Speech and Essay: What’s the difference?

Did you know the word “essay” in French means “to try” – as in to attempt to do something?Speech and essay

In speech class, we’re going to ask you to try a lot of new things.  Have you looked at the upcoming speech assignments?

Essay and Speech

An essay, according to YourDictionary.com is

A relatively brief discourse written especially as an exercise:  composition, paper, theme.

A speech might look like an essay, but it’s much, much more.

The structure is much the same.

  • There’s an introduction.  This is supposed to lay out the reason for the paper.
  • Then there’s the body of the of the essay, which shows the logic and reasoning behind the claims that the author made in the introduction.
  • Finally, we have a conclusion which wraps it all up, often by restating the thesis and the links to the support shown in the body.
  • Both are prepared for other people to learn from.

That’s where the similarities end.

Speeches are by definition, vocal presentations.  We have to take into consideration more than just the words on the page.

The Audience

Short essays might be letters to the editor of a newspaper or magazine.  A blog post like this one goes out to the audience – that would be you – for the purpose of informing you about speeches.

The critical point about speeches comes down to the audience.

Communication requires two participants:  the speaker and the audience.  A writer can compose dozens, even hundreds of pieces that can be shoved in a drawer just as Emily Dickinson had done. She’d lived her life in seclusion and never showed her work to anyone.  That’s not communication, however lovely her poetry turned out to be.   A letter that’s never sent, the novel tucked away into a trunk – these are words and essays, but they are not communication.

You’re the speaker in this case.  We will be your audience.  Your job is to communicate to us the message you wish to share.  In a speech, you move beyond words into a bigger, more powerful medium.  You’re now on the stage.  Your words will connect with the audience because you’ve got three specific processes instead of one.

Content, Stage, Presentation

Your content is primarily the words you’ll speak.  The ideas you want to convey, to persuade the listeners to act, the story you can tell – that’s your content.

Now you’ve got a different dynamic.  You’ve got the stage.  If words are a single dimension, then the stage is the second dimension, giving you a place to put your content.

In Hyde Park in London, England, there is a place called the Speakers’ Corner.  Anyone may get up and give a speech to the people in the park.  The tradition goes back for centuries.  If you choose to stand up and speak, you accept the risk of being heckled, debated, or ignored.  The Speakers’ Corner functions as a stage as much as the pulpit in a church or East Room of the White House where the president of the United States will hold press conferences.  As stages, they all have their unique characteristics.  As a speaker, your task is to consider your audience and the stage together.

Finally, you have the physical presentation.  You’re going to open your mouth and speak.  You may move your body and your hands.  You’ll raise and lower your voice, speak faster or slower, higher or lower.  You’ll make eye contact with your audience.  You will take their responses into consideration and modify on the fly.  This third dimension makes the speech become alive, potent and powerful.  That’s your personal power.

Extra Credit

Have you ever given a speech before this class?  Tell me about it.  Minimum 100 words.


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