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Planning Your First Speech

W hatever your first speech assignment may be, the planning, thought, creativity,

and excitement of that presentation are all up to you. Right now,

standing before the class and saying something sensible may seem like a

remote possibility. The challenge may seem large and the more you think about

it, the larger it becomes. Take comfort, however. This challenge can be brought

down to size if you take the right steps to reach it. Eventually, you will be standing

before your classmates, prepared to present an interesting speech. The stairway

to speech success appears in Figure 3.1 and provides a guide to the steps you must


To climb this stairway requires some time. You can t delay speech preparation

until the night before you must speak. Take the first step well in advance of that day.

Schedule your preparation so that you have enough time to climb without skipping

or hurrying any of the steps. It is better to devote an hour each day to speech preparation

over five days than to cram in five hours of desperate preparation the night

before you speak. A speech needs time to jell, and you need time to reflect on it.

Your wise investment of time now will pay big dividends later.1

Many students learn through

modeling. Show videotapes of

students presenting the type of

speech you require for the first

presentation. Discuss the

strengths and weaknesses of

these speeches.

Step 1: Find the right topic

Step 2: Bring topic into sharp focus

Step 3: Find material

Step 4: Design speech

Step 5: Outline speech

Step 6: Practice speech

Step 7: Do it!

Stairway to Speech Success

Figure 3.1

Public Speaking, Eighth Edition, by Michael Osborn, Suzanne Osborn and Randall Osborn. Published by Allyn & Bacon.

Copyright 2007 by Pearson Education, Inc.

48 Part One The Foundations of Public Speaking

Step 1: Find the Right Topic

The nature of the first speech assignment will narrow your search for an appropriate

topic. For example, if your teacher asks you to introduce yourself or a classmate,

the topic area is predetermined: your personal experience or that of the

other person. Or, the assignment may have some other slant that limits the topic


Nevertheless, within that narrowed scope of selection, you still have to make

important choices. The exact topic you select should be appropriate to you and your

listeners. To find this topic, ask yourself

I What am I most interested in?

I What would I hope to accomplish by speaking on this subject?

I Do I know enough or could I learn enough to speak responsibly on this


I Can I make the topic interesting and useful to my audience?

I Can I share ideas or experiences that might enrich my audience s lives?

I Will I be able to present this speech in the time allowed?

I Might this speech help me give future speeches?

Sabrina Karic s first speech, A Little Chocolate, grew directly out of her experiences

as a child living through a terrible conflict. Therefore, her speech seemed

authentic and highly credible. Because children continue to be innocent and vulnerable

victims of war, her speech was timely and useful for listeners. It helped them

understand the basis for her convictions. Because she had timed herself as she

rehearsed her speech, Sabrina could relax during the actual presentation and concentrate

on her message, knowing that she would be within acceptable time limits.

By the end of her speech, she had established high credibility for later speeches she

would give on global communication.

Step 2: Focus Your Topic

A topic search may produce a promising subject, but it may be too broad to cover

in a short classroom speech. Beth Tidmore, a student at the University of Memphis,

decided she wanted to give her self-introductory speech on the university s rifle

team. As a member of this team, Beth became an All-American during her freshman

year. She knew so much about her sport that she could have talked about it for

hours, but she had only five minutes to speak.

Beth knew that she had to narrow her topic and focus it so that her listeners

would find it interesting. She might have explained how rifle matches are scored or

how an expert shooter makes a successful shot. Beth decided that these were technical

subjects that might not appeal to listeners who knew little about the sport.

Instead, she decided to talk about how and why she became a shooter. She opened

by talking about the commitment her mother made when she bought Beth an expensive

rifle. She went on to describe the price she personally paid in time, hard work,

and dedication to reach the top of her sport and the satisfaction she got from her success.

She ended by saying that she felt her mother s faith had been vindicated. Her

speech fascinated her listeners and won their admiration. All of us cheered her as she

won the Junior Olympics competition that spring.

Ask your students to submit a

time plan for their first speech in

which they identify each step on

the stairway to success, how

much time they will devote to it,

and when they intend to do the

required work. You may wish to

ask for a time plan before each

assigned speech.

Public Speaking, Eighth Edition, by Michael Osborn, Suzanne Osborn and Randall Osborn. Published by Allyn & Bacon.

Copyright 2007 by Pearson Education, Inc.

Chapter 3 Your First Speech: An Overview of Speech Preparation 49

Beth s speech illustrates two important principles

of focusing a topic:

I You must have a clear idea of what you want to

accomplish given the time available. Beth wanted to

tell us how and why rifle competition had

become a central passion in her life.

I You should be able to state the message of your

speech in a single, simple sentence. Beth s message

was that faith and commitment can be justified

by hard, determined, and dedicated work.

When you have properly focused your topic, you

will be ready to take the next step toward speech


Step 3: Find Material for Your


Once you have a topic and a clear idea of what you

want to accomplish, you can start gathering material

to support your ideas and make them come to life. The four basic forms of

supporting materials are narratives, examples, testimony, and facts and statistics.

Narratives. Narratives are stories that illustrate the ideas of a speech. For your

first speeches especially introductory and self-introductory speeches narratives

are very important. They help develop a feeling of closeness between the audience

and the speaker. Through the stories they tell, speakers can create desirable impressions

of themselves or the classmates they introduce. Stories can make speakers

seem more human. They involve the audience in the action, making it a shared


Beth Tidmore s speech, reprinted in Appendix B, offers an example. Beth opened

her speech, Lady with a Gun, by describing her mother s commitment to her:

I m sure everybody has had an April Fool s joke played on them. My father s

favorite one was to wake me up on April 1st and tell me, School s been

canceled for the day; you don t have to go, and then get all excited and say

April Fool! . . . Well, on April 1st, 2000, my mother said three words that I

was sure weren t an April Fool s joke. She said, We ll take it. The it she

was referring to was a brand-new Anschutz 2002 Air Rifle. Now, this is

$2,000 worth of equipment for a sport that I d been in for maybe three

months not long. That was a big deal! It meant that I would be going from a

junior-level to an Olympic-grade rifle.

Somebody outside of the sport might think, Eh, minor upgrade. A gun is a

gun, right? No. Imagine a fifteen-year-old who has been driving a used

Toyota and who suddenly gets a brand new Mercedes for her sixteenth

birthday. That s how I felt. And as she was writing the check, I completely

panicked. I thought, What if I m not good enough to justify this rifle? What

ESL: Ask ESL students to share

with the class examples of

bedtime stories or fairy tales

from their cultures. Discuss the

similarities and differences

between these tales and those

told in America.

Your personal experiences can provide examples and narratives

for your speech.

Public Speaking, Eighth Edition, by Michael Osborn, Suzanne Osborn and Randall Osborn. Published by Allyn & Bacon.

Copyright 2007 by Pearson Education, Inc.

50 Part One The Foundations of Public Speaking

if I decide to quit and we have to sell it, or we can t sell it? What if I let my

parents down and I waste their money? So later in the car, I said, Momma,

what if I m not good enough? She said, Don t worry about it it s my money.

Beth s story illustrates excellent narrative technique. Her use of dialogue, the

actual words exchanged between characters, brings listeners close to the event. They

become eavesdroppers to the conversation. Notice that she uses internal dialogue, her

conversation with herself, as well as external dialogue, her conversation with her

mother. Beth s narrative also illustrates superb use of analogy as she invites listeners

to compare her feelings with those of someone who has just received a Mercedes.

The analogy highlights the significance of the gift to her. Finally, notice how well

Beth builds suspense: was she able to justify the purchase of such an expensive gift?

Her narrative aroused curiosity for the rest of the speech.

Stories should be short and to the point, moving naturally from the beginning

to the end. The language of stories should be colorful, concrete, and active. The presentation

should be lively and interesting.

After mentioning her successes in national and international competitions, Beth

concluded by describing another scene that balanced her opening:

So not long ago, I asked my mother, How did you know? She said, Ah, I

just knew. I said, No, Mom really. How did you know that you weren t

going to waste your money? She got very serious and she took me by the

shoulders and she squared me up. She looked me right in the eye and she

said, When you picked up that gun, you just looked like you belonged

together. I knew there was a sparkle in your eye, and I knew that you were

meant to do great things with that rifle.

Examples. Examples illustrate points, clarify

uncertainty, and make events seem authentic.

When listeners ask, Can you give me an example?

they seek clarification and reassurance. An

example says, in effect, This really happened. It

takes an idea out of the abstract and places it

firmly in the concrete. To reinforce his call for a

new model for American high schools that

emphasizes rigor and high expectations, Bill

Gates, cofounder of Microsoft and advocate for

education reform, offered a number of dramatic,

specific examples:

Two years ago, I visited High Tech High in

San Diego. It was conceived in 1998 by a

group of San Diego business leaders who

became alarmed by the city s shortage of

talented high-tech workers. Thirty-five percent

of High Tech High students are black

or Hispanic. All of them study courses like

computer animation and biotechnology in

the school s state-of-the-art labs. High

Tech High s scores on statewide academic

dialogue Having the characters in a

narrative speak for themselves, rather

than paraphrasing what they say.

Beth Tidmore s narratives helped listeners relate to her topic.

Public Speaking, Eighth Edition, by Michael Osborn, Suzanne Osborn and Randall Osborn. Published by Allyn & Bacon.

Copyright 2007 by Pearson Education, Inc.

Chapter 3 Your First Speech: An Overview of Speech Preparation 51

To demonstrate how much she loved reading, student Erin Evans introduced a number

of brief examples: In high school, the classics came into my life. I loved The Great

Gatsby, Medea, and then my senior year I met a real challenge Dostoyevsky. It took

me more than two months to get through Crime and Punishment a long but rewarding


Whether you are piling up a number of brief examples or developing one example

in detail, remember their function: they help listeners grasp your point. As with stories,

you should use colorful, concrete, and active language in your examples.

Testimony. Testimony offered by experts or other respected people can add

authority to your speech. When you quote the words of others, you call those whom

you have quoted as witnesses to support a point. As she developed her speech supporting

better service for the disabled, Karen Lovelace cited Sandy Blondino, director of

sales at Embassy Suites Hotels, who confirmed that the hospitality industry is now

more receptive to disabled travelers. She concluded with Ms. Blondino s exact words:

But that s just hospitality, right? She followed up this expert testimony with prestige testimony

by quoting former President Clinton: When I injured my knee and used a

wheelchair for a short time, I understood even more deeply that the ADA isn t just a

good law, it s the right thing to do.

When you quote expert testimony, be sure to mention the expert s credentials,

including when and where she or he made the statement you are quoting.

Facts and Statistics. Facts and statistics turn assertions into well-documented

arguments. To support her idea that American business has a legal as well as a moral

obligation to reach out to disabled persons, Karen Lovelace offered factual information

from the Americans with Disabilities Act:

The ADA said that privately owned businesses that

serve the public such as restaurants, hotels, retail

stores, taxicabs, theaters, concert halls, and sports

facilities are prohibited from discriminating against

individuals with disabilities. The ADA went on to

say that companies have an ongoing responsibility

to remove barriers to access for peoples with disabilities.

Karen strengthened her call for reform by

adding statistical support showing the percentage of

American businesses that remain out of compliance

with the act and demonstrating how that percentage

has changed very little over the past decade.

Similarly, to support her point that Native

Americans are victims of social injustice, Ashley

Roberson used an array of statistical comparisons:

Did you know that Indians have one of the lowest

life expectancies of any population living in

this hemisphere, second only to those living in

Haiti? And did you know that the suicide rate

among American Indians is seventy percent

higher than that of the general U.S. population?

Or, did you know that in 1999, Indians suffered

Have students find examples of

expert and prestige testimony in

advertisements. Discuss the differences

between these types of

testimony as well as when and

why each might be effective.

Prestige testimony can be very effective when the speaker has

personal experiences to relate.

Public Speaking, Eighth Edition, by Michael Osborn, Suzanne Osborn and Randall Osborn. Published by Allyn & Bacon.

Copyright 2007 by Pearson Education, Inc.

52 Part One The Foundations of Public Speaking

124 violent crimes for every 100,000 people two and a half times the

national average?

The effective use of facts and statistics helps convince listeners that you know

what you are talking about and that you didn t just make something up. To find

such supporting materials, you will have to invest some time in the library or make

careful use of the Internet.

As you do this research, be sure to record who said something, where it was said,

and when it was said. In your speech, use this material to support your claims. For

example, Ashley s facts and statistics would have been more effective if she had

introduced them with the following statement: According to a Princeton research

survey reported in the Washington Post of March 15, 2004, Native Americans are our

most abused Americans.

Taken as a whole, stories, examples, testimony, and facts and statistics provide

the substance that makes listeners take a speech seriously.

Step 4: Design Your Speech

Your speech should have a design or plan that arranges your material in an orderly

fashion. Your ideas should fit together in a way that is easy for your listeners to follow

and understand. Three designs often used in first speeches are categorical,

cause-effect, and narrative.

Categorical Design. The categorical design develops a subject according to

its natural or customary divisions. Martha Larson introduced herself by explaining

how she was shaped by the neighborhood where she grew up. She began with the

setting, a description of a street scene in which she captured sights, sounds, and

smells: I can always tell a Swedish neighborhood by the smell of lutefisk on Friday

afternoons. Next she described the people, focusing on a certain neighbor who

influenced her. This man, the local grocer, loved America with a passion, helped

those in need, and always voted stubbornly for the Socialist Party. Finally, she

talked about the street games she played as a child and what they taught her about

people and herself. These setting-people-games categories structured her speech in

an orderly manner.

Martha s speech also demonstrates how the introduction, body, and conclusion

of a speech should work together. Her introduction, in which she aroused interest

and set the mood for what would follow, was the opening street scene. In the body

Have students read one of the

self-introductory speeches in this

text (see the end of this chapter

or Appendix B) and develop an

outline showing the main points

and supporting materials of the

speech. What does the outline

reveal about the kind of design

and the strengths and weaknesses

of the speech?

Speaker s Notes 3.1

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