to be about the occasion. Failure to do so is why so companies get flamed so badly during crises. It’s not that they aren’t trying to contain the crisis, it’s that they gave the impression they are more concerned about themselves. Think of this as the best man who talked endlessly about himself, when toasting the groom. Tasteless? Undoubtedly.

Never hog the limelight during a special occasion speech. Always compliment the occasion too.
Never hog the limelight during a special occasion speech. Always compliment the occasion too. | Source

Which Type of Speech Is the Most Challenging?

See results


1: In real life, speeches are seldom delineated so clearly. For example, many special occasion speeches are strongly informative in several ways. That said, the fundamentals of good speechwriting are the same for all types of speeches. These fundamentals include to know your audience, to present your information or arguments logically and clearly, and to be appropriate in the manner of delivery.

2: There are other types of speeches. Some resources state that there are five types, the additional two being the demonstrative speech and the argumentative speech. The speech communication module I attended in university taught the informative, the persuasive, and the demonstrative. I feel the demonstrative is a sub-set of the informative. To me, it is also important to know the special occasion speech for both work and life.

© 2016 Kuan Leong Yong


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