How to Analyze a Speech

There are three parts to communication:  the speaker, the message, and the audience.  Speech Analysis

If one of those isn’t in alignment, a speech can go very wrong.

When they’re all in alignment, you have a speech that goes down in history.

Analysis:  what to look at

The first step in speech analysis might be to look at the three components and see what they are individually, and how each side reinforces each other.

Let’s take a look at Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address:


At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.
On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Lincoln spends the opening of his speech explaining the purpose of this event.  A second inauguration isn’t the same as a first, and everyone already knows most of the news about the war and the progress being made, he said.  But he put context into his speech:  no one wants war, everyone wanted to avoid it – and with those ideas, he drew in all his audience.  Lincoln recognized this in his audience – it had been a long four years since the first shots at Fort Sumter.  As a speaker, Lincoln recognized the significance of the event as a chance to build bridges to the divided sides of the nation.  He identified the core message:  We pray for this war to end, but if it lasts, we must endure with grace and forgiveness as we work toward justice and righteousness.

That’s the kind of analysis I like to see.  What’s the core message?  Who is the speaker that addresses to the topic?  Who is the audience that listened to the speech and how did it touch them?


Ethos, Logos, Pathos

Your task for your homework is to look at the speech you’re preparing to give.  As you pick your topic, consider these three things:

Your Ethos:  your character and your position to ask for this change.  Remember, you’re asking for a change in the status quo.  It’s always easier for people to stay in the current place without change.  Why can you ask for this change?  Notice I didn’t say “what change?” or “who change?” but why you?  Sometimes it’s an easy answer:  I want to get my license.  Other times, not so easy.

Your Logos:  as you decide your topic, you need to think about the reasons for the change.  What things are improved by making this change?  What things are harmed?  Be prepared in your speech to present the impacts of what you propose – good and bad – and have logical, reasonable answers to the bad impacts.

Your Pathos:  examine your audience for this presentation.  In class, we can listen to any speech about any topic, even if we aren’t the final audience that you need to persuade.  Keep that final audience in mind.  What emotion do you want them to have when you’re done with the speech?  That’s what you need to work toward with your words, body language, and vocal variety.

Remember, I’m gone on January 8. 2018.  Enjoy your class with the sub.  This assignment is due with your analysis of Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech I Have a Dream.  The link is in the syllabus.

See you on January 15!

Source for the speech text:   “Abraham Lincoln: Second Inaugural Address” Saturday, March 4, 1865. Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of the United States. (1989)

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