Typically, speeches can be divided among three main types or basic purposes: speeches to inform, speeches to persuade, and speeches to entertain and/or commemorate special occasions. All three speech types employ different methods that intricately determine how to achieve their intended purpose, so take a close and critical look at each:
- An informative speech provides an audience with new, unique, and/or innovative knowledge on a distinct topic. A speech to inform can: tell an engaging story with an intrinsic lesson; explain or clarify a difficult or complicated concept (often called the definition speech); or show an audience how to do something (often called the demonstration speech or how-to speech). Examples include a professor delivering a lecture, a student presenting an oral report; skilled demonstrations outlining skills such as cooking, woodworking, or welding; and biographical tribute speeches designed to honor a dignitary. Part II of this book (Chapters 4–10) will outline methods for delivering an effective informative speech.
- A persuasive speech has most, if not all, of the elements of a speech to inform, but takes the information a step further and uses it to change audience attitudes, opinions, or behaviors. Examples of speeches to persuade might include advertisements, political speeches, religious services, donation/registration drives, negotiations of various types, or daily conversations. Some persuasive speeches seek to alter attitudes, some go further and seek action as a result, and others may seek to inspire others. Part III of this book (Chapters 11 and 12) will examine how persuasive speaking differs from speaking to inform and provides strategies to craft effective persuasive and motivating messages.
- Finally, a speech designed to mark a special occasion or entertain audiences does simply that—it amuses, commemorates, arouses interest, diverts attention, or perhaps, in some cases, even “warms up” an audience for a larger event. Examples of speaking to entertain include stand-up comedy, a toast for a colleague or friend, or even storytelling (which differs from a speech to inform since there is no explicit lesson or moral to be learned). This book does not focus on this type of speech.
While three general purposes attempt to accomplish different things, crossover between each of them does exist. In other words, a speech to inform can easily entertain, as well as present compelling information that persuades the audience to adapting a particular viewpoint. A speech to persuade can present an audience with fresh, new information while still managing to engage and entertain. However, public speakers need to keep their general purpose in mind at all times in order to craft a masterful speech. All too often, novice speakers want to focus more on providing entertainment, and as a result, their general purpose gets lost since the focus has shifted to generating laughter as opposed to providing information for the audience. Similarly, a novice speaker might start out with a speech to inform, but end up attempting to persuade the audience by the end of the speech, in which case, the general purpose has failed. Therefore, it remains absolutely critical that speakers remember the general purpose as they compose their messages so that they remain focused on the primary goal of the speech.
The Three General Purposes of a Speech
To Entertain/Mark a Special Occasion