Lesson 12 – Speaking to PERSUADE         Part 1

Hundreds of books and entire courses are devoted to persuasion. It’s an enormous topic with many ramifications, philosophical, practical, technical and ethical. No one can seriously hope to cover it, even partially, within a few weeks of a beginning Public Speaking course. The effort, therefore, will be to keep things simple so that you’ll know just what you need for this class.

What's the difference between an informative speech and a persuasive speech?

            The basic difference between these two types of speeches lies in your intention as a speaker. Simply put, what are you trying to achieve? If, for example, you want you audience to be able to explain how wooden pencils are manufactured, then you will present them with a purely informative speech. How you go about doing this – the clarity of your explanations, your use of presentation aids, examples, quotations, etc. – is, of course, a matter of your skill. But your intention would be for your listeners to be able to describe the steps in the making of pencils.

            Here are a few examples of Specific Purpose Statements for informative speeches:

      ·        To inform my audience about three excellent day hikes in the San Gabrielle Mountains
·        To inform my audience about the history of the Great Wall of China
·        To inform my audience about the plans for the new Science Center at SMC
·        To inform my audience about how to tie-dye a shirt
·        To inform my audience about how agricultural run-off leads to water pollution

On the other hand, if you want to get your audience to agree with your point of view about a controversial topic, or if you want to rally them to take some sort of specific action, then you would be delivering a persuasive speech.

Here are a few examples of Specific Purpose Statements for persuasive speeches:

·        To persuade my audience that SMC should build another student parking structure
                     ·        To persuade my audience to California should raise (or lower) driver’s license fees
                     ·        To persuade my audience that the United States should withdraw from the U.N.
                     ·        To persuade my audience to boycott Guess Jeans
                     ·        To persuade my audience to become organ donors

In the two lists of Specific Purposes above, would you say that the examples above are either clearly informative or clearly persuasive? Well, teaching people how to tie-dye a shirt or about the history of the Great Wall of China doesn’t really involve persuasion; neither does explaining the floor-plan and features of the new SMC Science Center .

But take a look at those persuasive Specific Purpose statements. Clearly you can’t persuade your listeners to agree with you – much less to take any action – unless you first provide enough information so that they will understand what you’re talking about. And think about the two “informative” topics: day hikes in the San Gabrielle Mountains, and Agricultural Run-off. Even though your basic intention is “to inform,” your audience might, as a result of your excellent presentation, be “persuaded” to try a few of the hikes or to join a group fighting for stricter anti-pollution laws.

In other words, it’s a gray area. Few really good speeches are either 100% informative or 100% persuasive. The best informative speeches might persuade your audience to do something even if it isn’t your main intent (a vivid informative presentation about how tobacco affects the circulatory system might persuade some audience members to give up smoking). Persuasive speeches, on the other hand, must contain basic information.

As stated at the beginning of this discussion, the key is your intended purpose. You must be absolutely clear about your reason for giving the speech. This is important for two reasons.

First, your audience is entitled to know why you’re speaking. It’s a matter of ethics. If your listeners expect to hear a balance and objective explanation of some topic and you present them with a one-sided presentation about a controversial topic – intending to get them to agree with your position – they’ll feel cheated. And rightly so! Audiences are generally a lot smarter than you think. Even if you use the word, “inform” in your Specific Purpose Statement, your listeners will know you’re trying to persuade them to agree with you if, for example, you intend “to inform my audience why George Bush was a great president.” Your listeners will also feel cheated if, expecting to hear a rousing speech in support of a political candidate, they hear, instead, a balanced and objective presentation about our current economic crisis.

The second reason has to do with the structure of your speech. Quite simply, the type of speech you deliver will determine the organizational pattern of the body. Just as there are specific ways that you should organize the body of your informative speech, so – depending on your specific purpose – you’ll find several basic patterns for organizing your persuasive speech.