Persuasive Speeches — Types, Topics, and Examples

What is a persuasive speech.

In a persuasive speech, the speaker aims to convince the audience to accept a particular perspective on a person, place, object, idea, etc. The speaker strives to cause the audience to accept the point of view presented in the speech.

The success of a persuasive speech often relies on the speaker’s use of ethos, pathos, and logos.

Success of a persuasive speech

Ethos is the speaker’s credibility. Audiences are more likely to accept an argument if they find the speaker trustworthy. To establish credibility during a persuasive speech, speakers can do the following:

Use familiar language.

Select examples that connect to the specific audience.

Utilize credible and well-known sources.

Logically structure the speech in an audience-friendly way.

Use appropriate eye contact, volume, pacing, and inflection.

Pathos appeals to the audience’s emotions. Speakers who create an emotional bond with their audience are typically more convincing. Tapping into the audience’s emotions can be accomplished through the following:

Select evidence that can elicit an emotional response.

Use emotionally-charged words. (The city has a problem … vs. The city has a disease …)

Incorporate analogies and metaphors that connect to a specific emotion to draw a parallel between the reference and topic.

Utilize vivid imagery and sensory words, allowing the audience to visualize the information.

Employ an appropriate tone, inflection, and pace to reflect the emotion.

Logos appeals to the audience’s logic by offering supporting evidence. Speakers can improve their logical appeal in the following ways:

Use comprehensive evidence the audience can understand.

Confirm the evidence logically supports the argument’s claims and stems from credible sources.

Ensure that evidence is specific and avoid any vague or questionable information.

Types of persuasive speeches

The three main types of persuasive speeches are factual, value, and policy.

Types of persuasive speeches

A factual persuasive speech focuses solely on factual information to prove the existence or absence of something through substantial proof. This is the only type of persuasive speech that exclusively uses objective information rather than subjective. As such, the argument does not rely on the speaker’s interpretation of the information. Essentially, a factual persuasive speech includes historical controversy, a question of current existence, or a prediction:

Historical controversy concerns whether an event happened or whether an object actually existed.

Questions of current existence involve the knowledge that something is currently happening.

Predictions incorporate the analysis of patterns to convince the audience that an event will happen again.

A value persuasive speech concerns the morality of a certain topic. Speakers incorporate facts within these speeches; however, the speaker’s interpretation of those facts creates the argument. These speeches are highly subjective, so the argument cannot be proven to be absolutely true or false.

A policy persuasive speech centers around the speaker’s support or rejection of a public policy, rule, or law. Much like a value speech, speakers provide evidence supporting their viewpoint; however, they provide subjective conclusions based on the facts they provide.

How to write a persuasive speech

Incorporate the following steps when writing a persuasive speech:

Step 1 – Identify the type of persuasive speech (factual, value, or policy) that will help accomplish the goal of the presentation.

Step 2 – Select a good persuasive speech topic to accomplish the goal and choose a position .

How to write a persuasive speech

Step 3 – Locate credible and reliable sources and identify evidence in support of the topic/position. Revisit Step 2 if there is a lack of relevant resources.

Step 4 – Identify the audience and understand their baseline attitude about the topic.

Step 5 – When constructing an introduction , keep the following questions in mind:

What’s the topic of the speech?

What’s the occasion?

Who’s the audience?

What’s the purpose of the speech?

Step 6 – Utilize the evidence within the previously identified sources to construct the body of the speech. Keeping the audience in mind, determine which pieces of evidence can best help develop the argument. Discuss each point in detail, allowing the audience to understand how the facts support the perspective.

Step 7 – Addressing counterarguments can help speakers build their credibility, as it highlights their breadth of knowledge.

Step 8 – Conclude the speech with an overview of the central purpose and how the main ideas identified in the body support the overall argument.

How to write a persuasive speech

Persuasive speech outline

One of the best ways to prepare a great persuasive speech is by using an outline. When structuring an outline, include an introduction, body, and conclusion:

Introduction

Attention Grabbers

Ask a question that allows the audience to respond in a non-verbal way; ask a rhetorical question that makes the audience think of the topic without requiring a response.

Incorporate a well-known quote that introduces the topic. Using the words of a celebrated individual gives credibility and authority to the information in the speech.

Offer a startling statement or information about the topic, typically done using data or statistics.

Provide a brief anecdote or story that relates to the topic.

Starting a speech with a humorous statement often makes the audience more comfortable with the speaker.

Provide information on how the selected topic may impact the audience .

Include any background information pertinent to the topic that the audience needs to know to understand the speech in its entirety.

Give the thesis statement in connection to the main topic and identify the main ideas that will help accomplish the central purpose.

Identify evidence

Summarize its meaning

Explain how it helps prove the support/main claim

Evidence 3 (Continue as needed)

Support 3 (Continue as needed)

Restate thesis

Review main supports

Concluding statement

Give the audience a call to action to do something specific.

Identify the overall importan ce of the topic and position.

Persuasive speech topics

The following table identifies some common or interesting persuasive speech topics for high school and college students:

Persuasive speech topics
Benefits of healthy foods Animal testing Affirmative action
Cell phone use while driving Arts in education Credit cards
Climate change Capital punishment/death penalty Fossil fuels
Extinction of the dinosaurs Community service Fracking
Extraterrestrial life Fast food & obesity Global warming
Gun violence Human cloning Gun control
Increase in poverty Influence of social media Mental health/health care
Moon landing Paying college athletes Minimum wage
Pandemics Screen time for young children Renewable energy
Voting rights Violent video games School choice/private vs. public schools vs. homeschooling
World hunger Zoos & exotic animals School uniforms

Persuasive speech examples

The following list identifies some of history’s most famous persuasive speeches:

John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address: “Ask Not What Your Country Can Do for You”

Lyndon B. Johnson: “We Shall Overcome”

Marc Antony: “Friends, Romans, Countrymen…” in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

Ronald Reagan: “Tear Down this Wall”

Sojourner Truth: “Ain’t I a Woman?”

Module 10: Persuasive Speaking

What is a persuasive speech, learning objectives.

Explain the objectives of a persuasive speech.

Persuasive speaking happens all the time:

  • A community member rallies neighbors to demand that the city replace a broken play structure at the park.
  • A child explains to her parents why she should get an extra half hour of screen time today.
  • A parent discusses with a teacher why he thinks his child should have an Individualized Education Program.
  • A landscaper talks to her supervisor about the advantages of investing in a new lawn machine.
  • Politicians explain why voters should vote for them and support their political agenda.
  • A defense attorney tries to convince a jury that her client is innocent of all charges.
  • An informercial says that you should buy this miracle detergent, which cleans your clothes by harnessing the power of dihydrogen monoxide.
  • A college student in a public speaking class argues that their university should stop considering the SAT and ACT for admissions decisions.

Persuasion means to cause someone to do or believe something based on reasoning and argument. Persuade comes from the Latin roots per – (thoroughly, strongly) and  suadere  (to advise), from the Proto-Indo-European root  *swād- (sweet, pleasant, agreeable; like the Sanskrit svadus,   sweet  or the word suave ). [1] Persuasion, in other words, is an attempt to make a viewpoint or a behavior agreeable to someone.  When your objective as a speaker is to convince your audience to adopt a particular belief or engage in a specific action, you are speaking to persuade.

When we persuade, we are acting as advocates and we are encouraging our audience to adopt a point of view or take a particular course of behavior. Learning how to be a better persuasive speaker also has the added benefit of making us better and smarter consumers of persuasive messages.

Persuasion is all around us, of course. Just think of advertising, for example. How many persuasive messages do you receive every day? What makes some of those messages more effective than others? Think about that question as you read this section and begin developing your own persuasive speech.

  • "persuade, v." "suade, v.,"  OED Online , Oxford University Press, September 2020, http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/141561 . ↵
  • What is a Persuasive Speech?. Authored by : Mike Randolph with Lumen Learning. License : CC BY: Attribution

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Public Speaking Resources

Writing a persuasive speech

Persuasion is an invaluable skill to have regardless of profession. In a public speaking environment, a good speaker that can command a crowd and easily persuade them into their opinions is as good as it gets.

Table of Contents

What exactly is a persuasive speech?

What is the purpose of a persuasive speech, credibility, establish credibility early, dress smart, keep it simple, keep your goal in mind., persuade, do not confront, audience analysis, present counter-arguments, personalize , use plenty of examples, conclude with a call to action, wrapping up,.

A persuasive speech is one where the speaker has a clear goal in mind to argue their opinion. All of the content is geared toward convincing the audience.

In this article, you’ll find persuasive speech topics and examples so you can have a well-rounded idea of how to win your audience over.

Many tactics can be used to argue your point without coming across as aggressive or condescending. We will be covering tactics like problem/solution model, credibility angle, and much more.

Let’s get right to it!

Before setting a convincing speech as our goal, we need to understand precisely what we are working towards.

Once you get an enticing look into our objectives, you will be able to better focus on attaining it.

  • Inform the audience about the issue at hand on a fundamental level.
  • Emphasize the importance of the issue at hand. Elaborate on how it affects a person or people in their day to day lives. Personalize the issue.
  • Argue your point but give them a few opinions of the opposing side as well for a balanced argument.
  • Try to get through to the audience via facts, ideas, and emotions.
  • Pick up on visual cues and tailor your content for maximum impact.

What are the different persuasive approaches?

The right approach is essential when it comes to persuasive speeches. This approach can differ depending on your topic as well as your audience.

But when we get right to it, persuasion tactics are pretty straightforward. Understanding these approaches can help you pick which one rings most true to your natural style and apply it in your speeches.

The word ‘ethos’ refers to character. It, thus, appeals to the principles that any person stands by. When you choose an ethos approach, you decide to appeal to a person’s morals and ethics.

It is the moral duty of every citizen to take a stand against littering. Each individual can help keep our neighborhood and the country itself clean by doing our part.

The word ‘pathos’ refers to suffering or pity. It, thus, appeals to the emotions of a person. In this method, a speaker attempts to make the audience connect to the speech emotionally to invoke change.

Over half of all the sea turtles in this world have ingested some or the other plastic form.

This plastic goes on to rupture their internal organs, leaving them unable to feed. We can stop this by doing our part to solve ocean pollution.

The word ‘logos’ refers to logic or intellect. It, thus, utilizes facts and data to change an audience’s mind.

If the entire world went vegan, the effect on greenhouse gases would be tremendous. According to The Vegan Society, this greenhouse gas reduction could save up to 8 million lives by 2050.

11 Tips for a persuasive speech

Now that you know which persuasive speech style suits you best, we are ready to write our persuasive speech. Here are our eleven tips and tricks:

Do not slack when it comes to research. People will automatically be drawn to someone who can establish credibility on stage.

For instance: if you are a structural engineer talking about the dangers of non-earthquake friendly structures, people are more likely to listen to you.

This does not mean that you need a master’s degree in any subject to be able to speak about it. It just means that you need to come prepared.

Audiences can differentiate fact from fluff. You need to back up each of your arguments with irrefutable data.

Some simple Google searches just won’t do.

Your data needs to come from credible sources as well. This is what will get your audiences to pause and rethink their opinions.

If you need help in conducting your research, browse through our article on How to give a well-researched speech?

For an audience to take you seriously, you must first establish yourself as someone to be taken seriously.

An influencer is only as strong as his reach. The process for this starts right at the drawing board for topic ideas.

Pick something that you either already know about or feel strongly about. This will make the research process a lot easier.

Your goal is to convince the audience that you have something of value to provide.

When you come prepared, you will have a different aura of confidence itself that your audience will respond to.

There’s a time and place to hold back information for a significant build-up. Establishing credibility is not one of those times.

If you have a substantial standing in a field pertaining to your topic, make sure to include it in your introduction itself.

You will get the crowd’s attention as someone who has something valuable to provide.

Even if you aren’t directly involved in the field, talking about the years of experience you have in pursuing this topic will go a long way to establishing your credibility. 

Your opening plays a huge role in whether or not your audience decides to pay attention to the rest of your speech.

This is why you cannot be sloppy when it comes to speech structure. Begin right away with an attention-grabbing statistic, quote, question, or story.

Add your credibility and explain the importance of the issue. This is to explain why this issue demands their time and attention.

You must know the saying, “we first feast with our eyes.” No matter how good your content, if you deliver it in sloppy, unpressed attire, you will lose a majority of your audience.

Have you ever noticed that from door-to-door salesmen to CEOs, are always dressed up in well-ironed shirts and immaculate suits? Is this simply a coincidence? Unlikely.

People respond better to well-dressed speakers. You immediately have to put less effort into getting their attention once you’re on stage, now you only have to work on keeping it.

Your dressing will also depend on the venue as well as the audience. This only pertains to how formal you need to keep it.

You don’t want to overdress either because you might come across as a try-hard.

It might be tempting to pack your speech with all the statistics you can find to support your case.

However, while a few well-planned statistics can drive your point home, too many can be overwhelming for your audience.

It is good to have data back your argument, but you have to make sure that your message is relayed to your audience.

Including too many numbers, charts, and figures can make your speech seem cold, even for a logos approach.

Never lose sight of your goal. It is not to simply get your speech done and over with, but to win them over.

Make this goal clear to you as you draft your speech itself.

Make sure you can make your audience resonate with the issue at hand. This way, they will be more open to being persuaded to begin with. 

With your thesis in hand, you are likely either trying to change their mind about an issue or looking to make a call for action.

As such, look out for common mistakes. Do not spend too much time merely informing the audience about the issue with no build-up.

Information is good, but you may lose their attention by the time you get to argue your point.

Similarly, do not simply complain about the issue at hand. Make purposeful statements and guide them towards your stance.

Many speakers tend to take a very aggressive approach to persuasive speaking. Remember, a good argument is always done on equal footing.

You will never win over an audience by belittling their stance. As a speaker, you need to master the art of balance. Never make your audience feel attacked.

Present your information in a way that says it is understandable why many people hold that opinion, but gently nudge them to your argument.

Highlight the positives and do not zero in on the negatives.

There is no one perfect speech that will work across all audiences. Depending on your audience, your speech will definitely need to be tweaked.

This is where audience analysis comes in. What is your crowd demographic?

Are they likely to be knowledgeable about your topic, or will you need to include more explanation in your speech?

For persuasion, there is no one formula. To convince any audience, you must personalize your content to their preferences.

Think about it, are you more likely to listen to a general announcement or one that personally caters to your views and needs?

If you want to improve your audience analysis skills, browse through our article on Knowing Your Audience .

This will help you research your audience beforehand and pick up on the subtle non-verbal cues that they’re sending your way. Audience analysis is more than just eye-contact. 

Once you can read your audience, you will be able to better understand whether they are responding to your arguments. You can then tweak your speech accordingly for the best results.

Most people think that a persuasive speech means simply steam-roll your audience with facts that support your thesis.

However, this can present a very one-sided view that leaves your listeners skeptical. You need to give your audience some credit.

If you only try to show them your way, it is likely that even if they change their perspective, it won’t last.

You need to present a balanced presentation but with a stronger emphasis on your arguments.

This way, you will explain your point but also make the audience feel as though they got to decide for themselves. You want to persuade but more than that you want to present your views objectively. 

Never approach an argument by belittling the other side as it will only reflect poorly on you. Give equal respect to both sides and speak in facts.

You want to keep it classy. It will make any audience interactions much simpler if you come prepared with the counter-arguments. 

Remember, a persuasive speech is about your audience. No matter how much you love your content, you will need to tweak it to fit their tastes.

How can you achieve this? By asking questions. Frame your questions in a way that touches issues they care about. You can also build a story to win over their care.

Never talk at your audience. Always talk to them. You can achieve this by not just trying to speak more conversationally but also by having an open body language.

This also includes making purposeful eye contact and stage movements. People trust the people with who they have a bond. As a speaker, it is your job to create that bond.

It is easy to pad your speech with call-to-action messages and hope for the best. However, to really make sure your speech makes a difference, you will have to do more than just that.

If you want to learn how to make your speech delivery more natural so that audiences respond well, then browse through our article on How to create a natural flow in your speech .

Suppose you’d like to learn how to better utilize your body gestures and eye contact to persuade your audience.

In that case, these articles might suit your needs: Different types of body gestures to enhance your speech and  Can effective eye contact be practiced?

If you keep talking about just the issue at hand, there is a chance that the audience might not be able to connect.

To make sure that your message appeals to them, try to include examples that they can relate to.

As we discussed, there are different persuasive approaches according to the situation. If you want to go for a logical approach, try not to use probabilities.

Don’t go for the “Here’s what might happen” and instead pick. “Here are four instances where this negative effect occurred.

For a pathos approach, give emotionally relatable examples. Stories often suit this approach. And for ethos, try to invoke their conscience.

As the purpose of your speech is to persuade, the strongest conclusion, in this case, is a Call to Action. You need to highlight your argument and make your case.

This is just the build-up. You want the pay-off to be action. You can do this by reminding your audience of your speech’s key points, restating your argument, and then encouraging change.

Add emotion. Add vocal variety. Use your body gestures. Everything in your speech will build-up to this ending, so you want to make sure it’s worth it.

Don’t use your conclusion as just a way to quickly wrap up your speech. Make full use of the emotional or logical impact you’ve created.

Pick definitive things that they can do. Do not generalize and say, “We should all work to make the world cleaner.”

Not only is that obvious, but it is so vast that most people will simply forget it. A call-to-action is supposed to be direct.

Try, “If what I’ve said today resonates with you, then let us agree to do our part by reusing our plastic bottles.

Well, there you have it! All the tools you need to persuade your audience to your opinions. Remember, all these tips and tricks will only be as good as your practice.

Everybody has a unique speaking style that will enhance these tips. You may have different strengths than the persuasive speakers that you look up to.

Figure out what works for you so that you can work to really make it shine. All the best and happy speaking!

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Learning Objectives

  • Define persuasive speaking
  • Explore organizational patterns for persuasive speeches

Explain the barriers to persuading an audience

  • Identify common logical fallacies

On the first day of class, your instructor provided you a “lay of the land.” They introduced you to course documents, the syllabus, and reading materials.

“It’s important that you read your textbook,” they likely shared. “The material will allow you to dive deeper into the course material and, even if you don’t initially realize its importance, the reading material will build throughout the semester. The time spent reading will be worth it because without that knowledge, it will be difficult to complete assignments and receive full credit. The time spent reading will benefit you after you leave for the semester, too, and you’ll have critical thinking skills that will permeate your life out of the classroom.” Sound familiar?

This is persuasion. Your instructor is persuading you that reading the textbook is a good idea—that it’s an action that you should take throughout the semester. As an audience member, you get to weigh the potential benefits of reading the textbook in relation to the consequences. But if your instructor has succeeded in their persuasive attempt, you will read the book because they have done a good job of helping you to conclude in favor of their perspective.

Persuasion is everywhere. We are constantly inundated with ideas, perspectives, politics, and products that are requesting our attention. Persuasion is often positively paired with ideas of encouragement, influence, urging, or logic. Your instructors, for example, are passionate about the subject position and want you to succeed in the class. Sadly, persuasion can also be experienced as manipulation, force, lack of choice, or inducement. You might get suspicious if you think someone is trying to persuade you. You might not appreciate someone telling you to change your viewpoints.

In this chapter, we explore persuasive speaking and work through best practices in persuasion. Because persuasion is everywhere, being critical and aware of persuasive techniques will allow you to both ethically persuade audiences and evaluate arguments when others attempt to persuade you. We’ll start with the basics by answering the question, “what is persuasion?”

Introducing Persuasive Speaking

Persuasion is “the process of creating, reinforcing, or changing people’s beliefs or actions” (Lucas, 2015, p. 306). Persuasion is important in all communication processes and contexts—interpersonal, professional, digital—and it’s something that you do every day. Convincing a friend to go see the latest movie instead of staying in to watch TV; giving your instructor a reason to give you an extension on an assignment; writing a cover letter and resume and going through an interview for a job—all of these and so many more are examples of persuasion. In fact, it is hard to think of life without the everyday give-and-take of persuasion. In each example listed, Lucas’s definition of persuasion is being implemented: you are asking a person or group to agree with your main idea.

When using persuasion in a public speech, the goal is to create, change, or reinforce a belief or action by addressing community problems or controversies. Remember that public speaking is a long-standing type of civic engagement; when we publicly speak, we are participating in democratic deliberation. Deliberatio n , or the process of discussing feasible choices that address community problems, is important in resolving community concerns because it allows all perspectives to be considered. Persuasive speaking means addressing a public controversy and advocating for a perspective that the speaker hopes the audience will adopt. If the issue isn’t publicly controversial – if everyone agrees or if there are not multiple perspectives – you are not persuading. You’re informing.

So, what’s a public controversy? Public controversies are community disputes that affect a large number of people. Because they involve a large number of people, public controversies often have multiple perspectives, leading to public deliberation and debate to resolve each dispute.

We experience public controversies daily. Through our social media feeds, we continuously scroll past shared articles, comments, or posts that provide different perspectives on community problems and potential solutions. You might, for example, join your local neighborhood (or dorm) Facebook group where neighbors share information and collaborate on solutions to specific problems facing the community. Each problem has consequences for different neighbors, and Facebook allows a space to deliberate and organize to address community priorities. They are controversial, however, because not all neighbors agree what which problems should be solved first or what those solutions are.

Sadly, there is no shortage of public controversies, and advocating for solutions to key community problems can feel overwhelming.

“How do I figure out one controversy to speak out about?” you may wonder.

Identify public controversies by listening and engaging with your community. What issues are affecting them? What are priorities? Once you’re able to locate a key community dispute, ask yourself:

  • What is it? What is the problem? Are there more than 1? Is this the key problem or are there other hidden issues?
  • What is the impact? What will happen if the problem is not resolved?
  • Who’s affected? Who’s being affected or implicated by this problem? Who are the audiences or stakeholders affected? Are the stakeholders a part of my formal audience?
  • What can solve it? Are there suggested solutions?

Controversies arise when a community experiences a problem, so your job is to decipher the breadth and depth of that problem. It’s impossible to address all issues in one speech, so researching and prioritizing are key to identifying what advocacy you find most urgent. For any controversy that you can address in a persuasive speech, keep context and power in mind.

Your public speaking context always informs what’s possible to accomplish during a speech. Like we outlined in Chapter 1, the public speaking context refers to both the physical space and cultural context.

The physical context will influence how much information you can provide to your audience. In other words, “Do I have time to talk about this issue?” “What is the most essential information to cover in a limited timeframe?” The broader cultural context can help you in situating your advocacy alongside other community conversations. What else is happening? Have other communities experienced this problem?

As persuasive speakers, you are attempting to influence an audience. What you select and how you present that information will alter how audiences understand the world, and that’s a pretty powerful thought. When you select an advocacy that addresses a public controversy, you are asking the audience to trust your perspective. To uphold that trust, it’s key to examine who is empowered or disempowered by our perspective.

When you’re considering a position toward a public controversy, you might ask, who’s empowered or disempowered by this problem? Who’s left out of the research? How are communities being represented? What am I assuming about those communities? Who is affected by my advocacy?

We can be well-meaning in our advocacies, especially when we select a persuasive insight based on our own experience. We become passionate about issues that we have seen, and that’s OK! Such passion can also, however, mean that we represent information in ways that are stereotypical or lead to the disempowerment of others.

If your city, for example, is deciding where to place a landfill, you may advocate against the plant being placed in your neighborhood. That advocacy, on face, makes sense!

“This will reduce our property values and just be plain stinky,” you might argue.

When we think about the issue reflexively and with power in mind, however, we may find that landfills are much more likely to be placed in neighborhoods that are predominant people of color (Massey, 2004). Advocating against placing the plant in your home may inadvertently mean the plant is placed in more vulnerable neighborhoods. Those neighbors become disempowered in your attempt to empower your own community.

In this example, practicing reflexivity might include asking: What are the potential solutions? What options do I have to avoid disempowering groups? Using sound research skills, considering other alternatives or perspectives, and listening can be mechanisms to answer these inquiries

There are no easy answers, but we are confident that you can select advocacies that are meaningful and worthwhile.

Formulating Persuasive Propositions

Once you feel comfortable and confident about a controversial issue that is ethical, timely and contextually relevant, you will need to identify what type of persuasive proposition that you’ll use in your speech. There are three types of persuasive propositions: propositions of fact, value, or policy. Each type will require different approaches and may have different persuasive outcomes for your audience.

Propositions of Fact

Propositions of fact answer the question, “is this true?” Speeches with this type of proposition attempt to establish the truth of a statement. There is not a sense of what is morally right and wrong or what should be done about the issue, only that a statement is supported by evidence or not.

These propositions are not facts like “the chemical symbol for water is H20” or “Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008.” Propositions or claims of fact are advocacies with evidence on different sides and/or spark disagreement. Some examples of propositions of fact are:

  • Converting to solar energy can save homeowners money.
  • John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald working alone.
  • Coal exacerbates global warming.
  • Climate change has been caused by human activity.
  • Granting tuition tax credits to the parents of children who attend private schools will perpetuate educational inequity.
  • Watching violence on television causes violent behavior in children.
  • William Shakespeare did not write most of the plays attributed to him.
  • John Doe committed the crime of which he is accused.

Notice that no values—good or bad—are explicitly mentioned. The point of these propositions is to prove with evidence the truth of a statement, not its inherent value. Your goal is to persuade the audience to update their understanding or belief about the topic in question. Because you are likely not asking the audience to overtly act, it’s necessary to embed arguments that highlight how or why this factual information is meaningful for them or how the factual statement resolves a public controversy.

Propositions of fact are meaningful persuasive claims when new evidence or scientific observations arise that your audience may not know. Facts, statistics, definitions, or expert testimony are common evidence types for these propositions.

Propositions of Value

Propositions of value argue that something is good/bad or right/wrong. When the proposition has a word such as good, bad, best, worst, just, unjust, ethical, unethical, moral, immoral, advantageous or disadvantageous, it is a proposition of value. Some examples include:

  • Hybrid cars are the best form of automobile transportation available today.
  • Homeschooling is more beneficial for children than traditional schooling.
  • The War in Iraq was not justified.
  • The United States is not the greatest country on earth.
  • Capital punishment is morally wrong.
  • White supremacy is wrong.
  • Mascots that involve Native American names, characters, and symbols are demeaning.
  • A vegan diet is the healthiest one for adults.

Communication is a key vehicle in understanding values because communication is how communities collectively determine what is right or wrong. Because values are culturally-situated and not universal, as a speaker, you must ground and describe what value or moral judgement you’re utilizing. If a war is unjustified, what makes a war “just” or “justified” in the first place? What makes a form of transportation “best” or “better” than another? Isn’t that a matter of personal approach? For different people, “best” might mean “safest,” “least expensive,” “most environmentally responsible,” “most stylish,” “powerful,” or “prestigious.”

Effective propositions of value rely on shared beliefs held by your audience. Developing confidence about your audience will allow you to determine what value systems they rely on and how your proposition relies on similar belief systems. We’ll talk more about appealing to your audience below.

Propositions of Policy

Policy propositions identify a solution to correct the problem. These propositions call for a change in policy (including those in a government, community, or school) or call for the audience to adopt a certain behavior.

Speeches with propositions of policy try to instigate the audience to act immediately, in the long-term, or alter their perspective on an issue. A few examples include:

  • Our state should require mandatory recertification of lawyers every ten years.
  • The federal government should act to ensure clean water standards for all citizens.
  • The state of Georgia should require drivers over the age of 75 to take a vision test and present a certificate of good health from a doctor before renewing their licenses.
  • Wyeth Daniels should be the next governor of the state.
  • The Supreme Court should rule that migrant detention centers are unconstitutional.

These propositions are easy to identify because they almost always have the word “should” in them.

Many policy propositions advocate for a solution through a specific organization or government agency. In the examples above, the federal government, the state, and the Supreme Court are all listed as relevant actors to resolve the problem.

Alternatively, you could advocate for your audience to make specific behavioral changes that lead to solutions. If you’re addressing the consequences of climate change in your local community, do solutions require government or non-profit action? Could your audience make in-roads to reducing the negative effects of climate change alone? Thorough research will assist you in determining what actors – organizations or your audience—are best suited to implement your policy solution.

Policy propositions commonly embed a specific call-to-action. What should the audience do if they are persuading by your perspective? What actions can and should they take that can support your policy proposition? This can include “call your senator” (though more specificity is often helpful), but your call-to-action should be crafted with audience adaptation and information in mind.

Organizing Persuasive Propositions

Organization plays a key role in comprehending an argument. Chapter 6 on organizing provides you a nice starting place to decide which organizational pattern is best suited for different speech types. In this section, we discuss organizing persuasive speeches with a focus on propositions of policy.

Once you’ve identified your main argument, ask, “what organizational pattern best suits my argument?”

For propositions of fact or value, you might select a categorical organization. Essentially that means that you will have two to four discrete, separate arguments in support of the proposition. For example:

Proposition of Fact: Converting to solar energy can save homeowners money.

  • Solar energy reduces power bills.
  • Solar energy requires less money for maintenance.
  • Solar energy works when the power grid goes down.

For propositions of policy, the problem-solution organization pattern is commonly used. We do not typically feel any motivation to change unless we are convinced that some harm, problem, need, or deficiency exists, and even more, that it affects us personally. As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” In a problem-solution pattern, you can spend ample and organized time outlining the consequences to inaction, i.e. the problem.

Although a simple problem-solution organization is permissible for a speech of actuation, you will probably do well to utilize the more detailed format called Monroe’s Motivated Sequence.

This format, designed by Alan Monroe (1951), is based on John Dewey’s reflective thinking process to consider audience listening patterns. Monroe’s Motivated Sequence involves five steps, which should not be confused with the main points of the outline. Some steps in Monroe’s Motivated Sequence may take two points. Each step is described below:

  • Attention . This is the introduction, where the speaker brings attention to the importance of the topic as well as their own credibility and connection to the topic.
  • Need. Here the problem is defined and defended. It is important to make the audience see the severity of the problem, and how it affects them, their family, or their community. The harm or need can be physical, financial, emotional, educational, or social. It will have to be supported by evidence.
  • Satisfaction. A need calls for satisfaction in the same way a problem requires a solution. Not only does the speaker present the solution and describe it, but they must defend that it works and will address the causes of the problem as well as the symptoms.
  • Visualization. This step looks to the future either positively or negatively. If positive, the benefits from enacting or choosing the solution are shown. If negative, the disadvantages of not doing any-thing to solve the problem are shown.
  • Action . In the action step, the goal is to give specific steps for the audience to take as soon as possible to move toward solving the problem. Whereas the satisfaction step explains the solution overall, the action step gives concrete ways to begin making the solution happen.

The more concrete you can make the action step, the better. Research shows that people are more likely to act if they know how accessible the action can be. For example, if you want students to be vaccinated against the chicken pox virus (after establishing that it is a key public controversy), you can give them directions to and hours for a clinic or health center where vaccinations at a free or discounted price can be obtained.

With any organizational pattern selected, it’s imperative to group your main points around clear claims that are supported with evidence and explained with a warrant. As you develop your persuasive arguments, stay appraised of who your audience is and best practices for persuasion.

Developing the Persuasive Speech: Appealing to an Audience

Persuasion only occurs with an audience, so your main goal is to answer the question, “how do I persuade the audience to believe my proposition of fact, value, or policy?”

To accomplish this goal, identify your target audience —individuals who are willing to listen to your argument despite disagreeing, having limited knowledge, or lacking experience with your advocacy. Because persuasion involves change, you are targeting individuals who have not yet changed their beliefs in favor of your argument.

The persuasive continuum (Figure 13.1) is a tool that allows you to visualize your audience’s relationship with your topic.

image

Figure 13.1

The persuasive continuum views persuasion as a line going both directions. Your audience members, either as a group or individually, are sitting somewhere on that line in reference to your thesis statement, claim, or proposition.

For example, your proposition might be, “The main cause of climate change is human activity.” In this case, you are not denying that natural forces, such as volcanoes, can affect the climate, but you are claiming that human pollution is the central force behind global warming. To be an effective persuasive speaker, one of your first jobs is determining where your audience “sits” on the continuum.

+3 means strongly agree to the point of making lifestyle choices to lessen climate change (such as riding a bike instead of driving a car, recycling, eating certain kinds of foods). +2 means agree but not to the point of acting upon it. +1 as mildly in favor of your proposition; that is, they think it’s probably true but the issue doesn’t affect them personally. 0 means neutral, no opinion, or feeling uninformed enough to make a decision. -1 means mildly opposed to the proposition but willing to listen to those with whom they disagree. -2 means disagreement to the point of dismissing the idea pretty quickly. -3 means strong opposition to the point that the concept of climate change itself is not even listened to or acknowledged as a valid subject.

Since everyone in the audience is somewhere on this line or continuum, persuasion means moving them to the right, somewhere closer to +3.

Your topic will inform which strategy you use to move your audience along the continuum. If you are introducing an argument that the audience lacks knowledge in, you are moving an audience from 0 to +1, +2, or +3. The audience’s attitude will be a 0 because they have no former opinion or experience.

Thinking about persuasion as a continuum has three benefits:

  • You can visualize and quantify where your audience lands on the continuum
  • You can accept the fact that any movement toward +3 or to the right is a win.
  • You can see that trying to change an audience from -3 to +3 in one speech is just about impossible. Therefore, you will need to take a reasonable approach. In this case, if you knew most of the audience was at -2 or -3, your speech would be about the science behind climate change in order to open their minds to its possible existence. However, that audience is not ready to hear about its being caused mainly by humans or what action should be taken to reverse it.

As you identify where your target audience sits on the continuum, you can dig deeper to determine what values, attitude, or beliefs would prohibit individuals from supporting the proposition or values, attitudes, or beliefs that support your proposition. At the same time, avoid language that assumes stereotypical beliefs about the audience.

For example, your audience may value higher education and believe that education is useful for critical thinking skills. Alternatively, you may have an audience that values work experience and believes that college is frivolous and expensive. Being aware of these differing values will deepen your persuasive content by informing what evidence or insights to draw on and upon for each audience type.

Once you’re confident about where your audience is on the continuum and what values they hold, you can select the appropriate rhetorical appeals – ethos, pathos, and logos—to motivate your audience toward action. Yes, we’ve discussed these rhetorical appeals before, but they are particularly useful in persuasive speaking, so let’s re-cap.

Ethos is the influence of speaker credentials and character in a speech. Ethos is achieved through citing reliable, authoritative sources, strong arguments, showing awareness of the audience, and effective delivery.

Pathos means using the emotions such as love, anger, joy, hate, desire for community to persuade the audience of the rightness of a proposition.

Finally, logos refers to the organized and logical arguments that are used to support a claim.

So, what do these mean in practice? Suppose that your speech is trying to motivate the audience to support expanding bus routes on your campus. Use Table 13.2 to track the use of rhetorical appeals.

“On days with poor weather, rain, or snow, many of you are like me, waiting in a pile up of students to catch the campus bus. As one of those students…”

“After speaking with the transportation department on campus…”

“Imagine yourself at the bus stop. Waiting. Your clock ticks as missing class becomes a vivid thought. As more time passes, your heart races, knowing you’ll miss a big test with no late work.”

“In a study conducted by transportation department on campus, 63% of students reported that unpredictable and slow buses led to missing class.”

                                      Table 13.2

In sum, the audience plays a central role in persuasion, so staying tuned-in to audience beliefs and expectations is key.

Barriers to Effective Persuasi ve Speaking

Persuasive speaking can provide opportunities to advocate for important community solutions. But persuasion is really difficult, and there are often barriers to effectively persuading our audience to change their beliefs or act in a new way.

Persuasion is hard because we have a bias against change. As much as we hear statements like “The only constant is change” or “Variety is the spice of life,” the evidence from research and from our personal experience shows that, in reality, we do not like change. Recent risk aversion research, for example, found that humans are concerned more with what we lose than what we gain. Change is often seen as a loss of something rather than a gain of something else, and that’s stressful. We do not generally embrace things that bring us stress.

Given our aversion to change, audiences often go out of their way to protect their beliefs, attitudes, and values. We (as audience members) selectively expose ourselves to messages that we already agree with, rather than those that confront or challenge us. This selective exposure is especially seen in choices of mass media that individuals listen to, watch, and read. Not only do we selectively expose ourselves to information, we selectively attend to, perceive, and recall information that supports our existing viewpoints (referred to a s elective recall ).

This principle led Leon Festinger (1957) to form the theory of cognitive dissonance , which states, among other ideas, that when we are confronted with conflicting information or viewpoints, we reach a state of dissonance, or tension between ideas and beliefs. It often occurs when we’re presented information that’s out of line with our values or experiences. This state can be very uncomfortable, and we will do things to get rid of the dissonance and maintain “consonance.” We don’t want to accept that our beliefs may be wrong or inconsistent; we want to remain harmonious.

In a sense, not changing can outweigh very logical reasons to change. For example, you probably know a friend who will not wear a seatbelt in a car. You can say to your friend, “Don’t you know that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (2009) says, and I quote, ‘1,652 lives could be saved and 22,372 serious injuries avoided each year on America’s roadways if seat belt use rates rose to 90 percent in every state’?” What will your friend probably say, even though you have cited a credible source?

They will come up with some reason for not wearing it, even something as dramatic as “I knew a guy who had a cousin who was in an accident and the cop said he died because he was wearing his seatbelt.” They may even say, “Well I am a good driver, so you only need seat belts if you’re driving poorly.” You may have had this conversation, or one like it. Their argument may be less dramatic, such as “I don’t like how it feels” or “I don’t like the government telling me what to do in my car.” For your friend, the argument for wearing a seat belt is not as strong as the argument against it, at least at this moment. Ideally, at least for a public speaker, the dissonance is relieved or resolved by being persuaded (changed) to a new belief, attitude, or behavior.

So, what is a speaker to do to overcome these barriers? We suggest making reasonable requests, articulating the benefits or consequences, and answering oppositional arguments.

Make Reasonable Requests

Setting reasonable persuasive goals is the first way to meet audience resistance. Look back to the persuasive continuum scale in Figure 13.1. Trying to move an audience from -3 to +2 or +3 is too big a move. Since change is resisted, we do not make many large or major changes in our lives. We do, however, make smaller, concrete, step-by-step or incremental changes every day. Even moving someone from -3 to -2 is progress, and over time these small shifts can eventually result in a significant amount of persuasion. Aim small, especially within a time constraint, and work to find future room to build.

Focus on Benefits and Consequences

When problems aren’t resolved, there are consequences. When problems are resolved, there are positive benefits for the community. Because you are asking the audience to change something, they must view the benefits of acting as worth the stress of the change. A speaker should be able to engage the audience at the level of needs, wants, and values as well as logic and evidence.

Identify the benefits, advantages, or improvements that would happen for the audience members who enacted your advocacy. If you do good audience analysis, you know that audiences are asking, “What’s in it for me?” “Why do I need this?”

Alternatively, you could outline the short and long-term consequences of inaction and detail how the problem would negatively affect the audience and/or their community. In other words, you’re identifying what would occur if the audience does nothing; if they choose not to act. Using Monroe’s Motivated Sequences can assist in organizing these arguments.

Answer Oppositional Arguments

During a persuasive speech, audience members are holding a mental dialogue, and they are thinking through rebuttals or oppositional arguments to your advocacy. These mental dialogues could be called the “yeah-buts”—the audience members are saying in their minds, “Yeah, I see what you are arguing, but—”. Reservations can be very strong, since, again, our human bias is to be loss averse and not to change our actions or beliefs.

If you’re advocating a claim that humans are the primary cause of climate change, your audience may think, “yeah, but these consequences won’t happen for a long time,” or “yeah, but we have time to resolve these problems.”

As a speaker, address these! Refute the arguments that may prohibit your audience from changing.

It’s common to call oppositional arguments “misconceptions,” “myths,” or “mistaken ideas” that are widely held about the proposition. You may answer oppositional arguments around climate change by saying, “One common misconception about climate change is that we won’t see the negative impacts for decades. A recent study determined that consequences are already upon us.”

After acknowledging oppositional arguments and seeking to refute or rebut the reservations, you must also provide evidence for your refutation. Ultimately, this will show your audience that you are aware of both sides of the issue you are presenting and make you a more credible speaker.

Understanding and Avoiding Fallacies

So far, we’ve discussed persuasive speaking and strategies to move your audience along the persuasive continuum. Motivating your audience to change, however, must be done ethically while using good reasons.

In Chapter 5, we began discussing best practices in constructing arguments. In this section, we dive deeper into reasoning by highlighting a common pitfall: the use of fallacies — erroneous conclusions or statements made from poor analyses. There are actually dozens upon dozens of fallacies, and we identify 9 common fallacies below.

False Cause

False cause is a fallacy that assumes that one thing causes another, but there is no logical connection between the two. In a false cause fallacy, the alleged cause might not be strong or direct enough. For example, there has been much debate over the causes of the recession in 2008. If someone said, “The exorbitant salaries paid to professional athletes contributed to the recession” that would be the fallacy of false cause. Why? For one thing, the salaries, though large, are an infinitesimal part of the whole economy. Second, those salaries only affect a small number of people. A cause must be direct and strong, not just something that occurred before a problem arose.

Slippery Slope

A slippery slope fallacy is a type of false cause which assumes that taking a first step will lead to subsequent events that cannot be prevented. The children’s book, If You Give a Moose a Muffin , is a good example of slippery slope; it tells all the terrible things (from a child’s point of view) that will happen, one after another, if a moose is given a muffin. If A happens, then B will happen, then C, then D, then E, F, G and it will get worse and worse and before you know it, we will all be in some sort of ruin. So, don’t do A or let A happen because it will inevitably lead to Z, and of course, Z is terrible.

This type of reasoning fails to look at alternate causes or factors that could keep the worst from happening, and often is somewhat silly when A is linked directly to Z. Slippery slope arguments are often used in discussions over emotional and hot button topics that are linked with strong values and beliefs. One might argue that “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns,” a bumper sticker you may have seen. This is an example of a slippery slope argument because it is saying that any gun control laws will inevitably lead to no guns being allowed at all in the U.S. and then the inevitable result that only criminals will have guns because they don’t obey gun control laws anyway.

In any instance where you’re identifying potential consequences if action is or is not taken, credible evidence and ethical warrants are good checks against our tendency to slippery-slope to the audience.

Hasty Generalization

Making a hasty generalization means making a generalization with too few examples. It is so common that we might wonder if there are any legitimate generalizations. Consider this hastily generalized argument:

A college degree is unnecessary. For example, Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of college, invented Fac e book, and made billions of dollars. As this example demonstrates, dropping out of college leads to great financial success , so a complete degree is pointless.

The key to generalizations is how the conclusions are “framed” or put into language. The conclusions should be specific about the limited nature of the sample.

Straw Person

A straw person fallacy is a fallacy that shows only the weaker side of an opponent’s argument in order to more easily tear it down. The term “straw person” brings up the image of a scarecrow, and that is the idea behind the expression. Even a child can beat up a scarecrow; anyone can.

A straw person fallacy happens when an opponent in a debate misinterprets or takes a small part of their opponent’s position in a debate and makes it a major part of the opponent’s position. This is often done by ridicule, taking statements out of context, or misquoting.

Politicians, unfortunately, commit the straw person fallacy quite frequently. If someone states, “College A is not as good as College B because the cafeteria food at College A is not as good” is a pretty weak argument—and making too big of a deal over of a minor thing—for attending one college over another.

False Dilemma

False Dilemma is often referred to as the “either-or” fallacy. When you are given only two options, and more than two options exist, that is false dilemma. Usually in false dilemma, one of the options is undesirable and the other is the one the persuader wants you to take. False dilemma is common. “America: Love it or Leave It.” “If you don’t buy this furniture today, you’ll never get another chance.” “Vote for Candidate Y or see our nation destroyed.”

Appeal to Tradition

Appeals to tradition is the argument that “We’ve always done it this way.” This fallacy happens when traditional practice is the only reason for continuing a policy. Tradition is a great thing. We do many wonderful things for the sake of tradition, and it makes us feel good. But doing something only because it’s always been done a certain way is not an argument.

You’ve likely experienced this through politicians. For example, if a politician says that we should support coal mining because “it’s a great American tradition and we’ve coal mined for decades,” it certainly highlights values inherent within the speaker, but it’s a fallacy.

This fallacy, the bandwagon , is also referred to as “appeal to majority” and “appeal to popularity,” using the old expression of “get on the bandwagon” to support an idea. Bandwagon is a fallacy that asserts that because something is popular (or seems to be), it is therefore good, correct, or desirable.

You’ve probably heard that “Everybody is doing it” or “more than 50% of the population supports this idea.” Just because 50% of the population is engaging in an activity does not make that a wise choice based on sound reasoning. Historically, 50% of the population believed or did something that was not good or right. In a democracy we make public policy to some extent based on majority rule, but we also have protections for the minority or other vulnerable populations. This is a wonderful part of our system. It is sometimes foolish to say that a policy is morally right or wrong or wise just because it is supported by 50% of the people.

Red Herring

A herring is a fish, and it was once used to throw off or distract foxhounds from a particular scent. A red herring , then, is creating a diversion or introducing an irrelevant point to distract someone or get someone off the subject of the argument. When a politician in a debate is asked about their stance on immigration, and the candidate responds, “I think we need to focus on reducing the debt. That’s the real problem!.” they are introducing a red herring to distract from the original topic under discussion.

This is a fallacy that attacks the person rather than dealing with the real issue in dispute. A person using ad hominem connects a real or perceived flaw in a person’s character or behavior to an issue he or she supports, asserting that the flaw in character makes the position on the issue wrong. Obviously, there is no connection. In a sense, ad hominem is a type of red herring because it distracts from the real argument. In some cases, the “hidden agenda” is to say that because someone of bad character supports an issue or argument, therefore the issue or argument is not worthy or logical.

A person using ad hominem might say, “Climate change is not true. It is supported by advocates such as Congressperson Jones, and we all know that Congressperson Jones was convicted of fraud last year.” This is not to say that Congressperson Jones should be re-elected, only that climate change’s being true or false is irrelevant to their fraud conviction. Do not confuse ad hominem with poor credibility or ethos. A speaker’s ethos, based on character or past behavior, does matter. It just doesn’t mean that the issues they support are logically or factually wrong.

Section Summary

Fallacies reduce good reasoning and they weaken your argument. To avoid fallacies, think critically about what evidence is being used, and if your claim and warrant are reasonable explanations and articulations of that evidence. A key way to avoid fallacies is to double and triple check your evidence to make sure that a) the evidence is credible, b) there is enough evidence to support your claim, and c) you have explained the evidence using good reasons.

Persuasive speaking is an opportunity to share a passion or cause that you believe will matter to society and help the audience live a better life. Even if you are initially uncomfortable with the idea of persuasion, we use it all the time in different ways. Choose your topic based on your own commitment and experience, look for quality evidence, craft your proposition so that it will be clear and audience appropriate, and put the finishing touches on it with an eye toward enhancing your logos, ethos, and pathos.

Speak Out, Call In: Public Speaking as Advocacy Copyright © 2019 by Meggie Mapes is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Chapter Sixteen – Speaking to Persuade

On the first day of class, your instructor provided you a “lay of the land.” They introduced you to course documents, the syllabus, and reading materials.

“It’s important that you read your textbook,” they likely shared. “The material will allow you to dive deeper into the course material and, even if you don’t initially realize its importance, the reading material will build throughout the semester. The time spent reading will be worth it because without that knowledge, it will be difficult to complete assignments and receive full credit. The time spent reading will benefit you after you leave for the semester, too, and you’ll have critical thinking skills that will permeate your life out of the classroom.” Sound familiar?

This is persuasion. Your instructor is persuading you that reading the textbook is a good idea—that it’s an action you should take throughout the semester. As an audience member, you get to weigh the potential benefits of reading the textbook in relation to the consequences. But if your instructor has succeeded in their persuasive attempt, you will read the book because they have done a good job of helping you to conclude in favor of their perspective.

Your instructor may have even gone a step further, introducing themselves and including their credentials, such as degrees earned, courses taught, years of teaching, books published, etc. That sounds like what Aristotle called ethos , right? This is another key to persuasion, which we will discuss further in Chapter 17.

Persuasion is everywhere. We are constantly inundated with ideas, perspectives, politics, and products that are requesting our attention. Persuasion is often positively paired with ideas of encouragement, influence, urging, or logic. Your instructors, for example, are passionate about the subject position and want you to succeed in the class. Sadly, persuasion can also be experienced as manipulation, force, lack of choice, or inducement. You might get suspicious if you think someone is trying to persuade you. You might not appreciate someone telling you to change your viewpoints.

In this chapter, we explore persuasive speaking and work through best practices in persuasion. Because persuasion is everywhere, being critical and aware of persuasive techniques will allow you to both ethically persuade audiences and evaluate arguments when others attempt to persuade you. We’ll start with the basics by answering the question, “what is persuasion?”

Introducing Persuasive Speaking

Persuasion  is “the process of creating, reinforcing, or changing people’s beliefs or actions” (Lucas, 2015, p. 306). Persuasion is important in all communication processes and contexts—interpersonal, professional, digital—and it’s something that you do every day. Convincing a friend to go see the latest movie instead of staying in to watch TV; giving your instructor a reason to give you an extension on an assignment; writing a cover letter and resume and going through an interview for a job—all of these and so many more are examples of persuasion. In fact, it is hard to think of life without the everyday give-and-take of persuasion. In each example listed, Lucas’s definition of persuasion is being implemented: you are asking a person or group to agree with your main idea.

When using persuasion in a public speech, the goal is to create, change, or reinforce a belief or action by addressing community problems or controversies. Remember that public speaking is a long-standing type of civic engagement; when we publicly speak, we are participating in democratic deliberation.  Deliberatio n , or the process of discussing feasible choices that address community problems, is important in resolving community concerns because it allows all perspectives to be considered.  Persuasive speaking  means addressing a public controversy and advocating for a perspective that the speaker hopes the audience will adopt. If the issue isn’t publicly controversial – if everyone agrees or if there are not multiple perspectives – you are not persuading. You’re informing.

So, what’s a public controversy?  Public controversies  are community disputes that affect a large number of people. Because they involve a large number of people, public controversies often have multiple perspectives, leading to public deliberation and debate to resolve each dispute.

We experience public controversies daily. Through our social media feeds, we continuously scroll past shared articles, comments, or posts that provide different perspectives on community problems and potential solutions. You might, for example, join your local neighborhood (or dorm) Facebook group where neighbors share information and collaborate on solutions to specific problems facing the community. Each problem has consequences for different neighbors, and Facebook allows a space to deliberate and organize to address community priorities. They are controversial, however, because not all neighbors agree what which problems should be solved first or what those solutions are.

Sadly, there is no shortage of public controversies, and advocating for solutions to key community problems can feel overwhelming.

“How do I figure out  one controversy to speak out about?” you may wonder.

Identify public controversies by listening and engaging with your community. What issues are affecting them? What are priorities? Once you’re able to locate a key community dispute, ask yourself:

  • What is it?  What is the problem? Are there more than 1? Is this the key problem or are there other hidden issues?
  • What is the impact?  What will happen if the problem is not resolved?
  • Who’s affected?  Who’s being affected or implicated by this problem? Who are the audiences or stakeholders affected? Are the stakeholders a part of my formal audience?
  • What can solve it?  Are there suggested solutions?

Controversies arise when a community experiences a problem, so your job is to decipher the breadth and depth of that problem. It’s impossible to address all issues in one speech, so researching and prioritizing are key to identifying what advocacy you find most urgent. For any controversy that you can address in a persuasive speech, keep context and power in mind.

Your public speaking context always informs what’s possible to accomplish during a speech. Remember, the public speaking context refers to both the physical space and cultural context.

The physical context will influence how much information you can provide to your audience. In other words, “Do I have time to talk about this issue?” “What is the most essential information to cover in a limited timeframe?” The broader cultural context can help you in situating your advocacy alongside other community conversations. What else is happening? Have other communities experienced this problem?

As persuasive speakers, you are attempting to influence an audience. What you select and how you present that information will alter how audiences understand the world, and that’s a pretty powerful thought. When you select an advocacy that addresses a public controversy, you are asking the audience to trust your perspective. To uphold that trust, it’s key to examine who is empowered or disempowered by our perspective.

When you’re considering a position toward a public controversy, you might ask, who’s empowered or disempowered by this problem? Who’s left out of the research? How are communities being represented? What am I assuming about those communities? Who is affected by my advocacy?

We can be well-meaning in our advocacies, especially when we select a persuasive insight based on our own experience. We become passionate about issues that we have seen, and that’s OK! Such passion can also, however, mean that we represent information in ways that are stereotypical or lead to the disempowerment of others.

If your city, for example, is deciding where to place a landfill, you may advocate against the plant being placed in your neighborhood. That advocacy, on face, makes sense!

“This will reduce our property values and just be plain stinky,” you might argue.

When we think about the issue reflexively and with power in mind, however, we may find that landfills are much more likely to be placed in neighborhoods that are predominant people of color (Massey, 2004). Advocating against placing the plant in your home may inadvertently mean the plant is placed in more vulnerable neighborhoods. Those neighbors become disempowered in your attempt to empower your own community.

In this example, practicing reflexivity might include asking: What are the potential solutions? What options do I have to avoid disempowering groups? Using sound research skills, considering other alternatives or perspectives, and listening can be mechanisms to answer these inquiries

There are no easy answers, but we are confident that you can select advocacies that are meaningful and worthwhile.

Formulating Persuasive Propositions

Once you feel comfortable and confident about a controversial issue that is ethical, timely and contextually relevant, you will need to identify what type of persuasive proposition that you’ll use in your speech. There are three types of persuasive propositions: propositions of fact, value, or policy. Each type will require different approaches and may have different persuasive outcomes for your audience.

Propositions of Fact

Propositions of fact answer the question, “is this true?” Speeches with this type of proposition attempt to establish the truth of a statement. There is not a sense of what is morally right and wrong or what should be done about the issue, only that a statement is supported by evidence or not. Imagine these questions as true  or  false. 

These propositions are not facts like “the chemical symbol for water is H20” or “Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008.” Propositions or claims of fact are advocacies with evidence on different sides and/or spark disagreement. Imagine that you are a lawyer in the courtroom arguing if something is true or false, with evidence. Some examples of propositions of fact are:

  • Converting to solar energy can save homeowners money.
  • John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald working alone.
  • Coal exacerbates global warming.
  • Climate change has been caused by human activity.
  • Granting tuition tax credits to the parents of children who attend private schools will perpetuate educational inequity.
  • Watching violence on television causes violent behavior in children.
  • William Shakespeare did not write most of the plays attributed to him.
  • John Doe committed the crime of which he is accused.

Notice that no values—good or bad—are explicitly mentioned. The point of these propositions is to prove with evidence the truth of a statement, not its inherent value. Your goal is to persuade the audience to update their understanding or belief about the topic in question. Because you are likely not asking the audience to overtly act, it’s necessary to embed arguments that highlight how or why this factual information is meaningful for them or how the factual statement resolves a public controversy.

Propositions of fact are meaningful persuasive claims when new evidence or scientific observations arise that your audience may not know. Facts, statistics, definitions, or expert testimony are common evidence types for these propositions.

Propositions of Value

Propositions of value  argue that something is good/bad or right/wrong. When the proposition has a word such as good, bad, best, worst, just, unjust, ethical, unethical, moral, immoral, advantageous or disadvantageous, it is a proposition of value. Some examples include:

  • Hybrid cars are the best form of automobile transportation available today.
  • Homeschooling is more beneficial for children than traditional schooling.
  • The War in Iraq was not justified.
  • The United States is not the greatest country on earth.
  • Capital punishment is morally wrong.
  • White supremacy is wrong.
  • Running is the best form of exercise.
  • A vegan diet is the healthiest one for adults.

Communication is a key vehicle in understanding values because communication is how communities collectively determine what is right or wrong. Because values are culturally situated and not universal, as a speaker, you must ground and describe what value or moral judgement you’re utilizing. If a war is unjustified, what makes a war “just” or “justified” in the first place? What makes a form of transportation “best” or “better” than another? Isn’t that a matter of personal approach? For different people, “best” might mean “safest,” “least expensive,” “most environmentally responsible,” “most stylish,” “powerful,” or “prestigious.”

Effective propositions of value rely on shared beliefs held by your audience. Developing confidence about your audience will allow you to determine what value systems they rely on and how your proposition relies on similar belief systems. We’ll talk more about appealing to your audience below.

what is a persuasive speech in public speaking

Propositions of Policy

Policy propositions  identify a solution to correct the problem. These propositions call for a change in policy (including those in a government, community, or school) or call for the audience to adopt a certain behavior.

Speeches with propositions of policy try to instigate the audience to act immediately, in the long-term, or alter their perspective on an issue. A few examples include:

  • Our state should require mandatory recertification of lawyers every ten years.
  • The federal government should act to ensure clean water standards for all citizens.
  • The state of Georgia should require drivers over the age of 75 to take a vision test and present a certificate of good health from a doctor before renewing their licenses.
  • Wyeth Daniels should be the next governor of the state.
  • The Supreme Court should rule that migrant detention centers are unconstitutional.

These propositions are easy to identify because they almost always have the word “should” in them.

Many policy propositions advocate for a solution through a specific organization or government agency. In the examples above, the federal government, the state, and the Supreme Court are all listed as relevant actors to resolve the problem.

Alternatively, you could advocate for your audience to make specific behavioral changes that lead to solutions. If you’re addressing the consequences of climate change in your local community, do solutions require government or non-profit action? Could your audience make in-roads to reducing the negative effects of climate change alone? Thorough research will assist you in determining what actors – organizations or your audience—are best suited to implement your policy solution.

Policy propositions commonly embed a specific  call-to-action.  What should the audience do if they are persuading by your perspective? What actions can and should they take that can support your policy proposition? This can include “call your senator” (though more specificity is often helpful), but your call-to-action should be crafted with audience adaptation and information in mind.

Maya Angelou speaking at Burns Library at Boston College

Burns Library, Boston College –  Maya Angelou  – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Organizing Persuasive  Propositions

Organization plays a key role in comprehending an argument. While we have previously discussed organization, in this section, we discuss organizing persuasive speeches with a focus on propositions of policy.

Once you’ve identified your main argument, ask, “what organizational pattern best suits my argument?”

For propositions of fact or value, you might select a categorical organization. Essentially that means that you will have two to four discrete, separate arguments in support of the proposition. For example:

Proposition of Fact: Converting to solar energy can save homeowners money.

  • Solar energy reduces power bills.
  • Solar energy requires less money for maintenance.
  • Solar energy works when the power grid goes down.

For propositions of policy, the problem-solution organization pattern is commonly used. We do not typically feel any motivation to change unless we are convinced that some harm, problem, need, or deficiency exists, and even more, that it affects us personally. As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” In a problem-solution pattern, you can spend ample and organized time outlining the consequences to inaction, i.e. the problem.

Although a simple problem-solution organization is permissible for a speech of actuation, you will probably do well to utilize the more detailed format called  Monroe’s Motivated Sequence.

This format, designed by Alan Monroe (1951), is based on John Dewey’s reflective thinking process to consider audience listening patterns. This is one of the most commonly cited and discussed organizational patterns for persuasive speeches. The purpose of Monroe’s motivated sequence is to help speakers “sequence supporting materials and motivational appeals to form a useful organizational pattern for speeches as a whole” (German et al., 2010). Each step is described below and fully developed following:

  • Attention . This is the introduction, where the speaker brings attention to the importance of the topic as well as their own credibility and connection to the topic. To gain an audience’s attention, we recommend that you think through three specific parts of the attention step. First, you need to have a strong attention-getting device. As previously discussed, a strong attention getter at the beginning of your speech is very important. Second, you need to make sure you introduce your topic clearly. If your audience doesn’t know what your topic is quickly, they are more likely to stop listening. Lastly, you need to explain to your audience why they should care about your topic.
  • Need. Here the speaker establishes that there is a specific need or problem. It is important to make the audience see the severity of the problem, and how it affects them, their family, or their community. The harm or need can be physical, financial, emotional, educational, or social. It will have to be supported by evidence. In Monroe’s conceptualization of need, he talks about four specific parts of the need: statement, illustration, ramification, and pointing. First, a speaker needs to give a clear and concise statement of the problem. This part of a speech should be crystal clear for an audience. Second, the speaker needs to provide one or more examples to illustrate the need. The illustration is an attempt to make the problem concrete for the audience. Next, a speaker needs to provide some kind of evidence (e.g., statistics, examples, testimony) that shows the ramifications or consequences of the problem. Lastly, a speaker needs to point to the audience and show exactly how the problem relates to them personally.
  • Explanation
  • Theoretical demonstration
  • Reference to practical experience
  • Meeting objections

First, you need to clearly state the attitude, value, belief, or action you want your audience to accept. The purpose of this statement is to clearly tell your audience what your ultimate goal is.

Second, you want to make sure that you clearly explain to your audience why they should accept the attitude, value, belief, or action you proposed. Just telling your audience they should do something isn’t strong enough to actually get them to change. Instead, you really need to provide a solid argument for why they should accept your proposed solution.

Third, you need to show how the solution you have proposed meets the need or problem. Monroe calls this link between your solution and the need a theoretical demonstration because you cannot prove that your solution will work. Instead, you theorize based on research and good judgment that your solution will meet the need or solve the problem.

Fourth, to help with this theoretical demonstration, you need to reference practical experience, which should include examples demonstrating that your proposal has worked elsewhere. Research, statistics, and expert testimony are all great ways of referencing practical experience.

Lastly, Monroe recommends that a speaker respond to possible objections. As a persuasive speaker, one of your jobs is to think through your speech and see what counterarguments could be made against your speech and then rebut those arguments within your speech. When you offer rebuttals for arguments against your speech, it shows your audience that you’ve done your homework and educated yourself about multiple sides of the issue.

  • Visualization. According to Monroe, visualization can be conducted in one of three ways: positive, negative, or contrast (Monroe, 1935). The positive method of visualization is where a speaker shows how adopting a proposal leads to a better future (e.g., recycle, and we’ll have a cleaner and safer planet). Conversely, the negative method of visualization is where a speaker shows how not adopting the proposal will lead to a worse future (e.g., don’t recycle, and our world will become polluted and uninhabitable). Monroe also acknowledged that visualization could include a combination of both positive and negative visualization. In essence, you show your audience both possible outcomes and have them decide which one they would rather have.
  • Action . In the action step, the goal is to give specific steps for the audience to take as soon as possible to move toward solving the problem. Whereas the satisfaction step explains the solution overall, the action step gives concrete ways to begin making the solution happen. For understanding purposes, we break action into two distinct parts: audience action and approval. Audience action refers to direct physical behaviors a speaker wants from an audience (e.g., flossing their teeth twice a day, signing a petition, wearing seat belts). Approval, on the other hand, involves an audience’s consent or agreement with a speaker’s proposed attitude, value, or belief.

When preparing an action step, it is important to make sure that the action, whether audience action or approval, is realistic for your audience. Asking your peers in a college classroom to donate one thousand dollars to charity isn’t realistic. Asking your peers to donate one dollar is considerably more realistic. In a persuasive speech based on Monroe’s motivated sequence, the action step will end with the speech’s concluding device. As discussed elsewhere in this text, you need to make sure that you conclude in a vivid way so that the speech ends on a high point and the audience has a sense of energy as well as a sense of closure.

The more concrete you can make the action step, the better. Research shows that people are more likely to act if they know how accessible the action can be. For example, if you want students to be vaccinated against the chicken pox virus (after establishing that it is a key public controversy), you can give them directions to and hours for a clinic or health center where vaccinations at a free or discounted price can be obtained.

Now that we have discussed Monroe’s motivated sequence, let’s look at how you could use Monroe’s motivated sequence to outline a persuasive speech:

Specific Purpose:  To persuade my classroom peers that the United States should have stronger laws governing the use of for-profit medical experiments.

Introduction (Attention):  Want to make nine thousand dollars for just three weeks of work lying around and not doing much? Then be a human guinea pig. Admittedly, you’ll have to have a tube down your throat most of those three weeks, but you’ll earn three thousand dollars a week.

Main Points:

  • Need:  Every day many uneducated and lower socioeconomic-status citizens are preyed on by medical and pharmaceutical companies for use in for-profit medical and drug experiments. Do you want one of your family members to fall prey to this evil scheme?
  • Satisfaction: The United States should have stronger laws governing the use of for-profit medical experiments to ensure that uneducated and lower-socioeconomic-status citizens are protected.
  • Visualization: If we enact tougher experiment oversight, we can ensure that medical and pharmaceutical research is conducted in a way that adheres to basic values of American decency. If we do not enact tougher experiment oversight, we could find ourselves in a world where the lines between research subject, guinea pig, and patient become increasingly blurred.

Conclusion (Action):  In order to prevent the atrocities associated with for-profit medical and pharmaceutical experiments, please sign this petition asking the US Department of Health and Human Services to pass stricter regulations on this preying industry that is out of control.

This example shows how you can take a basic speech topic and use Monroe’s motivated sequence to clearly and easily outline your speech efficiently and effectively.

While Monroe’s motivated sequence is commonly discussed in most public speaking textbooks, we do want to provide one minor caution. Thus far, almost no research has been conducted that has demonstrated that Monroe’s motivated sequence is any more persuasive than other structural patterns. We add this sidenote because we don’t want you to think that Monroe’s motivated sequence is some kind of magic persuasive bullet. At the same time, research does support organized messages being perceived as more persuasive, so using Monroe’s motivated sequence to think through one’s persuasive argument could still be very beneficial.

Problem-Cause-Solution

Another format for organizing a persuasive speech is the problem-cause-solution format. In this specific format, you discuss what a problem is, what you believe is causing the problem, and then what the solution should be to correct the problem.

Specific Purpose:  To persuade my classroom peers that our campus should adopt a zero-tolerance policy for hate speech.

  • Demonstrate that there is distrust among different groups on campus that has led to unnecessary confrontations and violence.
  • Show that the confrontations and violence are a result of hate speech that occurred prior to the events.
  • Explain how instituting a campus-wide zero-tolerance policy against hate speech could stop the unnecessary confrontations and violence.

In this speech, you want to persuade people to support a new campus-wide policy calling for zero-tolerance of hate speech. Once you have shown the problem, you then explain to your audience that the cause of the unnecessary confrontations and violence is prior incidents of hate speech. Lastly, you argue that a campus-wide zero-tolerance policy could help prevent future unnecessary confrontations and violence. Again, this method of organizing a speech is as simple as its name: problem-cause-solution.

Comparative Advantages

The final method for organizing a persuasive speech is called the comparative advantages speech format. The goal of this speech is to compare items side-by-side and show why one of them is more advantageous than the other. For example, let’s say that you’re giving a speech on which e-book reader is better: Amazon.com’s Kindle or Barnes and Nobles’ Nook. Here’s how you could organize this speech:

Specific Purpose:  To persuade my audience that the Nook is more advantageous than the Kindle.

  • The Nook allows owners to trade and loan books to other owners or people who have downloaded the Nook software, while the Kindle does not.
  • The Nook has a color-touch screen, while the Kindle’s screen is black and grey and noninteractive.
  • The Nook’s memory can be expanded through microSD, while the Kindle’s memory cannot be upgraded.

As you can see from this speech’s organization, the simple goal of this speech is to show why one thing has more positives than something else. Obviously, when you are demonstrating comparative advantages, the items you are comparing need to be functional equivalents—or, as the saying goes, you cannot compare apples to oranges.

Before we continue with the potential barriers to persuasive speaking, consider this TEDEd talk: How to Use Rhetoric to Get What You Want .

Barriers to Effective Persuasi ve Speaking

Persuasive speaking can provide opportunities to advocate for important community solutions. But persuasion is really difficult, and there are often barriers to effectively persuading our audience to change their beliefs or act in a new way.

Persuasion is hard because we have a bias against change. As much as we hear statements like “The only constant is change” or “Variety is the spice of life,” the evidence from research and from our personal experience shows that, in reality, we do not like change. Recent risk aversion research, for example, found that humans are concerned more with what we lose than what we gain. Change is often seen as a loss of something rather than a gain of something else, and that’s stressful. We do not generally embrace things that bring us stress.

Given our aversion to change, audiences often go out of their way to protect their beliefs, attitudes, and values. We (as audience members) selectively expose ourselves to messages that we already agree with, rather than those that confront or challenge us. This selective exposure is especially seen in choices of mass media that individuals listen to, watch, and read. Not only do we selectively expose ourselves to information, but we also selectively attend to, perceive, and recall information that supports our existing viewpoints (referred to a s elective recall ).

This principle led Leon Festinger (1957) to form the theory of  cognitive dissonance , which states, among other ideas, that when we are confronted with conflicting information or viewpoints, we reach a state of dissonance, or tension between ideas and beliefs. It often occurs when we’re presented information that’s out of line with our values or experiences. This state can be very uncomfortable, and we will do things to get rid of the dissonance and maintain “consonance.” We don’t want to accept that our beliefs may be wrong or inconsistent; we want to remain harmonious.

In a sense, not changing can outweigh very logical reasons to change. For example, you probably know a friend who will not wear a seatbelt in a car. You can say to your friend, “Don’t you know that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (2009) says, and I quote, ‘1,652 lives could be saved, and 22,372 serious injuries avoided each year on America’s roadways if seat belt use rates rose to 90 percent in every state’?” What will your friend probably say, even though you have cited a credible source?

They will come up with some reason for not wearing it, even something as dramatic as “I knew a guy who had a cousin who was in an accident and the cop said he died because he  was  wearing his seatbelt.” They may even say, “Well I am a good driver, so you only need seat belts if you’re driving poorly.” You may have had this conversation, or one like it. Their argument may be less dramatic, such as “I don’t like how it feels” or “I don’t like the government telling me what to do in my car.” For your friend, the argument for wearing a seat belt is not as strong as the argument against it, at least at this moment. Ideally, at least for a public speaker, the dissonance is relieved or resolved by being persuaded (changed) to a new belief, attitude, or behavior.

So, what is a speaker to do to overcome these barriers? We suggest making reasonable requests, articulating the benefits or consequences, and answering oppositional arguments.

Make Reasonable Requests

Setting reasonable persuasive goals is the first way to meet audience resistance. Since we resist change, we do not make many large or major changes in our lives. We do, however, make smaller, concrete, step-by-step or incremental changes every day. Over time these small shifts can eventually result in a significant amount of persuasion. Aim small, especially within a time constraint, and work to find future room to build.

Focus on Benefits and Consequences

When problems aren’t resolved, there are consequences. When problems are resolved, there are positive benefits for the community. Because you are asking the audience to change something, they must view the benefits of acting as worth the stress of the change. A speaker should be able to engage the audience at the level of needs, wants, and values as well as logic and evidence.

Identify the benefits, advantages, or improvements that would happen for the audience members who enacted your advocacy. If you do good audience analysis, you know that audiences are asking, “What’s in it for me?” “Why do I need this?”

Alternatively, you could outline the short and long-term consequences of inaction and detail how the problem would negatively affect the audience and/or their community. In other words, you’re identifying what would occur if the audience did nothing, if they choose not to act. Using Monroe’s Motivated Sequences can assist in organizing these arguments.

Answer Oppositional Arguments

During a persuasive speech, audience members are holding a mental dialogue, and they are thinking through rebuttals or oppositional arguments to your advocacy. These mental dialogues could be called the “yeah-buts”—the audience members are saying in their minds, “Yeah, I see what you are arguing, but—”. Reservations can be very strong, since, again, our human bias is to be loss averse and not to change our actions or beliefs.

If you’re advocating a claim that humans are the primary cause of climate change, your audience may think, “yeah, but these consequences won’t happen for a long time,” or “yeah, but we have time to resolve these problems.”

As a speaker, address these! Refute the arguments that may prohibit your audience from changing.

It’s common to call oppositional arguments “misconceptions,” “myths,” or “mistaken ideas” that are widely held about the proposition. You may answer oppositional arguments around climate change by saying, “One common misconception about climate change is that we won’t see the negative impacts for decades. A recent study determined that consequences are already upon us.”

After acknowledging oppositional arguments and seeking to refute or rebut the reservations, you must also provide evidence for your refutation. Ultimately, this will show your audience that you are aware of both sides of the issue you are presenting and make you a more credible speaker.

Additionally, keep in mind that you may be asking your audience for  passive agreement  or  immediate action.  Each is described below.

Gain Passive Agreement

When we attempt to gain the passive agreement of our audiences, our goal is to get our audiences to agree with what we are saying and our specific policy without asking the audience to do anything to enact the policy. For example, maybe your speech is on why the Federal Communications Commission should regulate violence on television like it does foul language (i.e., no violence until after 9 p.m.). Your goal as a speaker is to get your audience to agree that it is in our best interest as a society to prevent violence from being shown on television before 9 p.m., but you are not seeking to have your audience run out and call their senators or congressmen or even sign a petition. Often the first step in larger political change is simply getting a massive number of people to agree with your policy perspective.

Let’s look at a few more passive agreement claims:

  • Racial profiling of individuals suspected of belonging to known terrorist groups is a way to make America safer.
  • Requiring American citizens to “show their papers” is a violation of democracy and resembles tactics of Nazi Germany and communist Russia.
  • Colleges and universities should voluntarily implement a standardized testing program to ensure student learning outcomes are similar across different institutions.

In each of these claims, the goal is to sway one’s audience to a specific attitude, value, or belief, but not necessarily to get the audience to enact any specific behaviors.

Gain Immediate Action

The alternative to passive agreement is immediate action, or persuading your audience to start engaging in a specific behavior. Many passive agreement topics can become immediate action-oriented topics as soon as you tell your audience what behavior they should engage in (e.g., sign a petition, call a senator, vote). While it is much easier to elicit passive agreement than to get people to do something, you should always try to get your audience to act and do so quickly. A common mistake that speakers make is telling people to enact a behavior that will occur in the future. The longer it takes for people to engage in the action you desire, the less likely it is that your audience will engage in that behavior.

Here are some examples of good claims with immediate calls to action:

  • College students should eat more fruit, so I am encouraging everyone to eat the apple I have provided you and start getting more fruit in your diet.
  • Teaching a child to read is one way to ensure that the next generation will be stronger than those that have come before us, so please sign up right now to volunteer one hour a week to help teach a child to read.
  • The United States should reduce its nuclear arsenal by 20 percent over the next five years. Please sign the letter provided encouraging the president to take this necessary step for global peace. Once you’ve signed the letter, hand it to me, and I’ll fax it to the White House today.

Each of these three examples starts with a basic claim and then tags on an immediate call to action. Remember, the faster you can get people to engage in a behavior the more likely they actually will.

  • Lucas, S. E. (2019). The Art of Public Speaking ( 13th edition) Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.
  • German, K. M., Gronbeck, B. E., Ehninger, D., & Monroe, A. H. (2010). Principles of public speaking (17th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon, p. 236.
  • Micciche, T., Pryor, B., & Butler, J. (2000). A test of Monroe’s motivated sequence for its effects on ratings of message organization and attitude change. Psychological Reports, 86 , 1135–1138.
  • Monroe, A. H. (1935).  Principles and types of speech . Chicago, IL: Scott Foresman.
  • https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-stretching-his-legs-9623853/

LICENSES AND ATTRIBUTIONS

  • This chapter adapted from Stand up, Speak out. Stand up, Speak out  by University of Minnesota is licensed under a  Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted, and  Speak out, Call in. Speak Out, Call In: Public Speaking as Advocacy  by Meggie Mapes is licensed under a  Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

Principles of Public Speaking Copyright © 2022 by Katie Gruber is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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How to Write an Outline for a Persuasive Speech, with Examples

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Jim Peterson has over 20 years experience on speech writing. He wrote over 300 free speech topic ideas and how-to guides for any kind of public speaking and speech writing assignments at My Speech Class.

How to Write an Outline for a Persuasive Speech, with Examples intro image

Persuasive speeches are one of the three most used speeches in our daily lives. Persuasive speech is used when presenters decide to convince their presentation or ideas to their listeners. A compelling speech aims to persuade the listener to believe in a particular point of view. One of the most iconic examples is Martin Luther King’s ‘I had a dream’ speech on the 28th of August 1963.

In this article:

What is Persuasive Speech?

Here are some steps to follow:, persuasive speech outline, final thoughts.

Man Touches the Word Persuasion on Screen

Persuasive speech is a written and delivered essay to convince people of the speaker’s viewpoint or ideas. Persuasive speaking is the type of speaking people engage in the most. This type of speech has a broad spectrum, from arguing about politics to talking about what to have for dinner. Persuasive speaking is highly connected to the audience, as in a sense, the speaker has to meet the audience halfway.

Persuasive Speech Preparation

Persuasive speech preparation doesn’t have to be difficult, as long as you select your topic wisely and prepare thoroughly.

1. Select a Topic and Angle

Come up with a controversial topic that will spark a heated debate, regardless of your position. This could be about anything. Choose a topic that you are passionate about. Select a particular angle to focus on to ensure that your topic isn’t too broad. Research the topic thoroughly, focussing on key facts, arguments for and against your angle, and background.

2. Define Your Persuasive Goal

Once you have chosen your topic, it’s time to decide what your goal is to persuade the audience. Are you trying to persuade them in favor of a certain position or issue? Are you hoping that they change their behavior or an opinion due to your speech? Do you want them to decide to purchase something or donate money to a cause? Knowing your goal will help you make wise decisions about approaching writing and presenting your speech.

3. Analyze the Audience

Understanding your audience’s perspective is critical anytime that you are writing a speech. This is even more important when it comes to a persuasive speech because not only are you wanting to get the audience to listen to you, but you are also hoping for them to take a particular action in response to your speech. First, consider who is in the audience. Consider how the audience members are likely to perceive the topic you are speaking on to better relate to them on the subject. Grasp the obstacles audience members face or have regarding the topic so you can build appropriate persuasive arguments to overcome these obstacles.

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4. Build an Effective Persuasive Argument

Once you have a clear goal, you are knowledgeable about the topic and, have insights regarding your audience, you will be ready to build an effective persuasive argument to deliver in the form of a persuasive speech. 

Start by deciding what persuasive techniques are likely to help you persuade your audience. Would an emotional and psychological appeal to your audience help persuade them? Is there a good way to sway the audience with logic and reason? Is it possible that a bandwagon appeal might be effective?

5. Outline Your Speech

Once you know which persuasive strategies are most likely to be effective, your next step is to create a keyword outline to organize your main points and structure your persuasive speech for maximum impact on the audience.

Start strong, letting your audience know what your topic is, why it matters and, what you hope to achieve at the end of your speech. List your main points, thoroughly covering each point, being sure to build the argument for your position and overcome opposing perspectives. Conclude your speech by appealing to your audience to act in a way that will prove that you persuaded them successfully. Motivation is a big part of persuasion.

6. Deliver a Winning Speech

Select appropriate visual aids to share with your audiences, such as graphs, photos, or illustrations. Practice until you can deliver your speech confidently. Maintain eye contact, project your voice and, avoid using filler words or any form of vocal interference. Let your passion for the subject shine through. Your enthusiasm may be what sways the audience. 

Close-Up of Mans Hands Persuading Someone

Topic: What topic are you trying to persuade your audience on?

Specific Purpose:  

Central idea:

  • Attention grabber – This is potentially the most crucial line. If the audience doesn’t like the opening line, they might be less inclined to listen to the rest of your speech.
  • Thesis – This statement is used to inform the audience of the speaker’s mindset and try to get the audience to see the issue their way.
  • Qualifications – Tell the audience why you are qualified to speak about the topic to persuade them.

After the introductory portion of the speech is over, the speaker starts presenting reasons to the audience to provide support for the statement. After each reason, the speaker will list examples to provide a factual argument to sway listeners’ opinions.

  • Example 1 – Support for the reason given above.
  • Example 2 – Support for the reason given above.

The most important part of a persuasive speech is the conclusion, second to the introduction and thesis statement. This is where the speaker must sum up and tie all of their arguments into an organized and solid point.

  • Summary: Briefly remind the listeners why they should agree with your position.
  • Memorable ending/ Audience challenge: End your speech with a powerful closing thought or recommend a course of action.
  • Thank the audience for listening.

Persuasive Speech Outline Examples

Male and Female Whispering into the Ear of Another Female

Topic: Walking frequently can improve both your mental and physical health.

Specific Purpose: To persuade the audience to start walking to improve their health.

Central idea: Regular walking can improve your mental and physical health.

Life has become all about convenience and ease lately. We have dishwashers, so we don’t have to wash dishes by hand with electric scooters, so we don’t have to paddle while riding. I mean, isn’t it ridiculous?

Today’s luxuries have been welcomed by the masses. They have also been accused of turning us into passive, lethargic sloths. As a reformed sloth, I know how easy it can be to slip into the convenience of things and not want to move off the couch. I want to persuade you to start walking.

Americans lead a passive lifestyle at the expense of their own health.

  • This means that we spend approximately 40% of our leisure time in front of the TV.
  • Ironically, it is also reported that Americans don’t like many of the shows that they watch.
  • Today’s studies indicate that people were experiencing higher bouts of depression than in the 18th and 19th centuries, when work and life were considered problematic.
  • The article reports that 12.6% of Americans suffer from anxiety, and 9.5% suffer from severe depression.
  • Present the opposition’s claim and refute an argument.
  • Nutritionist Phyllis Hall stated that we tend to eat foods high in fat, which produces high levels of cholesterol in our blood, which leads to plaque build-up in our arteries.
  • While modifying our diet can help us decrease our risk for heart disease, studies have indicated that people who don’t exercise are at an even greater risk.

In closing, I urge you to start walking more. Walking is a simple, easy activity. Park further away from stores and walk. Walk instead of driving to your nearest convenience store. Take 20 minutes and enjoy a walk around your neighborhood. Hide the TV remote, move off the couch and, walk. Do it for your heart.

Thank you for listening!

Topic: Less screen time can improve your sleep.

Specific Purpose: To persuade the audience to stop using their screens two hours before bed.

Central idea: Ceasing electronics before bed will help you achieve better sleep.

Who doesn’t love to sleep? I don’t think I have ever met anyone who doesn’t like getting a good night’s sleep. Sleep is essential for our bodies to rest and repair themselves.

I love sleeping and, there is no way that I would be able to miss out on a good night’s sleep.

As someone who has had trouble sleeping due to taking my phone into bed with me and laying in bed while entertaining myself on my phone till I fall asleep, I can say that it’s not the healthiest habit, and we should do whatever we can to change it.

  • Our natural blue light source is the sun.
  • Bluelight is designed to keep us awake.
  • Bluelight makes our brain waves more active.
  • We find it harder to sleep when our brain waves are more active.
  • Having a good night’s rest will improve your mood.
  • Being fully rested will increase your productivity.

Using electronics before bed will stimulate your brainwaves and make it more difficult for you to sleep. Bluelight tricks our brains into a false sense of daytime and, in turn, makes it more difficult for us to sleep. So, put down those screens if you love your sleep!

Thank the audience for listening

A persuasive speech is used to convince the audience of the speaker standing on a certain subject. To have a successful persuasive speech, doing the proper planning and executing your speech with confidence will help persuade the audience of your standing on the topic you chose. Persuasive speeches are used every day in the world around us, from planning what’s for dinner to arguing about politics. It is one of the most widely used forms of speech and, with proper planning and execution, you can sway any audience.

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10 Persuasive Speech Techniques to Improve Your Public Speaking

Let me guess…

You wipe your clammy palms on the sides of your trousers.

Fidgeting, you pace back and forth, barely able to remember your lines.

You thumb through your notes once more.

Will the slides work? What if they don’t? Will your voice sound weird?

Such are the thoughts that attack you before public speaking.

Giving a speech is one of the most daunting experiences imaginable…

Creating a vortex of emotions.

So how do some people do it so easily?

What persuasive speech techniques do they use to mould their audience like putty?

Persuasive Speech Examples

“Speech is power: speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Look at some of the greatest speakers and leaders in history .

Abraham Lincoln, John F Kennedy, Winston Churchill…

They were puppet masters, listeners dangling on their every word.

Charlie Chaplain was another. Ok, not in the traditional sense, although this is one of my favourite movie speeches of all time…

And here are 35 more masterful speeches from which to draw inspiration.

When you study famous speakers of the past, analyse their persuasive speech techniques and use them in your own approach.

Model your public speaking on the best examples.

Also, you can learn from a variety of sources…

Persuasive advertising techniques mimic the devices used in speeches, to encourage purchasing decisions .

And there are similarities between persuasive speeches and essay writing.

Even Hollywood uses these methods in its storytelling.

How to Improve Your Public Speaking

Let me start with a story…

There was a man called Demosthenes who lived in ancient Athens and was born with a speech impediment.

Each time he addressed an audience he was ridiculed.

So he committed to improving his speeches and becoming more persuasive.

He practised by filling his mouth with pebbles and running up hills while speaking.

Every day he locked himself in an underground study to work on his speech devices.

And to ensure he stuck to his promise, he shaved half his head so he’d be too embarrassed to be seen in public.

The result?

He became one of the most famous orators in the nation and most sought-after speakers in Greece.

Not only is this story a good example of grit and determination, but also that you can improve your speeches with persistence and a few clever techniques.

So let’s gather some pebbles…

Persuasive Devices

The goal of a persuasive speech is to change an audience’s opinion or strengthen an existing belief.

You want to convince them about an idea or encourage them to take some form of action.

Here’s a broad overview of how to do it…

This is your credibility as a speaker, as viewed by your audience. It can be the difference between winning and losing speech before you’ve even spoken a word.

It consists of four parts…

  • Trustworthiness – If the audience trusts you, they’ll believe what you say
  • Similarity to audience – You can change your language to match your audience (chameleon effect)
  • Authority – What’s your position as speaker? More authority = more credibility
  • Expertise – How much do you know about your topic?

Appeals to the audience using logic.

  • The audience use deductive and inductive reasoning to assess the information you provide
  • Therefore you need to present sound reasoning and logical sequence of thought in your speech
  • Back up your claims with facts and research
  • Instead of changing the audience’s viewpoint, can you strengthen an existing belief which still supports your message?
  • Logos strengthens pathos and vice versa. Sound logic = more credibility in the eyes of the audience.

Appeal to the audience using emotion.

  • People often make decisions based on emotion rather than logic
  • Thus has been used in the advertising agencies for years, when they sell benefits over features
  • Can you inject more emotion into your speech to generate feelings of warmth or compassion?
  • Use power words , which forge strong emotional connections
  • Use analogies and metaphors to make your speech easy to understand
  • Tell stories which are attention gripping and ram your point home
  • Use visuals – think about the slides in TED talks
  • Use curiosity and surprise

Now lets drill down into the specific persuasive speech techniques to improve your public speaking.

Persuasive Speech Techniques

1. strong introduction.

You need to grab attention immediately. You could start with a controversial statement, a question or a story. Hollywood likes to begin their dramas with explosive action, before delivering the rest of the plot.

What’s the central theme of your speech? It’s easy to ramble off topic until an audience loses interest. Keep your speech tight and concise.

3. Rhetorical techniques

This a where a question is asked, but the speaker expects no response from the audience. It helps make the audience active participants and improve their emotional attachment to your message.

“You work hard to make this country great. Don’t you deserve a politician who’ll stand up for you…?”

4. Rule of three

This counts on our psychological tendency to value information delivered in three parts. We find it funnier and more satisfying because it combines brevity and rhythm while creating a pattern.

“Of the people, by the people, for the people.” Abraham Lincoln

5. Emotive language

Tap into pathos with powerful, visual language.

– Non-emotive – The burger tastes good – Emotive – The burger’s dripping with succulent, meaty juices

Humour can be powerful in speeches, but only when used well. You have to know your audience and be careful not to divide your listeners. You can focus the laughs on yourself, which makes you more relatable, or blend humour into a story.

7. Bandwagon

You can use this technique to suggest that everyone’s on board with a concept or idea. It taps into people’s fear of missing out. Even if you don’t have the facts to back up your claims, generalities are strongly suggestive.

“The public’s interest in the environment has exploded in the last year”.

8. Inverted Phrases

“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” John F. Kennedy

9. Explicitly  stated facts

The reason politicians are so annoying is that they’re incapable of giving a clear answer. They fear the dreaded comeback and so squirm around a topic. Include any solid facts in your speech, but just ensure they’re correct.

10. Repetition

We have small brains and sometimes they don’t absorb all they should. That’s why repetition works. It can deliver the final blow of your message.

“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” Winston Churchill

Public Speaking Voice

Try to vary the intonation and pitch of your voice. It keeps an audience on its toes, guessing what you’re about to say next.

Speaking very quietly can also be a powerful vocal technique, magnifying the importance of a topic.

At other times it’s important to project your voice to the back of the room.

Check out the video below…

Public Speaking Body Language

Though improving the oral delivery of your speeches takes time, improving your body language can lead to quick wins.

Research shows that changing your body language before an assessment can significantly affect performance.

By adopting a power pose before your speech, you can increase your testosterone levels (responsible for confidence) and decrease your cortisol levels (responsible for anxiety).

Standing with your hands on your hips ought to do the trick, although I like to use the gorilla pose.

Stand tall with your shoulders back to demonstrate confidence.

Make eye contact with the audience, and pick specific members out if you can. People will feel you’re speaking directly to them.

Use hand gestures to support the points you’re making. It’ll help make your speech visual and emphasise your message.

Final Thoughts

Improving your public speaking and becoming more persuasive is all about analysis and practice.

Luckily we live in an age where we don’t have to physically see great speakers in action to learn from them.

TED is a great resource. Listen to all the speakers you can and analyse their strengths and weaknesses.

These persuasive speech techniques will take you a long way, but put what you learn into practice.

You don’t even have to get up in front of an audience to do it. Record yourself on a camera to test your material and delivery.

The key is to create a tight feedback loop. Listen back to your efforts and course correct where necessary.

My final recommendation is to read this golden oldie by Dale Carnegie.

Good luck brave mind.

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what is a persuasive speech in public speaking

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56 How to Deliver an Effective Persuasive Speech

Learning Objectives

Advanced Delivery Methods for Persuasion

  • Deliver a persuasive speech that connection to the audience through exemplar rhetorical strategies

Effective Persuasive Delivery

At this point in your learning, you are well-versed in effective verbal and non-verbal delivery. You may be thinking, what else can I learn in order to connect more deeply with my audience and persuade them to change their minds or behaviors. The readings thus far have provided the foundation for informative and persuasive speaking; the readings, lectures, and activities all work together to create a well-rounded approach to public speaking. However, the most well-written speech will be just well written if it isn’t delivered effectively. Writing your speech is only half of your job. Delivering it effectively is what will accomplish your speaking goals. Let’s push the envelope a bit more to hone in on key skills of persuasion and elements of rhetoric that can be refined.

  • A student could boldly state the word suffering. 
  • The student could repeat suffering again to reinforce their message: “College students are suffering, we are financially suffering,  due to the increased cost of college textbooks all the while professors have the ability to craft creative readings and online learning materials”.
  • The student could take a pause after suffering and scan the audience to engage the audience.
  • The student could point to professors in the audience, or at the visual aid with a professor on the slide.
  • The student could increase their vocals towards the end of the sentence to ensure the message is heard loud and clear: “ all the while professors have the ability to craft creative readings and online learning materials”.
  • For example: a note card can state a statistic: “92% of college professors enjoy teaching their courses with tailored lecture materials” and on the top of that note card you could write SLOW SPEAKING RATE  to remind yourself to slow down and carefully pace through this statistic.
  • Try this instead: College professors lament that college students rarely read course material; texts are outdated and boring, yet these materials continue to circulate higher ed.
  • For example: The students in the classroom are always on their cellphones.
  • Instead state: The students are distracted by cell phones.
  • You can elaborate on each of these ideas with support as well. Research suggests that color in a classroom can improve students learning, attention spans, and interest in the overall course material (citation, year).
  • You can use newer technology to ensure you are providing a pleasing visual aid to your audience.
  • You can incorporate videos (embed them properly), memes, artwork/designs, animations, voiceovers, and other visual cues to keep yourself and the audience on-track and engaged.
  • People will remember how you began and how you ended, make it meaningful! Connect with your audience through the introduction into the conclusion. You will want to make a lasting impression on them in the conclusion so they engage in your call to action. Take careful inventory of what you have stated, and be sure to recap the main points before you get to the call to action. End just as strong as you started.

Review of Persuasive Strategies 

  • Ethos.  Develops a speaker’s credibility.
  • Logos.  Evokes a rational, cognitive response from the audience.
  • Pathos.  Evokes an emotional response from the audience.
  • Cognitive dissonance.  Moves an audience by pointing out inconsistencies between new information and their currently held beliefs, attitudes, and values.
  • Positive motivation.  Promises rewards if the speaker’s message is accepted.
  • Negative motivation.  Promises negative consequences if a speaker’s message is rejected.
  • Appeals to safety needs.  Evokes an audience’s concern for their safety and the safety of their loved ones.
  • Appeals to social needs.  Evokes an audience’s need for belonging and inclusion.
  • Appeals to self-esteem needs.  Evokes an audience’s need to think well of themselves and have others think well of them, too.

Key Takeaways

Advanced delivery skills in persuasive speaking are possible.

  • These skills might take more time, dedication, and refinement; however, the results are worth it.
  • Consider implementing one or two of these strategies into your persuasive speech and see the difference the skill(s) make in your final delivery.

Public Speaking Copyright © by Dr. Layne Goodman; Amber Green, M.A.; and Various is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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1.1 Why Is Public Speaking Important?

Learning objectives.

  • Explore three types of public speaking in everyday life: informative, persuasive, and entertaining.
  • Understand the benefits of taking a course in public speaking.
  • Explain the benefits people get from engaging in public speaking.

A man speaking to a group of women

Christian Pierret – Leader – CC BY 2.0.

In today’s world, we are constantly bombarded with messages both good and bad. No matter where you live, where you work or go to school, or what kinds of media you use, you are probably exposed to hundreds. if not thousands, of advertising messages every day. Researcher Norman W. Edmund estimates that by 2020 the amount of knowledge in the world will double every seventy-three days (Edmund, 2005). Because we live in a world where we are overwhelmed with content, communicating information in a way that is accessible to others is more important today than ever before. To help us further understand why public speaking is important, we will first examine public speaking in everyday life. We will then discuss how public speaking can benefit you personally.

Everyday Public Speaking

Every single day people across the United States and around the world stand up in front of some kind of audience and speak. In fact, there’s even a monthly publication that reproduces some of the top speeches from around the United States called Vital Speeches of the Day ( http://www.vsotd.com ). Although public speeches are of various types, they can generally be grouped into three categories based on their intended purpose: informative, persuasive, and entertaining.

Informative Speaking

One of the most common types of public speaking is informative speaking . The primary purpose of informative presentations is to share one’s knowledge of a subject with an audience. Reasons for making an informative speech vary widely. For example, you might be asked to instruct a group of coworkers on how to use new computer software or to report to a group of managers how your latest project is coming along. A local community group might wish to hear about your volunteer activities in New Orleans during spring break, or your classmates may want you to share your expertise on Mediterranean cooking. What all these examples have in common is the goal of imparting information to an audience.

Informative speaking is integrated into many different occupations. Physicians often lecture about their areas of expertise to medical students, other physicians, and patients. Teachers find themselves presenting to parents as well as to their students. Firefighters give demonstrations about how to effectively control a fire in the house. Informative speaking is a common part of numerous jobs and other everyday activities. As a result, learning how to speak effectively has become an essential skill in today’s world.

Persuasive Speaking

A second common reason for speaking to an audience is to persuade others. In our everyday lives, we are often called on to convince, motivate, or otherwise persuade others to change their beliefs, take an action, or reconsider a decision. Advocating for music education in your local school district, convincing clients to purchase your company’s products, or inspiring high school students to attend college all involve influencing other people through public speaking.

For some people, such as elected officials, giving persuasive speeches is a crucial part of attaining and continuing career success. Other people make careers out of speaking to groups of people who pay to listen to them. Motivational authors and speakers, such as Les Brown ( http://www.lesbrown.com ), make millions of dollars each year from people who want to be motivated to do better in their lives. Brian Tracy, another professional speaker and author, specializes in helping business leaders become more productive and effective in the workplace ( http://www.briantracy.com ).

Whether public speaking is something you do every day or just a few times a year, persuading others is a challenging task. If you develop the skill to persuade effectively, it can be personally and professionally rewarding.

Entertaining Speaking

Entertaining speaking involves an array of speaking occasions ranging from introductions to wedding toasts, to presenting and accepting awards, to delivering eulogies at funerals and memorial services in addition to after-dinner speeches and motivational speeches. Entertaining speaking has been important since the time of the ancient Greeks, when Aristotle identified epideictic speaking (speaking in a ceremonial context) as an important type of address. As with persuasive and informative speaking, there are professionals, from religious leaders to comedians, who make a living simply from delivering entertaining speeches. As anyone who has watched an awards show on television or has seen an incoherent best man deliver a wedding toast can attest, speaking to entertain is a task that requires preparation and practice to be effective.

Personal Benefits of Public Speaking

Oral communication skills were the number one skill that college graduates found useful in the business world, according to a study by sociologist Andrew Zekeri (Zekeri, 2004). That fact alone makes learning about public speaking worthwhile. However, there are many other benefits of communicating effectively for the hundreds of thousands of college students every year who take public speaking courses. Let’s take a look at some of the personal benefits you’ll get both from a course in public speaking and from giving public speeches.

Benefits of Public Speaking Courses

In addition to learning the process of creating and delivering an effective speech, students of public speaking leave the class with a number of other benefits as well. Some of these benefits include

  • developing critical thinking skills,
  • fine-tuning verbal and nonverbal skills,
  • overcoming fear of public speaking.

Developing Critical Thinking Skills

One of the very first benefits you will gain from your public speaking course is an increased ability to think critically. Problem solving is one of many critical thinking skills you will engage in during this course. For example, when preparing a persuasive speech, you’ll have to think through real problems affecting your campus, community, or the world and provide possible solutions to those problems. You’ll also have to think about the positive and negative consequences of your solutions and then communicate your ideas to others. At first, it may seem easy to come up with solutions for a campus problem such as a shortage of parking spaces: just build more spaces. But after thinking and researching further you may find out that building costs, environmental impact from loss of green space, maintenance needs, or limited locations for additional spaces make this solution impractical. Being able to think through problems and analyze the potential costs and benefits of solutions is an essential part of critical thinking and of public speaking aimed at persuading others. These skills will help you not only in public speaking contexts but throughout your life as well. As we stated earlier, college graduates in Zekeri’s study rated oral communication skills as the most useful for success in the business world. The second most valuable skill they reported was problem-solving ability, so your public speaking course is doubly valuable!

Another benefit to public speaking is that it will enhance your ability to conduct and analyze research. Public speakers must provide credible evidence within their speeches if they are going to persuade various audiences. So your public speaking course will further refine your ability to find and utilize a range of sources.

Fine-Tuning Verbal and Nonverbal Skills

A second benefit of taking a public speaking course is that it will help you fine-tune your verbal and nonverbal communication skills. Whether you competed in public speaking in high school or this is your first time speaking in front of an audience, having the opportunity to actively practice communication skills and receive professional feedback will help you become a better overall communicator. Often, people don’t even realize that they twirl their hair or repeatedly mispronounce words while speaking in public settings until they receive feedback from a teacher during a public speaking course. People around the United States will often pay speech coaches over one hundred dollars per hour to help them enhance their speaking skills. You have a built-in speech coach right in your classroom, so it is to your advantage to use the opportunity to improve your verbal and nonverbal communication skills.

Overcoming Fear of Public Speaking

An additional benefit of taking a public speaking class is that it will help reduce your fear of public speaking. Whether they’ve spoken in public a lot or are just getting started, most people experience some anxiety when engaging in public speaking. Heidi Rose and Andrew Rancer evaluated students’ levels of public speaking anxiety during both the first and last weeks of their public speaking class and found that those levels decreased over the course of the semester (Rose & Rancer, 1993). One explanation is that people often have little exposure to public speaking. By taking a course in public speaking, students become better acquainted with the public speaking process, making them more confident and less apprehensive. In addition, you will learn specific strategies for overcoming the challenges of speech anxiety. We will discuss this topic in greater detail in Chapter 3 “Speaking Confidently” .

Benefits of Engaging in Public Speaking

Once you’ve learned the basic skills associated with public speaking, you’ll find that being able to effectively speak in public has profound benefits, including

  • influencing the world around you,
  • developing leadership skills,
  • becoming a thought leader.

Influencing the World around You

If you don’t like something about your local government, then speak out about your issue! One of the best ways to get our society to change is through the power of speech. Common citizens in the United States and around the world, like you, are influencing the world in real ways through the power of speech. Just type the words “citizens speak out” in a search engine and you’ll find numerous examples of how common citizens use the power of speech to make real changes in the world—for example, by speaking out against “fracking” for natural gas (a process in which chemicals are injected into rocks in an attempt to open them up for fast flow of natural gas or oil) or in favor of retaining a popular local sheriff. One of the amazing parts of being a citizen in a democracy is the right to stand up and speak out, which is a luxury many people in the world do not have. So if you don’t like something, be the force of change you’re looking for through the power of speech.

Developing Leadership Skills

Have you ever thought about climbing the corporate ladder and eventually finding yourself in a management or other leadership position? If so, then public speaking skills are very important. Hackman and Johnson assert that effective public speaking skills are a necessity for all leaders (Hackman & Johnson, 2004). If you want people to follow you, you have to communicate effectively and clearly what followers should do. According to Bender, “Powerful leadership comes from knowing what matters to you. Powerful presentations come from expressing this effectively. It’s important to develop both” (Bender, 1998). One of the most important skills for leaders to develop is their public speaking skills, which is why executives spend millions of dollars every year going to public speaking workshops; hiring public speaking coaches; and buying public speaking books, CDs, and DVDs.

Becoming a Thought Leader

Even if you are not in an official leadership position, effective public speaking can help you become a “ thought leader .” Joel Kurtzman, editor of Strategy & Business , coined this term to call attention to individuals who contribute new ideas to the world of business. According to business consultant Ken Lizotte, “when your colleagues, prospects, and customers view you as one very smart guy or gal to know, then you’re a thought leader” (Lizotte, 2008). Typically, thought leaders engage in a range of behaviors, including enacting and conducting research on business practices. To achieve thought leader status, individuals must communicate their ideas to others through both writing and public speaking. Lizotte demonstrates how becoming a thought leader can be personally and financially rewarding at the same time: when others look to you as a thought leader, you will be more desired and make more money as a result. Business gurus often refer to “intellectual capital,” or the combination of your knowledge and ability to communicate that knowledge to others (Lizotte, 2008). Whether standing before a group of executives discussing the next great trend in business or delivering a webinar (a seminar over the web), thought leaders use public speaking every day to create the future that the rest of us live in.

Key Takeaways

  • People have many reasons for engaging in public speaking, but the skills necessary for public speaking are applicable whether someone is speaking for informative, persuasive, or entertainment reasons.
  • Taking a public speaking class will improve your speaking skills, help you be a more critical thinker, fine-tune your verbal and nonverbal communication skills, and help you overcome public speaking anxiety.
  • Effective public speaking skills have many direct benefits for the individual speaker, including influencing the world around you, developing leadership skills, and becoming a go-to person for ideas and solutions.
  • Talk to people who are currently working in the career you hope to pursue. Of the three types of public speaking discussed in the text, which do they use most commonly use in their work?
  • Read one of the free speeches available at http://www.vsotd.com . What do you think the speaker was trying to accomplish? What was her or his reason for speaking?
  • Which personal benefit are you most interested in receiving from a public speaking class? Why?

Bender, P. U. (1998). Stand, deliver and lead. Ivey Business Journal , 62 (3), 46–47.

Edmund, N. W. (2005). End the biggest educational and intellectual blunder in history: A $100,000 challenge to our top educational leaders . Ft. Lauderdale, FL: Scientific Method Publishing Co.

Hackman, M. Z., & Johnson, C. E. (2004). Leadership: A communication perspective (4th ed.). Long Grove, IL: Waveland.

Lizotte, K. (2008). The expert’s edge: Become the go-to authority people turn to every time [Kindle 2 version]. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill. Retrieved from Amazon.com (locations 72–78).

Rose, H. M., & Rancer, A. S. (1993). The impact of basic courses in oral interpretation and public speaking on communication apprehension. Communication Reports , 6 , 54–60.

Zekeri, A. A. (2004). College curriculum competencies and skills former students found essential to their careers. College Student Journal , 38 , 412–422.

Stand up, Speak out Copyright © 2016 by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Chapter 18: Persuasive Speaking

This chapter is adapted from Chapter 17 of Stand up, Speak out: The Practice and Ethics of Public Speaking ,  CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 and Chapter 13 of Exploring Public Speaking: 4th Edition , by Kristin Barton, Amy Burger, Jerry Drye, Cathy Hunsicker, Amy Mendes and Matthew LeHew, licensed  CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

What are the theories of Persuasion?

Persuasion Introduced: Theories of Persuasion

what is a persuasive speech in public speaking

Persuasion Today

In his text, The Dynamics of Persuasion: Communication and Attitudes in the 21st Century, Richard Perloff notes that studying persuasion today is extremely important for five basic reasons:

  • Persuasive communications have grown exponentially in sheer numbers.
  • Persuasive messages travel faster than ever before.
  • Persuasion has become institutionalized.
  • Persuasive communication has become more subtle and devious.
  • Persuasive communication is more complex than ever before (Perloff, 2003).

In essence, persuasive communication’s nature has changed over the last fifty years due to the influx of various technology types. People are bombarded by persuasive messages in today’s world, so thinking about how to create persuasive messages effectively is very important for modern public speakers. A century, or even half a century ago, public speakers contended only with printed words on paper for attracting and holding an audience’s attention. Today, public speakers must contend with laptops, netbooks, iPads, smartphones, smartboards, television sets, and many other tools to send various persuasive messages immediately to a target audience.

Defining Persuasion

Persuasion is an attempt to get a person to behave in a manner or to embrace a viewpoint related to values, attitudes, and beliefs that he or she would not do otherwise. If you think this describes your informative speech, you are partially right. Think of it like this: information + persuasion = change.

Change a View Point: Attitudes, Values, and Beliefs

The first persuasive public speaking type involves changing someone’s attitudes, values, and beliefs. An attitude is defined as an individual’s general predisposition toward something as being good or bad, right or wrong, or negative or positive. Maybe you believe that local curfew laws for people under twenty-one are a bad idea, so you want to persuade others to adopt a negative attitude toward such laws.

You can also attempt to persuade individuals to change their value toward something. Value refers to an individual’s perception of something’s usefulness, importance, or worth. We can value a college education or technology or freedom. Values, as a general concept, are fairly ambiguous and tend to be very lofty ideas. Ultimately, what we value in life actually motivates us to engage in various behaviors. For example, if you value technology, you are more likely to seek out new technology or software on your own. On the contrary, if you do not value technology, you are less likely to seek out new technology or software unless someone or some circumstance requires you to.

Lastly, you can attempt to persuade people to change their personal beliefs. Beliefs are propositions or positions that an individual holds as true or false without positive knowledge or proof. Typically, beliefs are divided into two basic categories: core and dispositional. Core beliefs are beliefs that people have actively engaged in and created throughout their lives, for example, a belief in a higher power or a belief in extraterrestrial life forms. Dispositional beliefs , on the other hand, are beliefs that people have not actively engaged in and created, but rather judgments that they make based on their related subject knowledge when they encounter a proposition. For example, imagine that you are asked the question, “Can stock cars reach speeds of one thousand miles per hour on a one-mile oval track?” Even though you may never have attended a stock car race or even seen one on television, you can make split-second judgments about your automobile-speed understanding and say fairly certainly that you believe stock cars cannot travel at one thousand miles per hour on a one-mile track.

When it comes to persuading people to alter core and dispositional beliefs, persuading audiences to change core beliefs is more difficult than persuading them to change dispositional beliefs. For this reason, you are very unlikely to persuade people to change their deeply held core beliefs about a topic in a five- to seven-minute speech. However, if you give a persuasive speech on a topic related to an audience’s dispositional belief, you may have better success. While core beliefs may seem to be exciting and interesting, persuasive topics related to dispositional beliefs are generally better for novice speakers with limited time allotments.

Change Behavior

The second type of persuasive speech is one in which the speaker attempts to persuade an audience to change their behavior. Behaviors come in various forms, so finding one you think people should start, increase, or decrease shouldn’t be difficult at all. Speeches encouraging audiences to vote for a candidate, sign a petition opposing a tuition increase, or drink tap water instead of bottled water are all behavior-oriented persuasive speeches. In all these cases, the goal is to change an individual listener’s behavior.

Persuasion Theories

Understanding how people are persuaded is very important to a public speaking discussion. Thankfully, many researchers have created theories that help explain why people are persuaded. While there are numerous theories, we are only going to examine three: social judgment theory, cognitive dissonance theory, and the elaboration likelihood model.

Social Judgment Theory

Social judgment theory asks that you think of persuasion as a continuum or line going both directions. Your audience members, either as a group or individually, are sitting somewhere on that line in reference to your thesis statement—your proposition . Also, the word “claim” is used for a proposition or thesis statement in a persuasive speech because you are claiming an idea is true or an action is valuable, which the audience may not find true or acceptable. To be an effective persuasive speaker, after determining your topic, determine where your audience “sits” on the continuum.

Muzafer Sherif and Carl Hovland created social judgment theory to determine what message types and under what conditions communicated messages lead to changing someone’s behavior (Sherif & Hovland, 1961). In essence, they found that people’s perceptions of attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors exist on a continuum that they call latitude of rejection, latitude of noncommitment, and latitude of acceptance (Figure 17.2 “Latitudes of Judgments”).

A line with three sections, Latitude of Rejection, Latitude of Noncommitment, and Latitude of Acceptance.

Sherif and Hovland theorized that persuasion is a matter of knowing how great the discrepancy or difference is between the speaker and the audience’s viewpoint. If the speaker’s viewpoint is similar to audience members’ viewpoint, then persuasion is more likely. If the discrepancy between the two is too great, then persuasion decreases dramatically.

To describe this theory in more detail, imagine that you plan to persuade your peers to major in a foreign language. Some peers will disagree with you right off the bat, which is latitude of rejection, part (a). Other peers will think majoring in a foreign language is a great idea: latitude of acceptance, part (c). Still others will have no opinion either way: latitude of noncommitment, part (b). Now, in each latitude there is a range of possibilities. For example, one listener may accept the idea of minoring in a foreign language, but when asked to major or even double major in a foreign language, he or she ends up in the latitude of noncommitment or even rejection.

Persuasive messages are the most likely to succeed when they fall into an individual’s latitude of acceptance. For example, people who are in favor of majoring in a foreign language are more likely to positively evaluate your message, assimilate your advice into their own ideas, and engage in desired behavior. On the other hand, people who reject your message are more likely to negatively evaluate your message, not assimilate your advice, and not engage in desired behavior.

We often find ourselves in situations where we are trying to persuade others to change attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors with which they may not agree, so think about the range that exists. For example, in our foreign language case, see the following possible opinions from the audience’s perspective:

  • Complete agreement: Let’s all major in foreign languages.
  • Strong agreement: I will major in a foreign language; I will double major in a foreign language.
  • Agreement in part: I won’t major in a foreign language, but I will minor in a foreign language.
  • Neutral: While I think studying a foreign language can be worthwhile, I also think a college education can be complete without it. I really don’t feel strongly one way or the other.
  • Disagreement in part: I will only take the foreign language classes required by my major.
  • Strong disagreement: I don’t think I should have to take any foreign language classes.
  • Complete disagreement: Majoring in a foreign language is a complete waste of a college education.

These seven possible opinions on the subject do not represent the full spectrum of choices, but give us various degrees of agreement with the general topic.

Sherif and Hovland theorized that persuasion was a matter of knowing how great the discrepancy or difference was between the speaker’s viewpoint and that of the audience. If the speaker’s point of view was similar to that of audience members, then persuasion was more likely. If the discrepancy between the idea proposed by the speaker and the audience’s viewpoint is too great, then the likelihood of persuasion decreases dramatically.

A graph with Attitude Change on the vertical axis and Discrepancy on the horizontal axis. The curve starts at the origin and curves up until a peak in the middle of discrepancy and then comes back down.

Sherif and Hovland also suggest that there is a threshold for most people where attitude change isn’t possible. These people slip from the latitude of acceptance into the latitude of noncommitment or rejection. The “Discrepancy and Attitude Change” graph represents this process. The area covered by the curve’s left side represents options a person agrees with, even if there is an initial discrepancy between the speaker and audience member at the speech’s start. However, there comes a point where the discrepancy between the speaker and audience member becomes too large, which moves into the options that the audience member automatically rejects. In essence, it’s essential for you to know with which options you can realistically persuade your audience and which options will never happen. Maybe there is no way for you to persuade your audience to major or double major in a foreign language, but perhaps you can get them to minor in a foreign language. While you may not be achieving your complete end-goal, it’s better than getting nowhere at all. This is called baby steps —we want to bring the audience as close as we can to our persuasive goal without moving them into the disagree category.

Those who disagree with your proposition but are willing to listen are called the target audience. These are the audience members you want to target to persuade. At the same time, another audience cluster are those who are extremely opposed to your position to the point that they probably will not give you a fair hearing. Finally, some audience members may already agree with you, although they don’t know why.

Cognitive Dissonance Theory

Why is persuasion hard? Persuasion is hard mainly because we have a bias against change. As much as we hear statements such as, “The only constant is change” or “Variety is the spice of life,” research evidence shows that in reality, people do not like change. For example, recent risk-aversion research points to how we are more concerned about not losing something than about gaining something. Change is often seen as a loss rather than a gain, or a gamble, or a step into the unknown (Vedantam & Greene, 2013).

Additionally, psychologists point to how we protect our beliefs, attitudes, and values by selectively exposing ourselves to messages that we already agree with, rather than those that confront or challenge us. This selective exposure is especially evident in an individual’s mass media choices, such as which TV, radio, podcast, or Internet sites they chose to listen to and read. Not only do we selectively expose ourselves to information, we selectively attend to, perceive, and recall information that supports our existing viewpoints. These behaviors are referred to as selective attention, selective perception, and selective recall.

Cognitive Dissonance Theory arose from the selective exposure notion. In 1957, Leon Festinger proposed a theory for understanding how persuasion functions, called cognitive dissonance theory (Festinger, 1957). Cognitive dissonance is an aversive motivational state that occurs when an individual entertains two or more contradictory attitudes, values, beliefs, or behaviors simultaneously. For example, maybe you know you should be working on your speech, but you really want to go to a movie with a friend. In this case, practicing your speech and going to the movie are two cognitions that are inconsistent with one another. To successfully persuade your audience, you must induce enough cognitive dissonance in listeners so that they will change their attitudes, values, beliefs, or behaviors.

For cognitive dissonance to work effectively there are three necessary conditions: aversive consequences, freedom of choice, and insufficient external justification (Frymier & Nadler, 2007). Aversive consequence means there is strong enough punishment for not changing one’s attitudes, values, beliefs, or behaviors. For example, you give a speech on why people need to eat more apples. If your aversive consequence for not eating apples is that your audience will not get enough fiber, most people will simply not be persuaded because the punishment isn’t severe enough. Instead, the punishment associated with not eating apples needs to be significant enough to change their behavior. If you convince your audience that without enough fiber in their diets they are at higher risk for heart disease or colon cancer, they might fear the aversive consequences enough to change their behavior.

Freedom of choice, the second condition necessary for cognitive dissonance to work, means that people must feel they have the freedom to make their own choice. If listeners feel they are being coerced into doing something, then dissonance will not be aroused. They may alter their behavior in the short term, but as soon as the coercion is gone, the original behavior will reemerge. It’s like the person who drives more slowly when a police officer is nearby but ignores speed limits once officers are no longer present. As a speaker, if you want to increase cognitive dissonance, make sure that your audience doesn’t feel coerced or manipulated, but rather that they can clearly see that they have a choice to be persuaded.

External and internal justifications are the final condition necessary for cognitive dissonance to work. External justification refers to identifying reasons outside of one’s own control to support one’s behavior, beliefs, and attitudes. Internal justification refers to someone voluntarily changing a behavior, belief, or attitude to reduce cognitive dissonance. When it comes to creating change through persuasion, external justifications are less likely to produce change than internal justifications (Festinger & Carlsmith, 1959).

For example, you give a speech with the specific purpose to persuade college students to use condoms whenever they engage in sexual intercourse. Your anonymous survey audience analysis indicates that many listeners do not consistently use condoms. Which is the more persuasive argument: (a) “Failure to use condoms inevitably results in unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including AIDS,”or (b) “If you think of yourself as a responsible adult, you’ll use condoms to protect yourself and your partner”? With the first argument, you have provided external justification for using condoms, such as the terrible things that will happen if you don’t use condoms. Listeners who reject this external justification because they don’t believe these dire consequences are inevitable are unlikely to change their behavior. With the second argument, however, if your listeners think of themselves as responsible adults, and they don’t consistently use condoms, the conflict between their self-image and their behavior elicits cognitive dissonance . To reduce this cognitive dissonance, they are likely to seek internal justification because they want to view themselves as responsible adults and change their behavior by using condoms more consistently. In this case, according to cognitive dissonance theory, the second persuasive argument—internal justification—is the one more likely to lead to a behavior change.

Elaboration Likelihood Model

The elaboration likelihood model, created by Petty and Cacioppo (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986), is the last of the three persuasion theories discussed here. The basic model has a continuum from high elaboration or thought to low elaboration or thought. Petty and Cacioppo refer to the term elaboration as the amount of thought or cognitive energy someone uses to analyze a message’s content. High elaboration uses the central route and is designed for analyzing a message’s content. As such, when people truly analyze a message, they use cognitive energy to examine the arguments set forth within the message. In an ideal world, everyone processes information through this central route and actually analyzes arguments presented to them. Unfortunately, many people often use the peripheral route when processing persuasive messages, which results in low elaboration or thought. Low elaboration occurs when people attend to messages but do not analyze the message or use cognitive energy to ascertain the message’s arguments.

For persuasion researchers, the question then becomes how do people select one route or the other when attending to persuasive messages? Petty and Cacioppo noted that there are two basic factors that determine whether someone centrally processes a persuasive message: ability and motivation. Ability means that audience members must be able to process the persuasive message. If the language or message is too complicated, then people will not highly elaborate on it because they will not understand the persuasive message. Motivation , on the other hand, refers to whether the audience member chooses to elaborate on the message.

Frymier and Nadler discussed five basic factors that can lead to high elaboration: personal relevance and personal involvement, accountability, personal responsibility, incongruent information, and need for cognition (Frymier & Nadler, 2007).

Personal Relevance and Personal Involvement

Personal relevance and personal involvement are the first reason people are motivated to take the central route or to use high elaboration when listening to a persuasive message. Personal relevance refers to whether the audience member feels that he or she is actually directly affected by the speech topic. For example, if someone is listening to a speech on why cigarette smoking is harmful, and that listener has never smoked cigarettes, he or she may think the speech topic simply isn’t relevant. Obviously, as a speaker, always think about how your topic is relevant to your listeners and make sure to drive this home throughout your speech. Personal involvement, on the other hand, asks whether the individual is actively engaged with the issue at hand. For example, does the listener send letters of support, give speeches on the topic, have a bumper sticker, and so forth. If an audience member is an advocate who is constantly denouncing tobacco companies for their harm to society, then he or she is highly involved and engages in high elaboration during a persuasive speech about cigarette smoking’s harmfulness.

Accountability

Accountability, the second condition under which people are likely to process information using the central route, occurs when they feel that they will be held accountable for the information after the fact. With accountability, there is the perception that someone or a group of people will be watching to see if the receiver remembers the information later on. We’ve all witnessed this phenomenon when one student asks the question, “Will this be on the test?” If the teacher says, “No,” you can almost immediately see students’ eyes glaze over as they tune out the information. As a speaker, it’s often hard to hold your audience accountable for the information given within a speech.

Personal Responsibility

Personal responsibility refers to when people feel that they are going to be held responsible for evaluating a message or for a message’s outcome. If this is the case, and if there is not a clear external accounting involved, listeners are more likely to critically think through the message using the central route. For example, you’ve been asked to evaluate your public speaking peers. Research shows that if only one or two students are asked to evaluate any one speaker at a time, the speaker evaluations are better quality than if everyone in the class is asked to evaluate every speaker. When people feel that their evaluation is important, they take more responsibility and are more critical of the message.

Incongruent Information

Incongruent information refers to how people are motivated to centrally process information when it does not adhere to their own ideas. For example, you’re a highly progressive liberal, and one of your peers delivers a speech on the Tea Party movement’s importance in American politics. The information presented during the speech will most likely be in direct contrast to your personal ideology, which causes incongruence because the Tea Party ideology is opposed to a progressive liberal ideology. As such, you are more likely to pay attention to the speech, specifically looking for flaws in the speaker’s argument.

Need-for-Cognition

Need-for-cognition refers to some people who centrally process information because of a personality characteristic. Need-for-cognition refers to a personality trait characterized by an individual’s internal drive or need to engage in critical thinking and information processing. People who are high in need-for-cognition simply enjoy thinking about complex ideas and issues. Even if the idea or issue being presented has no personal relevance, high need-for-cognition people are more likely to process information using the central route.

What are the types of persuasive claims?

what is a persuasive speech in public speaking

Obviously, there are many different, interesting persuasive claims or speech topics to select for a public speaking class. For instance, to change a specific college or university policy, or to increase U.S. enforcement against trafficking women and children. Notice in the first sentence that we used the word claims to refer to speech topics. This is because when we attempt to persuade others, we are making a claim, and we use evidence and logic to support our claim. Below, we discuss three common claim types used to persuade: factual claims, policy claims, and value claims.

Factual Claims

Factual claims set out to argue an assertion’s truth or falsity. Some factual claims are simple to answer: Barack Obama is the first African American President; Robert Wadlow, the tallest man in the world, was eight feet and eleven inches tall; Facebook wasn’t profitable until 2009. All these factual claims are well documented by evidence and can be easily supported with a little research.

However, many factual claims cannot be answered absolutely. For some factual claims it is hard to determine whether they are true or false because the final answer on the subject has not yet been discovered. For example, when is censorship good? What rights should animals have? When does life begin? Probably the most historically interesting and consistent factual claim is whether a higher power, God, or other religious deity exists. The issue is that there is not enough evidence to clearly answer this factual claim in any specific direction, which is where the concept of faith must be involved.

Predictions, which may or may not happen, are other factual claims that may not be easily answered using evidence. For example, you give a speech on climate change’s future or U.S. terrorism’s future. While there may be evidence that something possibly will happen in the future, unless you’re a psychic, you don’t actually know.

When thinking about factual claims, pretend that you’re putting a specific claim on trial, and as the speaker, your job is to defend your claim as a lawyer would defend a client. Ultimately, your job is to be more persuasive than your audience members, who act as both opposition attorneys and judges.

Policy Claims

Policy claims make a statement about a problem and offer the solution to implement. Policy claims are probably the most common persuasive speaking form because we live in a society surrounded by problems and people who have ideas about how to fix these problems. Let’s look at a few possible policy claims examples:

  • The United States should end capital punishment.
  • Human cloning for organ donations should be legal.
  • Nonviolent drug offenders should be sent to rehabilitation centers and not prisons.
  • The United States needs to invest more in preventing poverty at home and less in feeding starving people around the world.

Each policy claim has a clear perspective for which to advocate: they always present a clear and direct opinion about what should occur and what needs to change. When presenting policy claims, there are two different persuasive goals to examine: to gain passive agreement and to gain immediate action.

To Gain Passive Agreement

To gain passive agreement means to persuade your audience to agree with what you are saying about a specific policy without asking them to do anything to enact the policy. For example, you speak on why the Federal Communications Commission should regulate violence on television like it does foul language, and you advocate for no violence on TV until after 9 pm. Your goal is to get your audience to agree that it is in our best interest as a society to prevent violence from being shown on television before 9 pm, but, you are not seeking to have your audience run out and call their senators or congressmen or even sign a petition. Often, the first step in larger political change is simply getting a massive number of people to agree with your policy perspective.

Let’s look at a few more passive agreement claims:

  • Racially profiling individuals suspected of belonging to known terrorist groups is a way to make America safer.
  • Colleges and universities should voluntarily implement a standardized testing program to ensure student learning outcomes are similar across different institutions.

In each of these claims, the goal is to sway one’s audience to a specific attitude, value, or belief, but not necessarily to get the audience to enact any specific behaviors.

To Gain Immediate Action

To gain immediate action means to persuade your audience to start engaging in a specific behavior. This is the alternative to gain passive agreement. Many passive agreement topics can become immediate action-oriented topics as soon as you tell your audience what behavior to engage in, such as to sign a petition, to call a senator, or to vote. While it is much easier to gain passive agreement than to get people to do something, always try to get your audience to act and do so quickly. A common mistake that speakers make is telling people to enact a behavior that will occur in the future. The longer it takes for people to engage in the action you desire, the less likely it is that your audience will engage in that behavior.

Here are some examples of good claims with immediate calls-to-action:

  • College students should eat more fruit, so I am encouraging everyone to eat the apple I have provided you and start getting more fruit in your diet.
  • Teaching a child to read is one way to ensure that the next generation will be more literate than those who have come before us, so please sign up right now to volunteer one hour a week to help teach a child to read.

Each example starts with a basic claim and then tags on an immediate call-to-action. Remember, the faster you can get people to engage in a behavior, the more likely they actually will.

Value Claims

Value claims advocate making a judgment about something. For example, it’s good or bad, it’s right or wrong, it’s beautiful or ugly, moral or immoral. Let’s look at three value claims. We’ve italicized the evaluative term in each claim:

  • Dating people on the Internet is an immoral dating practice.
  • It’s unfair for pregnant women to have special parking spaces at malls, shopping centers, and stores.

Each value claim could be made by a speaker, and other speakers could say the exact opposite. When making a value claim, it’s hard to ascertain why someone has chosen a specific value stance without understanding her or his criteria for making the evaluative statement. For example, if someone finds all forms of technology immoral, then it’s really no surprise that he or she would find Internet dating immoral as well. As such, you must clearly explain your criteria for making the evaluative statement. Ultimately, when making a value claim, make sure that you clearly label your evaluative term and provide clear criteria for how you came to your evaluation.

What is reasoning and what are errors in reasoning?

Recall that in previous chapters, we discussed the three rhetorical appeals known as ethos, pathos, and logos. In this chapter, we discuss the second part of logos, or logical argument, which includes using critical thinking to fashion and evaluate persuasive appeals. When giving a persuasive speech, in addition to providing fresh evidence, present your audience with a logical speech and arguments that they understand and to which they can relate. Logos involves composing a speech that is logically structured and easy-to-follow. Logos also involves using correct logical reasoning and avoids using fallacious reasoning, or logical fallacies.

First, let’s start by thinking about critical thinking , which is a term with many meanings. One meaning is the traditional ability to use formal logic. To do so, you must first understand the two reasoning types: inductive reasoning and deductive reasoning.

Inductive and Deductive Reasoning

Inductive reasoning.

Inductive reasoning, also called induction, is probably the reasoning form we use more regularly. Induction is sometimes referred to as “reasoning from example or specific instance,” and indeed, that is a good description. Induction is also referred to as “bottom-up” thinking. And inductive reasoning is sometimes called “the scientific method.” Inductive reasoning happens when we look around at various happenings, objects, behavior, etc., and see patterns. From those patterns, we develop conclusions.

There are four inductive reasoning types that we discuss below: generalization, causal reasoning, sign reasoning, and analogical reasoning. Each is based on different evidence and logical moves or jumps.

Generalization is a form of inductive reasoning that draws conclusions based on recurring patterns or repeated observations. One must observe multiple instances and find common qualities or behaviors and then make a broad or universal statement about them. For example: if every dog I see chases squirrels, then I would probably generalize that all dogs chase squirrels. Another example: if you are a coffee drinker, you might hear news reports about coffee being bad for your health, and then six months later, another study shows that coffee has positive health effects. Scientific studies are often repeated or conducted in different ways to obtain more and better evidence and to make updated conclusions. Consequently, the way to disprove inductive reasoning is to provide contradictory evidence or examples.

Causal Reasoning seeks to make cause-effect connections instead of looking for patterns the way generalization does. Causal reasoning is a form of inductive reasoning, and we use it all the time without even thinking about it. For example: if the street is wet in the morning, you know that it rained based on past experience. Of course, there could be another cause—the city decided to wash the streets early that morning—but your first conclusion would be rain. Sign Reasoning is a form of inductive reasoning in which conclusions are drawn about phenomena based on events that precede or co-exist with, but not cause, a subsequent event. Signs are like the correlation mentioned above under causal reasoning. For example: someone argues, “In the summer, more people eat ice cream. And in the summer, there is statistically more crime. Therefore, eating more ice cream causes more crime!” Or, “More crime makes people eat more ice cream.” That, of course, would be silly. Ice cream and crime are two things that happen at the same time—signs—but they are effects of something else—hot weather. If we see one sign, we will see the other. Either way, they are signs or perhaps two different things that just happen to be occurring at the same time, but not causes.

Analogical Reasoning involves comparison. For it to be valid, the two things being compared—schools, states, countries, businesses—must be essentially truly alike in many important ways. For example, although Harvard University and your college are both higher education institutions, they are not essentially alike in very many ways. They may have different missions, histories, governance, surrounding locations, sizes, clientele, stakeholders, funding sources, funding amounts, etc. So, it is foolish to argue, “Harvard has a law school; therefore, since we are both colleges, my college should have a law school, too.” On the other hand, there are colleges that are very similar to your college in all those ways, so comparisons could be valid in those cases.

A popular argument structure that comes from informal logic or inductive reasoning is the Toulmin Model.

For more information see the Toulmin Argument from the OWL at Purdue.

Deductive reasoning, or deduction, is a reasoning type in which a conclusion is based on the combination of multiple premises that are generally assumed to be true. It has been referred to as “reasoning from principle,” which is a good description. It can also be called “top-down” reasoning. First, formal deductive reasoning employs the syllogism, which is a three-sentence argument composed of a major premise—a generalization or principle that is accepted as true; a minor premise—an example of the major premise; and a conclusion. This conclusion has to be true if the major and minor premise are true.

For example: All men are mortal.

  • Major premise: something everyone already agrees on. Socrates is a man.
  • Minor premise: an example taken from the major premise. Socrates is mortal.
  • Conclusion: the only conclusion that can be drawn from the first two sentences. All men are mortal.

In this reasoning type, see how easy it is to create a reasoning error. Look at the following example, and pick out the reasoning error or logical fallacy.

  • Major Premise: Nobody’s perfect.
  • Minor Premise: I’m nobody.
  • Conclusion: I’m perfect.

Deductive reasoning helps us go from known to unknown and can lead to reliable conclusions if the premises and the method are correct. It has been around since the ancient Greeks. It is not the flipside of inductive but a separate logic method. While enthymemes—an argument in which one premise is not explicitly stated—are not always errors, listen carefully to arguments that use them to be sure that something incorrect is not being assumed or presented.

Reasoning Errors: Logical Fallacies

Logical fallacies are reasoning mistakes, which happen when you get one of the formulas wrong, such as inductive or deductive. There are actually dozens upon dozens of fallacies. To achieve a logical speech, avoid logical fallacies. The Owl at Purdue offers explanations of some of the most common ones to know to avoid poor speech logic and to become a better critical thinker.

Logical Fallacies – The Owl at Purdue

As you know now, it is a good idea to understand logical fallacies so that you don’t use them in your own persuasive speech and so that you become a better critical information consumer when someone is trying to persuade you!

Adapted from “Chapter 14: Logical Reasoning,” by Tucker, B., Barton, K., Burger, A., Drye, J., Hunsicker, C., Mendes, A., & LeHew, M., In Exploring Public Speaking (4th ed., pp. 286–304). 2019, Communication Open Textbooks. Creative Commons.

Barton, K., Tucker, B.G. (2016). Exploring Public Speaking 4th Edition . University System of Georgia. https://oer.galileo.usg.edu/communication-textbooks/1/ . CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

University of Minnesota. (2011). Stand up, Speak out: The Practice and Ethics of Public Speaking . University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing. https://open.lib.umn.edu/publicspeaking/ . CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

Media References

Burns Library, Boston College. (2020, October 16). Maya Angelou [Image]. Le Sabre. https://thelesabre.com/49508/uncategorized/maya-angelou/

Unknown. (2011). Discrepancy and attitude change [Image]. University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing, University of Minnesota. https://open.lib.umn.edu/publicspeaking/chapter/17-1-persuasion-an-overview/

Unknown. (2011). Latitudes of judgments diagram [Image]. University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing, University of Minnesota. https://open.lib.umn.edu/publicspeaking/chapter/17-1-persuasion-an-overview/

PBS NewsHour. (2008, September 4). Podium [Image]. Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/newshour/2828110801/

Public Speaking Copyright © 2022 by Sarah Billington and Shirene McKay is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Chapter 14: Persuasive Speaking

Learning Objectives

  • Define persuasion.
  • Define ethos, logos, and pathos.
  • Explain the barriers to persuading an audience.
  • Construct a clear, reasonable proposition for a short classroom speech.
  • Compose an outline for a well-supported persuasive speech using an appropriate organizational pattern such as Monroe’s Motivated Sequence.
  • Analyze the audience to determine appropriate emotional and personal appeals.
  • Cognitive Dissonance
  • Mental Dialogue
  • Monroe’s Motivated Sequence
  • Proposition
  • Selective Exposure
  • Target Audience
  • Two-Tailed Arguments

a psychological phenomenon where people confronted with conflicting information or viewpoints reach a state of dissonance (generally the disagreement between conflicting thoughts and/or actions), which can be very uncomfortable, and results in actions to get rid of the dissonance and maintain consonance

the term Aristotle used to refer to what we now call credibility: the perception that the speaker is honest, knowledgeable, and rightly motivated

logical and organized arguments and the credible evidence to support the arguments within a speech; arguments based on logic

an imagined conversation the speaker has with a given audience in which the speaker tries to anticipate what questions, concerns, or issues the audience may have to the subject under discussion

organizational pattern used for persuasive speeches involving five steps: attention, need, satisfaction, visualization, and action

the use of emotions such as anger, joy, hate, desire for community, and love to persuade the audience of the rightness of a proposition; arguments based on emotion

symbolic process in which communicators try to convince other people to change their attitudes or behavior regarding an issue through the transmission of a message, in an atmosphere of free choice

central idea statement in a persuasive speech; a statement made advancing a judgment or opinion

the decision to expose ourselves to messages that we already agree with, rather than those that confront or challenge us

the members of an audience the speaker most wants to persuade and who are likely to be receptive to persuasive messages

persuasive technique in which a speaker brings up a counter-argument to their own topic and then directly refutes the claim

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COMMENTS

  1. What is Persuasive Speaking?

    Persuasive speeches "intend to influence the beliefs, attitudes, values, and acts of others." [3] Unlike an informative speech, where the speaker is charged with making some information known to an audience, in a persuasive speech the speaker attempts to influence people to think or behave in a particular way. This art of convincing others ...

  2. 11.2 Persuasive Speaking

    Persuasive speaking seeks to influence the beliefs, attitudes, values, or behaviors of audience members. In order to persuade, a speaker has to construct arguments that appeal to audience members. Arguments form around three components: claim, evidence, and warrant. The claim is the statement that will be supported by evidence.

  3. Persuasive Speeches

    Although a persuasive speech involves information—even as much as an informative speech—the key difference is that a persuasive speech is designed for "creating, reinforcing, or changing people's beliefs or actions" (Lucas, 2015. p. 306). A persuasive speech makes something happen. In other words, it performs a job.

  4. Chapter 10: Persuasive Speaking

    Defining Persuasive Speaking. Persuasion is the process of creating, reinforcing, or changing people's beliefs or actions. It is not manipulation, however! The speaker's intention should be clear to the audience in an ethical way and accomplished through the ethical use of methods of persuasion.

  5. Persuasive Speeches

    The three main types of persuasive speeches are factual, value, and policy. A factual persuasive speech focuses solely on factual information to prove the existence or absence of something through substantial proof. This is the only type of persuasive speech that exclusively uses objective information rather than subjective.

  6. Structure of a Persuasive Speech

    Identify characteristic structures of a persuasive speech. In many ways, a persuasive speech is structured like an informative speech. It has an introduction with an attention-getter and a clear thesis statement. It also has a body where the speaker presents their main points and it ends with a conclusion that sums up the main point of the speech.

  7. What Is a Persuasive Speech?

    Persuasion, in other words, is an attempt to make a viewpoint or a behavior agreeable to someone. When your objective as a speaker is to convince your audience to adopt a particular belief or engage in a specific action, you are speaking to persuade. When we persuade, we are acting as advocates and we are encouraging our audience to adopt a ...

  8. Writing a persuasive speech

    Inform the audience about the issue at hand on a fundamental level. Emphasize the importance of the issue at hand. Elaborate on how it affects a person or people in their day to day lives. Personalize the issue. Argue your point but give them a few opinions of the opposing side as well for a balanced argument.

  9. Chapter 17: Persuasive Speaking

    In this chapter, we are going to focus on persuasive speaking. We will first talk about persuasion as a general concept. We will then examine four different types of persuasive speeches, and finally, we'll look at three organizational patterns that are useful for persuasive speeches. Previous: 16.3 Chapter Exercises.

  10. Persuasive Speaking

    When using persuasion in a public speech, the goal is to create, change, or reinforce a belief or action by addressing community problems or controversies. Remember that public speaking is a long-standing type of civic engagement; when we publicly speak, we are participating in democratic deliberation. ... Persuasive speaking means addressing a ...

  11. What Is Persuasive Speech: Meaning, Skills And Examples

    1. Building Credibility. Credibility is the cornerstone of a persuasive speech, representing the trust your audience invests in you as a communicator. Without it, your words may lack impact. To build credibility, authenticity is key; by sharing your genuine thoughts, emotions, and intentions, you establish trust rapidly.

  12. 16.2: What is Persuasive Speaking?

    Persuasive speeches "intend to influence the beliefs, attitudes, values, and acts of others" (O'Hair & Stewart, 1999, p. 337). Unlike an informative speech, where the speaker is charged with making some information known to an audience, in a persuasive speech the speaker attempts to influence people to think or behave in a particular way.

  13. 110 Interesting Persuasive Speech Topics to Impress Your Audience

    Add emotional connections with your audience. Make your argument more powerful by appealing to your audience's sense of nostalgia and common beliefs. Another tactic (which marketers use all the time) is to appeal to your listeners' fears and rely on their instincts for self-preservation. Address counterarguments.

  14. Chapter Sixteen

    When using persuasion in a public speech, the goal is to create, change, or reinforce a belief or action by addressing community problems or controversies. ... Persuasive speaking means addressing a public controversy and advocating for a perspective that the speaker hopes the audience will adopt. If the issue isn't publicly controversial ...

  15. Introduction to Persuasive Speaking

    The persuasive speech! There are similarities and important differences between the informative and persuasive speaking styles. This reading will highlight our purpose of persuasive speaking. ... Understanding how people are persuaded is very important to the discussion of public speaking. Thankfully, a number of researchers have created ...

  16. Persuasive Speech Preparation & Outline, with Examples

    Persuasive speaking is the type of speaking people engage in the most. This type of speech has a broad spectrum, from arguing about politics to talking about what to have for dinner. Persuasive speaking is highly connected to the audience, as in a sense, the speaker has to meet the audience halfway. Persuasive Speech Preparation

  17. 17.2 Types of Persuasive Speeches

    Obviously, there are many different persuasive speech topics you could select for a public speaking class. Anything from localized claims like changing a specific college or university policy to larger societal claims like adding more enforcement against the trafficking of women and children in the United States could make for an interesting persuasive speech.

  18. 10 Persuasive Speech Techniques to Improve Your Public Speaking

    7. Bandwagon. You can use this technique to suggest that everyone's on board with a concept or idea. It taps into people's fear of missing out. Even if you don't have the facts to back up your claims, generalities are strongly suggestive. "The public's interest in the environment has exploded in the last year". 8.

  19. How to Deliver an Effective Persuasive Speech

    The readings thus far have provided the foundation for informative and persuasive speaking; the readings, lectures, and activities all work together to create a well-rounded approach to public speaking. However, the most well-written speech will be just well written if it isn't delivered effectively. Writing your speech is only half of your job.

  20. 1.1 Why Is Public Speaking Important?

    In addition to learning the process of creating and delivering an effective speech, students of public speaking leave the class with a number of other benefits as well. Some of these benefits include. developing critical thinking skills, fine-tuning verbal and nonverbal skills, overcoming fear of public speaking.

  21. What Is Persuasive Speech? (Plus 10 Tips for Creating One)

    A persuasive speech is a type of speech where the goal is to convince the audience to accept the speaker's point of view or perform a desired action. The speaker uses words and visuals to guide the audience's thoughts and actions. Persuasive speeches rely on three forms of rhetoric, which are as follows: Ethos: Ethos is the speaker's credibility.

  22. Persuasive Speaking

    Persuasive speaking is the type of speaking that most people engage in the most. This type of speech can involve everything from arguing about politics to talking about what to eat for dinner. Persuasive speaking is very connected to the audience, as the speaker must, in a sense, meet the audience halfway. Persuasion, obviously, is not entirely controlled by the speaker--persuasion occurs when ...

  23. Chapter 18: Persuasive Speaking

    The first persuasive public speaking type involves changing someone's attitudes, values, and beliefs. An attitude is defined as an individual's general predisposition toward something as being good or bad, right or wrong, or negative or positive. Maybe you believe that local curfew laws for people under twenty-one are a bad idea, so you ...

  24. Introduction to Persuasive Speaking

    A persuasive speech is a specific type of speech in which the speaker has a goal of convincing the audience to accept his or her point of view. The speech is arranged in such a way as to hopefully cause the audience to accept all or part of the expressed view. ... and persuasive speaking are related, but distinct, types of speeches. The ...

  25. Chapter 14: Persuasive Speaking

    Chapter 14: Persuasive Speaking. Define persuasion. Define ethos, logos, and pathos. Explain the barriers to persuading an audience. Construct a clear, reasonable proposition for a short classroom speech. Compose an outline for a well-supported persuasive speech using an appropriate organizational pattern such as Monroe's Motivated Sequence ...