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Same-Sex Marriage Evaluation

Updated on January 3, 2017
Stephen Lucas
Stephen Lucas

In The Art of Public Speaking, Stephen Lucas describes a noteworthy speech: “On February 1, 2011, Zach Wahls, a native Iowan raised by two women, spoke to the Iowa House of Representatives during a hearing on same-sex marriage. A student at the University of Iowa at the time, Wahls delivered a clear, impassioned speech that still stands as a model of effective public speaking.”

As you watch the speech, pay particular attention to the methods of persuasion Wahls used. Observe delivery methods and identify the speaker’s approach to audience sensitivity.

Zach Wahls
Zach Wahls

Zach Wahl’s speech does not have a clear delivery method because he is standing at a podium and he does look down two or three times at the podium, but it is unclear if he is looking at notes or not. This means that his delivery method could be speaking extemporaneously if he used a brief set of notes or a speaking outline, speaking impromptu if it was delivered with little or no immediate preparation, or reciting a memorized text if he memorized his whole speech in advance (Lucas, 2016).

An audience listens and accepts a speaker's ideas for one or more reasons: they perceive the speaker as highly credible, they are won over by the speaker's evidence, they are convinced by the speaker's reasoning, or because they are moved by the speaker's emotional appeals (Lucas, 2016). Before he even begins his speech Zach Wahls establishes his initial credibility, the credibility of the speaker before she or he starts to speak, by dressing in formal wear (Lucas, 2016). In his speech Zach Wahls begin his persuasion by establishing his credibility with a personal story about his own life as he grew up with same-sex parents. He then goes on to establish derived credibility through building common ground with his audience. He built his common ground by telling the audience about his family life, that he too lives in Iowa, and through sharing his experiences as a student. Zach Wahls then provides specific evidence that growing up in a same-sex household did not affect his schooling or his intelligence by sharing his ACT test score. Zach Wahls appeals to his audience on an emotional level when he tell the audience that they would be telling Iowa citizens that same-sex couples are second class citizens because they will not have the right to marry those that they love.

Zach Wahl’s has an effective approach to audience sensitivity because his audience remains engaged throughout his speech. The audience members are seen to be nodding and looking intently at him for the entire speech. Zach Wahl’s approach to appealing to his audience as a fellow Iowan keeps his audience engaged. Further his decision to share his own story of growing up in a same-sex household provides the audience with unique information that appeals to them on an emotional level.


Lucas, S. (2016). The Art of Public Speaking (12th ed.). McGraw Hill.


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