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Writing Well

Point Counterpoint: Speeches That Persuade

Question: What's a great way to stop an argument?

Answer: Drop a hard fact on it.

As you learned in “Why Not See It My Way?: Persuasion and Argumentation,” persuasive essays appeal to reason, ethics, and/or emotion. Persuasive speeches are no different. Like their cousin the persuasive essay, persuasive speeches rely on accurate logic and facts (as well as emotion) to move their listeners to action or belief. Here's how to do it.

Write Angles

When you write a speech, use punctuation not only to indicate the usual sentence breaks, but also to allow you to pause for emphasis when necessary.

As Easy as One, Two, Three

There are three basic types of persuasive speeches:

  1. Speeches of fact. Here, you try to prove that something is or is not so, or that something did or did not happen. “Our candidate has always supported more money for education” would be a thesis for a persuasive speech of fact.
  2. Speeches of value. In this type of persuasive speech, you try to prove good or bad, better or worse. “This movie is superior to its sequel” would be a thesis for a persuasive speech of value.
  3. Speeches of policy. In this case, you try to prove that something should or should not be done. “You should buy only American-made goods” would be a suitable thesis for a speech of policy.
Writer's Block

Don't forget that your speech is being written to be heard, not read, so write for the ear, not the eye. Speech is straightforward and conversational, so it calls for short, familiar words; action verbs; personal pronouns; contractions; and subject-verb-object sentence order. You can even use incomplete sentences if they convey your meaning well.

As you decide which type of persuasive speech best suits your audience and purpose, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What do I want my listeners to do?
  2. What objections, if any, will they have?
  3. How strong a case can I make?
  4. What type of persuasion does my organization or audience value (fact, value, or policy)?

Vote Early and Often

Election addresses, for example, are speeches of policy. As a result, they always try to prove that something should or should not be done. The password is should.

Savvy candidates follow these three caveats:

  1. Be factual. Don't stretch the truth—not even a little.
  2. Be specific. Give details to support your claims.
  3. Be reliable. Don't promise what you can't deliver.

Nearly all candidates attempt to create dissatisfaction with existing conditions to convince the audience that these conditions need to be changed—and they're the ones to do it. Candidates craft speeches that point out flaws and failure. Follow these steps when you write and deliver a campaign speech:

Direct AppealElection Campaign
1. Tell the audience what you want.“Elect me.”
2. Give them the information they need to act on your request.“We're paying too much in taxes. I can lower taxes.”
3. Tell the audience what you want.“Vote for me.”

But people don't make decisions based on logic alone. Emotional appeals make the audience want to do what you ask. When combined with direct requests, emotional appeals make surprisingly strong election campaigns.

Model Persuasive Speech

As a first baseman for the New York Yankees, Lou Gehrig played in 2,130 consecutive games from 1925 to 1939, setting a major league record. On July 4, 1939, he stood before 60,000 fans at Yankee Stadium and confirmed what everyone seemed to know, that the “Pride of the Yankees” had been diagnosed with a deadly disease. Less than two years later, on June 2, 1941, he died in Riverdale, New York. Here is his famous farewell speech.

Author! Author!

When it comes to writing models, study the best. For a great persuasive speech, try Abraham Lincoln's “House Divided” address (1858). Lincoln delivered this speech when he was nominated for the Senate. It was probably Lincoln's most radical statement about the implications of the slavery issue, as he predicted that “this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.”

  • Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.
  • Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn't consider it the highlight of his career to associate with them for even one day?
  • Sure, I'm lucky. Who wouldn't consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert—also the builder of baseball's greatest empire, Ed Barrow—to have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins—then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology—the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy?
  • Sure, I'm lucky. When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift, that's something! When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies, that's something.
  • When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles against her own daughter, that's something. When you have a father and mother who work all their lives so that you can have an education and build your body, it's a blessing! When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed, that's the finest I know.
  • So I close in saying that I might have had a tough break—but I have an awful lot to live for!
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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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