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Writing Well

Information, Please: Speeches That Inform

As you've already learned, informative speeches show, clarify, and inform. To give the audience the information they've come for, you need to learn how to focus on a topic, decide on an effective method of organization, and include sufficient details, examples, and facts. Always start with the topic.

Sweet Themes Are Made of This

Said the after-dinner speaker: “I feel like Roseanne's fourth husband. I know what I'm supposed to do, but I'm at a loss how to make it different.” You won't feel like Roseanne's fourth husband if you start writing an informative speech by choosing a central theme, the main idea or thesis.

As you plan your informative speech, ask yourself, “What is the one idea that I want to convey to my listeners?” That's your theme. First of all, effective themes should appeal to you as well as your audience, because your speech will be more interesting if you're interested in the topic. It will also be easier to write. In addition, effective themes …

Word Watch

A speech's theme is its thesis, the main idea.

  • Have some genuine merit; they are worth the time to research, write, and deliver.
  • Meet the audience's expectations.
  • Hold the audience's attention.
  • Never cause anyone embarrassment.
  • Fit the time constraints.
  • Blend with the overall theme of a conference (if you're speaking with others).

Once you've settled on a theme, it's time to select a method of organization that fits with your audience, purpose, and topic.

Writer's Block

Never forget the implied contract between speaker and audience: They must sit still and listen politely. In exchange, you must have something of value to say.

Crystal Clear

Remember that an informational speech is designed to convey the speaker's ideas to the audience. The best-written speeches concentrate on helping listeners grasp and remember the essential ideas the speaker presents. To make sure your speech conveys its purpose, select a clear method of organization. Possibilities include …

Write Angles

It's especially important with speeches to include clues to help your readers follow your method of organization. Possibilities include numbers (such as 1, 2, 3 or the words “first,” “second,” “third,” etc.) and transitions (“in contrast,” “on the other hand,” “however,” and so on).

  • Alphabetical order
  • Cause and effect
  • Chronological order
  • Numerical order
  • Problem and solution
  • Spatial (the order of space)
  • Topical (subject order)

In addition, keep your points to a minimum. Three or four main points are usually the most an audience can absorb at one sitting. This is exactly the same as the five-paragraph essay structure you learned in You Got Some 'Splaining to Do, Lucy: Exposition (introduction, three main points, conclusion). Also, be sure to link your points clearly and logically. This is crucial with speeches, because you're dealing with an oral medium: Unlike readers, listeners can't go back and reread a confusing passage.

Detail-Oriented

Informational speeches are content-oriented—but that doesn't mean they're dull or dry. Just the opposite is true! As with all effective writing, good speeches are compelling because they include tantalizing facts, delicious details, and succulent examples.

Specific facts are the backbone of any informational speech, because that's what your listeners are going to remember. To get the facts to back up your point, read widely on your topic. Check reference books, the Internet, and experts in the field—the exact same techniques you use when you're writing an expository essay.

Writer's Block

Never include material that's off the topic, cannot be verified, is boring, or might insult your audience.

Model Informative Speech

On February 12, 1959, the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth, the poet Carl Sandburg delivered a speech to a special joint session of Congress. The author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Lincoln, Sandburg included copious detail to make his subject spring to life. Here is an excerpt from that historic speech.

Address on the Anniversary of Lincoln's Birth

—Carl Sandburg

  • Not often in the history of mankind does a man arrive on earth who is both steel and velvet, who is hard as rock and soft as drifting fog, who holds in his heart and mind the paradox of terrible storm and peace unspeakable and perfect. Here and there across centuries come reports of men alleged to have these contrasts. And the incomparable Abraham Lincoln, born 150 years ago this day, is an approach if not a perfect realization of this character.
  • In the time of the April lilacs in the year 1865, on his death, the casket with his body was carried north and west a thousand miles; and the American people wept as never before; bells sobbed, cities wore crepe; people stood in tears and with hats off as the railroad burial car paused in the leading cities of seven states, ending its journey at Springfield, Illinois, the home town.
  • During the four years he was President he at times, especially in the first three months, took to himself the powers of a dictator; he commanded the most powerful armies till then assembled in modern warfare; he enforced conscription of soldiers for the first time in American history; under imperative necessity he abolished the right of habeas corpus; he directed politically and spiritually the wild, massive, turbulent forces let loose in civil war.
  • He argued and pleaded for compensated emancipation of the slaves. The slaves were property; they were on the tax books along with horses and cattle, the valuation of each slave next to his name on the tax assessor's books. Failing to get action on compensated emancipation, as a Chief Executive having war powers he issued the paper by which he declared the slaves to be freed under “military necessity.” In the end nearly $4,000,000 worth of property was taken away by those who were legal owners of it, property confiscated, wiped out as by fire and turned to ashes, at his instigation and executive direction. Chattel property recognized and lawful for 300 years was expropriated, seized without payment …
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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Well © 2000 by Laurie Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book direct from the publisher, visit the Penguin USA website or call 1-800-253-6476. You can also purchase this book at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.


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