Persuasive Speech Assignment

In CORE 102, you completed the Approaches to Oral Argument assignment and delivered an Informative Speech. Now in CORE 201 you will continue developing your oral communication skills by preparing and delivering a Persuasive Speech. In the course of this latest project, you will:

  • construct a discussion that positions a variety of sources according to the sources’ viewpoints on a particular topic;
  • use language that enhances the message of the presentation;
  • use nonverbal communication in a way that enhances a message in a speech; and
  • respond substantially to objections.

Before you begin working on this latest assignment, take the time to review the basic elements of a good speech by reading the material under the Approaches to Oral Argument and the Informative Speech assignments in the CORE 102 section of the Handbook.

This section of the Handbook will provide answers to the following questions:

  1. What is a persuasive speech?
  2. How do I use an audience’s beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors to shape the purpose of my speech?
  3. How is a persuasive speech different from an informative speech?
  4. How is persuasion different from manipulation?
  5. How do I word a claim?
  6. How do I use others’ arguments in the context of a claim?
  7. How do I use language to enhance a presentation?
  8. How do I structure my persuasive speech?
  9. How do I cite my sources to enhance my credibility and help the audience understand my presentation?
  10. How can I use nonverbal communication to enhance my message?
  11. How do I create an effective visual aid?
  12. How do I integrate my visual aids into my presentation without being distracting?
  13. How do I cite images correctly on the visual aid?

1. What is a persuasive speech?

A persuasive speech is designed to influence an audience’s beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors.

  • Belief: a statement of something that is held to be true about the world.

Examples: “Movies are more violent than they used to be” and “A lot of trash that could be recycled gets thrown away instead.”

While many beliefs, such as “The Earth revolves around the sun,” are noncontroversial, others are open to debate and need to be supported by evidence.

  • Attitude: an evaluation of what is good or bad

Examples: “Movies should be less violent” and “People need to recycle more.”

  • Behavior: what people actually do

Examples: refusing to watch violent movies and recycling instead of throwing everything away.

2. How do I use an audience’s beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors to shape the purpose of my speech?

The Approaches to Oral Argument assignment asked you to consider the question “How do I identify the purpose of a speech?” At that point you were interested in identifying the purpose of someone else’s speech. Now you need to think about the purpose of your own speech. An important part of that process is figuring out whether you want to influence audience members’ beliefs or attitudes or behaviors.

  • If you are giving a speech on recycling and your audience doesn’t know that relatively little material is being recycled, you might need to focus on changing their beliefs.
  • If your audience recognizes that relatively little material is being recycled but does not consider the low recycling rate to be a problem, you might need to focus on changing their attitudes.
  • If your audience knows that little recycling is taking place and thinks that the low rate is a problem, but they themselves do not recycle, then the goal of your speech becomes to convince your audience to act on their beliefs and attitudes by recycling.

3. How is a persuasive speech different from an informative speech?

When you give an informative speech, your goal is to teach your audience more about your topic. For your persuasive speech, you still will be presenting information to your audience, but instead of informing being the primary goal, you’ll be using that information to support an argument that will result in a change to audience members’ beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors. No matter how interesting and well-delivered your speech is, if you have only provided your audience with information and have not convinced them to accept an argument and to change their beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors, then you have not fulfilled the purpose of your speech.

See also the answer to the question What is the difference between an informative speech and a persuasive speech? under the Informative Speech assignment in Core 102.

4. How is persuasion different from manipulation?

Manipulation involves the use of inaccurate or irrelevant evidence or fallacious reasoning in order to win over an audience. Persuasion, on the other hand, is based on critical thinking. In order to persuade an audience, the speaker or writer uses evidence that is accurate and relevant to her argument and reasoning that is free of logical fallacies. The resulting argument will be consistent with the lessons of the Argument Analysis assignment, which encouraged logical thinking and discouraged propaganda, bias, and reliance upon fallacies.

It is true that sometimes manipulation can convince audience members and gain a speaker an advantage. In fact, it is worth studying common logical fallacies because members of your audience may have fallen for them and you may need to counter them as part of your own argument. However, do not study fallacies in order to use them yourself. Even though people may be swayed by fallacies, rely upon honest persuasion instead of manipulation for two very good reasons: first, manipulating an audience is unethical; second, manipulation may backfire in the long run. You might win over some audience members with manipulation. Eventually, however, audience members may see through the trick, and if they realize that you are trying to manipulate them, they will no longer be receptive to your message. You will have damaged your ethos and forfeited your audience’s trust.

5. How do I word a claim?

A claim is what you want your audience to believe or agree with. A claim should be stated in a full, declarative sentence, and should not be stated in the form of a question.

Examples of incorrectly worded claims:

  • Recycling Benefits.
  • Should you recycle?

Example of a correctly worded claim:

  • Everyone should recycle.

Additional examples of correctly worded claims:

  • Media networks are biased.
  • Fast food does not contribute to obesity.
  • Global warming is not the cause of our erratic weather patterns.

More information on claims is available under the Academic Argument assignment in CORE 101 under these questions:

6. How do I use others’ arguments in the context of a claim?

Once you have settled upon a claim and worded it appropriately, you must back it up with evidence and with the well-supported opinions of others. Such evidence and opinions should come from the research and work of speakers and writers who can lay claim to high ethos.

Be certain to locate and consider sources that both agree and disagree with your claim. Looking at a range of opinions is important for two reasons.

First, you must keep an open mind and be willing to modify or even abandon a claim if evidence and reason cast it into doubt. If you lack such willingness, you may be caught up in one of the biases or fallacies covered under the Researched Argument assignment. See especially the answer to the question What is confirmation bias?

Second, your ethos is at stake. You need to thoroughly familiarize yourself with the range of arguments in order to demonstrate that you are well-informed, open-minded, and fair. Failing to acknowledge other arguments would damage your credibility and make you appear biased. For that reason, include counterarguments in your speech or paper. Counterarguments show that you are familiar with the opposition but that you are able to explain why you reject reasoning and evidence that may, on the surface, seem to challenge your claim.

7. How do I use language to enhance a presentation?

As a speaker, you must carefully choose not only your content, but also your words in order to make full use of ethos, pathos, and logos.

  • Choose words that the listeners can understand. Do not use jargon if the audience is made up of non-specialists, but find ways to simplify and organize complex information using vocabulary they would find familiar.
  • Choose or create examples that the audience would find relatable.
  • Find the word that most closely matches your intended sentiment or idea. English has an immense vocabulary for you to choose from.
  • Keep in mind that the words you choose have implied meanings beyond the dictionary definitions. Select words that carry desired ‘baggage’ and avoid words with undesirable associations.
  • Avoid inflammatory language.
  • Verbally cite all ideas and information from sources that you paraphrase, summarize, or quote.

See also the answer to this question under the Argument Analysis assignment: How do effective communicators choose language for their arguments? See the Core 201 Appendix for more information regarding the following questions.

8. How do I structure my persuasive speech?

One of the most commonly used ways to organize a persuasive speech is Monroe’s Motivated Sequence: attention, need, satisfaction, visualization, and action. It is based upon the idea that when confronted with a problem or desire, people will change their values or behavior to achieve balance (Monroe & Ehninger, 1969, p. 42). You have most likely seen Monroe’s Motivated Sequence in action before. In fact, almost every infomercial follows this basic format trying to persuade you to buy their product.

First, grab the audience’s attention. Some of the ways you might do this are by arousing their curiosity, citing a startling statistic, telling a dramatic story, or sharing a powerful quotation.

Now that you have their attention, you must convince them that there is a significant problem or need that must be addressed. Provide supporting evidence to increase your credibility. It is also important to make a connection with the audience and convince them they should care about your topic. One of the best ways to do this is by showing how they have or could be personally impacted.

The satisfaction step is when you propose a clear solution to the problem. You need to persuade your audience that your solution is the best alternative. Do you have examples where a similar solution has worked in the past? Are there experts or research that support your proposed solution? Know what the likely counterarguments will be and include rebuttals as part of your speech.

The visualization step helps the audience imagine what will happen next. Adopting your proposed solution will have positive impacts, while failure to take action will lead to negative consequences.

Finally, make a call to action. What do you want your audience to do, think, or believe as a result of your argument? Ensure that your action plan is feasible for the audience. For example, asking the average college student to buy an electric car to reduce America’s dependency on foreign oil is not realistic. However, riding Radford Transit to buy groceries is.

For a review of organizational patterns and the necessary parts of a speech, see the answers to these questions under the Informative Speech assignment in CORE 102:

9. How do I cite my sources to enhance my credibility and help the audience understand my presentation?

As in a paper, in a speech it is important to tell the audience where your information and ideas come from. Citing sources, both in speech and in writing, improves your credibility and helps you avoid plagiarism. Any time you use any information that isn’t commonly known, you need to credit sources. You need to do so whether you paraphrasing, summarizing, or quoting.

In papers, sources are credited using APA or another citation style that makes it easy to provide source information without disrupting the flow of writing. In speeches, sources likewise can be credited without doing damage to the flow of the argument. If you verbally cited all of the information that you would include in an in-text citation (or in a list of references), you would never get around to actually making your argument. However, you only need to provide enough information to demonstrate that you are using credible sources in support of your argument. Below are two examples that would communicate to an audience that your argument is supported by scholarly research.

  • Source with one author:

Samuel Jones, a biologist from the University of Texas, did a study showing that frogs are negatively affected by water pollution.

  • Source with multiple authors:

A team of biologists from several major universities did a study showing that frogs are negatively affected by water pollution.

These verbal citations are the spoken equivalents of attributions, which are phrases used in writing to signal that you are using a source. For more information, see the answer to this question under the Approaches to Written Argument assignment in the CORE 101 section of the Handbook: How does an author signal that she is using a source?

10. How can I use nonverbal communication to enhance my message?

Being conscious of the verbal messages you are trying to communicate is only one part of being an effective speaker. You practice saying the words in your speech; you must likewise pay attention to the nonverbal cues you furnish an audience via your delivery.

Aim for an appropriate rate or speed of delivery so that your audience can understand your message but you do not appear rushed or drawn out. Add pauses or breaks in your speech to provide emphasis or allow your audience to process a message. Be aware of your posture, hand gestures, and body movements. You want to appear energetic and engaged but not so much that you become a distraction. Maintain eye contact with your audience. Make it a point to scan each section of the room during your speech. Finally, match your facial expressions to your message. You don’t want to be smiling when you are talking about something tragic. Remember that these nonverbal cues are sending a message to the audience.

For more information about nonverbal communication, see these sections under the CORE 102 Approaches to Oral Argument assignment:

You will also find answers to the these questions in the CORE 201 Appendix:

11. How do I create an effective visual aid?

When giving a presentation, your visual aids should be used to visually supplement or enhance your message rather than summarize information (like you might see for lecture notes). Think of them as billboards on the side of the interstate. They need to grab the audience’s attention and very quickly convey a message. If you include too much information, most of the message will be lost as people speed by. If the billboard is too distracting, it will create a traffic hazard taking drivers’ attention from the road. Here are a few helpful hints to create better visual aids. These relate mostly to PowerPoint but can be used for any type of presentation aid.

Start with a blank canvas. If you’ve seen a lot of slide show presentations, you immediately recognize most of the common themes or layouts. Even unique designs become boring after a few slides. The reaction from your audience is “ho-hum” or “here we go again.” You should decide what visuals and format will support your presentation rather than let the software decide for you. Start with a blank presentation layout without color, backgrounds, titles, or content. This will provide the greatest flexibility.

Outline your presentation first. One of the most common PowerPoint mistakes is to use titles and bullets to outline what you want to say. The result is a text-heavy and boring presentation where the presenter and audience read from the screen. Before creating a single slide, start with an outline or storyboard of your presentation. This can be done in a word processing program or using the notes area inside PowerPoint. Create your slides afterwards to support your message.

Use quality photography. Photography is one of the single best ways to make your presentation look professional. However, pictures used incorrectly can actually detract from your presentation, confuse your audience, and make your creation look amateurish. Use a picture only if it actually contributes to your message and is of high quality. The current resolution in PowerPoint is 1280 by 720 pixels. If you use lower resolution images and resize larger, they will appear blurry and distorted in your final presentation. Some good sources for free photographs in the public domain are Flickr Creative Commons (https://www.flickr.com/creativecommons), Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org), Pixabay (https://pixabay.com), and FreeImages (http://www.freeimages.com).

Evoke feelings with color. Color is emotional. The right color can help persuade and motivate. You do not need to be an expert in color theory, but it’s good for presenters to have some knowledge on the subject. Colors can be divided into two general categories: cool (blue, green, and violet) and warm (red, orange, and yellow). Cool colors work best for backgrounds as they appear to recede away from us. Warm colors generally work best for objects in the foreground (such as text) because they appear to be advancing toward us. Never use a cool text color against a cool background or warm text color against a warm background; it will be illegible. Aim for the greatest amount of contrast and remember that what you see on your computer screen may not look the same presented in a room.

Avoid the bullet point plague! Choose the text in your presentation wisely. Remember that your audience will be reading instead of listening to you so keep text to a bare minimum. Avoid the standard slide layout with a title at the top and bullet points below. Instead insert text boxes where they fit best for short quotes, important facts, and keywords. Some of the best slides have no text at all. Use handouts, never your presentational aids, for sharing large amounts of information that the audience will need later.

Choose an appropriate font. Once you have decided on text, use fonts to communicate subtle messages like mood, formality, or time period. Know the difference between a serif font (e.g., Times New Roman or Cambria) and a sans-serif font (e.g., Calibri or Arial). Serif fonts have small accents or flourishes at the end of each stroke and were designed to be used in documents filled with lots of text. Sans-serif fonts are generally best for presentational aids as they are easier to read when projected. Use script or decorative fonts (e.g., Papyrus or Chiller) sparingly. Please note that if you use a font that is not installed on the presentation computer, you must embed the font it in your PowerPoint file. Otherwise the computer will default to an installed font, negating all your design work. Regardless of what fonts, colors, or images you choose, make sure all text can be easily read from the back of the room.

Create an engaging title slide. Until the title or “cover” slide is shown, the audience has no idea what to expect from your presentation. Creating an attractive title slide and leaving it up while you introduce yourself and your topic can create a positive beginning and give the audience a psychological heads up to pay attention because they’re about to experience a well-designed, thoughtful presentation. A title slide also provides a visual theme that you can carry on throughout the rest of the presentation. This helps the presentation seem cohesive and professionally done rather than the random and scattered feel of seeing a completely different design on every slide.

Limit transitions and animations. There are only so many things that a person can pay attention to at one time. When you use a transition or animation effect, it requires some of the precious attention of your audience. Stick to the subtlest and professional effects (similar to what you might see on the nightly news) and use them consistently. Only change the effects if you want to drastically change the tone of your presentation. Each slide should only have one main point; use a clicker or time your slides so they transition to the next point as you do.

For further information about good and bad presentation design, see “You Suck at PowerPoint” by Jesse Desjardins at http://www.slideshare.net/jessedee/you-suck-at-powerpoint.

12. How do I integrate my visual aids into my presentation without being distracting?

Master the technology and do the planning necessary for getting your visual aid onto the screen with a minimum amount of wait time for the audience. When a presenter has to search through folders or log into multiple accounts to get to a file, it diminishes his ethos and makes him appear unprepared even before he has spoken a word.

Be aware of the layout of the space where you are giving your speech and plan ahead so the audience can see both you and the presentation aids clearly. Maintain eye contact with your audience instead of focusing on the screen. Practice your speech enough that you know what is on the screen so you only need to occasionally look at it. It is completely acceptable to interact with your visual aids. Point to relevant items. This strategy will be helpful for people who want to incorporate more movement and gestures into their speeches. It also is a way to channel nervous energy.

13. How do I cite images correctly on the visual aid?

It is important to cite sources for information; it is equally important to cite sources for images used in your visual aids (except for images that you create yourself). It is important to give credit because the citation allows audience members to trace the image back to its original source. “Google Images” is not a sufficient attribution.

Fair use guidelines generally allow for educators and students to use copyrighted images within a classroom setting or for academic work. However, if you are doing a project or presentation for an outside organization then you should use images from the public domain (available for use without paying licensing fees). Always ask your instructor how to cite your images properly. A URL is sufficient in many cases, but you may be required to provide a full APA reference list as the last slide of your presentation and an in-text citation next to the image itself.



Monroe, A. H., & Ehninger, D. (1969). Principles and types of speech communication (6th ed.). Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman.


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