This unit talks about selecting a topic and purpose

Choosing a Topic

The most important point in this section is that, whether you choose a topic from subjects you know a lot about, or from subjects that you would like to know more about, your choice will be guided by your analysis of the audience, the occasion, and the setting. For the purposes of this study unit, let’s assume that your listeners are your fellow students. They have come to hear your first speech (the occasion) in a lecture hall in your university or college (the setting). By the end of this study unit, you should be able to see a clear connection between the

material you studied in unit 4 and this unit (unit 5). Now, study the following steps to choosing a topic:

Steps to choosing a topic

a.Think about your audience. Who are you speaking to? What do they care about? The first thing you should always do is put yourself in your audience’s shoes and consider what they would like to hear and why.

b.Connect. If you have an idea for a topic, look for a way to relate it to your audience. Does not just talk about a topic in general – try to help your audience understand and care about it.

c.Consider your own knowledge and background. What do you care about? The easiest speeches to deliver are ones on a topic that you know inside and out. Your own passion and knowledge about a subject will come through in your presentation with very little effort.

d.Look for timely topics. Pick up a newspaper or check the headlines on the Internet. Sometimes an interesting story can spark your creativity. Plus, it gives you a great way to open your speech.

e.Consider what actions you would like your audience to take when you finish speaking. How should they feel after hearing you? What would you like them to do? Instead of just speaking about a topic, think instead about trying to persuade your audience to take a certain action or change a belief or behaviour. 


Determining the General Purpose

What is the Purpose of a speech?

Before one begins to think about delivering a speech, one must determine why he or she is giving the speech. Speeches serve a variety of purposes. The immediate audience helps determine the purposes of a speech. People assemble for a speech because they expect to hear or learn something they did not already know. A speaker must satisfy these expectations. Establishing one’s purpose in giving a speech demands explicit attention. It is not enough to believe that the speech is expected or that speaking is somehow a routine act. Such assumptions will quickly be discerned by an audience; and if the audience suspects that the speaker is there unwillingly or unenthusiastically, such an audience will be far less receptive. If a speaker does not have a clear reason to give the speech, then the speech should not be given.

The Central Purpose of a Speech

There is really only one purpose of a speech: a speaker must wish to engage his or her audience with a central idea or proposition. The act of engagement is crucial. A speech is a dynamic relationship between a speaker and the audience. A speaker who views an audience as nothing more than the passive receptacles of his or her insights will lose that audience. It is important to remind ourselves that every speech has objectives, and these objectives include: conveying information or insight, persuading the audience and motivating the listeners.

Determining the General Purpose of your Speech

Most speeches have one of the following general purposes: to inform, to persuade, to entertain, and to pay tribute.

Some speeches may have other purposes such as: to introduce, to present, to accept, to inspire, to eulogize. Before you begin to plan and prepare your speech, decide its purpose.

To Inform

In an informative speech, you are concerned about giving new information to your listeners. You want your audience to understand and remember new information.

To Persuade

In a persuasive speech, you want your listeners to change their opinions, attitude or actions.

To Entertain

An entertaining speech is light, fun and enjoyable.

To Introduce

A speech of introduction is designed for one speaker to introduce another to the audience.

To Present

A speech of presentation is formally designed to formally present an award or honour to another person in front of an audience.

To Accept

A speech of acceptance is made by a person who has received an award or honour in front of an audience.

To Pay Tribute

A speech of tribute praises or celebrates a person, group, institution or event. It generally conveys love, gratitude, respect or admiration.

To Inspire

The inspirational speech is given to move listeners to a higher level of feeling or activity. You want your listeners to feel uplifted or encouraged.

To Eulogise

The eulogy is a speech made in honour of someone who has died.

Determining the Specific Purpose

Formulating a specific purpose is the most important early step in developing a successful speech. Once you have chosen a topic and a general purpose, you narrow your choices to determine the specific purpose of your speech. The specific purpose should focus on ONE aspect of a topic.

The specific purpose limits the topic to one that can be covered adequately in a speech that has a predetermined, reasonable time limit. A specific purpose statement is a single phrase that states precisely what a speaker hopes to accomplish in his or her speech.

Begin the specific purpose statement with an infinitive. What is an infinitive?

An infinitive is a verb with the word “to” in front of it. Examples of infinitives that might be used to start a specific purpose statement are: to explain, to tell, to show, to demonstrate, to persuade, to entertain, to prove, to convince, to inform, to inspire, to introduce, to present, to accept, to pay tribute. Next, include a reference to your audience. For example, to explain to my audience, to persuade my listeners.

Always remember to limit the specific purpose statement to one major idea, and make your statement as precise as possible. Make sure you can achieve your purpose in the time allotted for your speech.

Finally, keep your statement simple. Don’t be too technical, and always bear these requirements for writing a good specific purpose in mind when writing your speech:

it should contain one main idea it should be a complete sentence it should be clear and concise

it should be worded as a statement, not as a question

it should be worded in terms of the audience response you want at the end of the speech.

Paraphrasing the Central Idea

Paraphrasing is the process of restating information in different words. When we paraphrase, we maintain the original meaning, but we say it in our own words. Paraphrasing is an active learning strategy which helps us place information into long-term memory as we move from an understanding level to an active comprehension level. Good paraphrasing skills are necessary to create effective speeches, prepare for tests, answer essay test questions, and avoid plagiarism when researching reports. Paraphrasing includes:

Replacing difficult vocabulary words or phrases with words the student understands

Rewriting lengthy or complex sentences into simpler sentences, or combining simple sentences into more interesting, complex sentences

Explaining concepts and abstract ideas from sentences or passages using more clear and concise wording

Translating ideas and information into students’ own words

Problems with underlying language-processing skills make paraphrasing especially difficult for students with language-based learning disabilities. Weaknesses, particularly at the semantic (word), syntactic (sentence), and discourse (paragraph) levels, minimize the ability to “play” with words.

Limited vocabulary and ability to construct complex sentences make it difficult for students to come up with a “different way of saying things” in their own words.

Tips for Successful Paraphrasing

  1. Understand the context of what you are paraphrasing: Read the whole sentence or several sentences of the speech to have at least a general understanding of the context in which words are being used. Make sure that the synonyms you use in your paraphrased version do not change the meaning of the passage.
  2. Use “semantic” paraphrasing: Use a thesaurus and/or your own knowledge to replace words in the passage with accurate synonyms. Be sure to check the part of speech of the word you are replacing. How a synonym is used can change the meaning of the word or sentence.
  3. Use “syntactic” paraphrasing: In addition to replacing key words, change the structure of the original sentences by either inverting the order of sentence parts, breaking them into shorter sentences, or combining simple sentences into compound and complex sentences.
  1. Rewrite the paraphrased version: Combine the various changes noted above and rewrite the passage in your own words.

The most important thing for you to learn in this section is how to arrive at the main points for your speech. Once again, it is only by practising that you will learn this technique.


Source:National Open University of Nigeria


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