Organizing Your Persuasive Speech: Give it Some Style!

Cicero, a famous Roman who lived from ~100 -43 BC, created the Five Canons of rhetoric.Persuasive Speech with Westley

  1. Inventio (Invention or creation of ideas)
  2. Dispositio (Arrangement of the ideas)
  3. Elocutio (Style to attract your audience)
  4. Memoria (Memorization of the material)
  5. Actio (Delivery – including body language, vocal variety, etc.)

What’s the difference between a persuasive speech and a two-year old’s temper tantrum?

If you don’t know, we need to… I don’t know!  Of course, you can tell the difference!  A baby’s tantrum is all emotion and loud noises and threats.

Your persuasive speech should be a lot better than that!

We’ve taken a look at the three techniques that ever persuasive speech needs:

  • Ethos
  • Pathos
  • Logos

Last week we worked on brainstorming your ideas for your speech by focusing on a series of questions that will help round out your knowledge of the topic (the stasis and the topoi).  You’ll be best prepared to answer any disagreement with your request if you first know and fully understand the opposition to your idea and who is thinking it.

Is Your Head Wet Yet?

After all that brainstorming last week, you’ve spent a considerable amount of time thinking about the good and bad of your question.  You’ve determined what’s useful and what’s not.  We talked about the audience (can they do what you want to ask them?  what are the circumstances around this topic?) and about the definitions you may need to clarify.

In other words, you’re ready to formulate your call to action for your audience.

Call to Action

What do you want, exactly?  Can you write it out in a single statement?  You may have to play around with your wording to make it agreeable to the audience.  Compare

“I demand you call your local representative and tell him to vote this way on this issue right now!”


“We need you to contact your local representative now about this issue so he will know how important it is to his constituents.”

We have to recognize that people have what’s called “agency” – that’s the freedom to make up their own minds about how they will act. When we ask them to act, we have to respect their liberty to say no.  We may not like it, but we have to respect it.

All calls to action need to be respectful – they can be loud, they can be emotional, but you have to give your audience room to make up their owns mind.

Your call to action is your conclusion.  We write it first so we can write everything else to point directly at it.  If you do the job the right way, your audience will decide to do exactly what you ask.  That’s why we put it last.

Arguments without Arguing

Your persuasive speech needs to be at least four minutes long.

In order to fill that time, you need to develop your points.  We’re going to call those arguments.  They’re the reasons why your audience will want to act.

We’ve talked about the three major technical parts of a persuasive speech:  ethos, logos, and pathos.  Now it’s time to put them to work.

Look at each of your four categories:

  1. Definitions
  2. Cause and Effect
  3. Comparison
  4. Circumstances

You may have lots of entries under each of these from your brainstorming time.  (At least, I hope you do!)  Some of them may support your call to action, some may contradict it.  It’s time to sort these out.  Negative reasons shouldn’t be ignored.  If not acting has an impact, then maybe you should include it.

Sort each of your arguments into the ethos/logos/pathos categories.  Now look at them again and decide which are the strongest, most persuasive to your audience.

You ultimately will want three very strong arguments.  Everything else that you’ve come up with may be used to support your arguments. You may find that things from one category will help you build up your arguments in ways you didn’t expect.

These arguments are the body of your speech – the middle section.  We’re not ready to write your introduction yet.

Styling the Persuasive Speech

Most adults have developed a resistance to persuasion.  We’ve been around ads and commercials all our lives.  Over time, we have gotten to the point where we can ignore it.  Your task is to overcome that disregard with a speech that has style.

You’ve all seen Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech.  He had a very distinctive style, but it was one that his audience was very familiar with.  African American preachers still use this style in their churches to this day.  Dr. King knew who his audience would be and how to keep their attention.  At the same time, he knew he was going to be recorded, so he wanted to address those who weren’t present but would hear his words… in particular, white Americans.  So he started out with a very classic speech style – and then it changed.

You have the challenge of creating an atmosphere for your audience.  This is called the style.

There are many ways to style your speech.  We’ve covered a lot of them already in class:

  • Storytelling
  • Demonstrations
  • Humor

Emotional Descriptions

It’s pathos that’s the most compelling technique, so you have to use it well.  One strong way to use pathos in a speech is to describe a situation using very emotional, evocative words.  Describe the circumstances with powerful words by using strong verbs and adverbs.  The trick is to avoid going over the top – putting in too many.  A good way to check is to read your description out loud.  If your attention is on the words you’re using and not the image you want to convey, then you need to edit.

Adding humor helps you enormously.  Using a story that the audience relates to is gold.

Look at your whole speech outline.  Where can you add humor, story, demonstration or emotional descriptions to your speech?

And now, because it’s just one of my favorite speeches of all time (in a movie)


Next week, we talk about how to get your speech into your head so you can get it into your audience’s heads!