Determining Your Purpose

Now that we’ve discussed how to choose a properly narrowed topic, let’s think a bit about the purpose of your speech. What do you hope to accomplish in your presentation? Will you introduce yourself or demonstrate a skill? If so, you’ve chosen to inform your audience -you’re acting as a teacher and relaying information on your chosen topic to your listeners. What if you wanted to use your speech to convince your listeners to vote in the upcoming election or to become more safety conscious while driving a vehicle? Your purpose now would be to persuade your listeners – to present compelling reasons to encourage them to do as you ask .

As you are beginning to see, most speakers have a reason, or a purpose, as to why they choose to speak in public. We don’t just stand behind a podium without first considering why we’re there.There are three general reasons to speak -to inform, to persuade, and to entertain. The above examples focus on informing or persuading an audience. But what about the third purpose we listed -entertaining? You may not immediately think of public speakers as entertainers -especially if you view public speaking as a serious, maybe even fearful, activity. But many public speakers speak for the sole purpose of entertaining listeners. Think, for instance, about the format of a standup comedian’s act. If asked, s/he would probably say that the goal is simply to make you laugh. But the method of delivery used to accomplish this goal – one speaker, typically on a stage, speaking to many listeners in a continuous conversation -is the textbook definition of public speaking.

Keep in mind that a speaker may have more than one purpose. Perhaps s/he intends to inform you but hopes to be entertaining and engaging as well. If you’ve ever attended a lecture or a workshop to gain information or to learn a new skill but found yourself laughing and responding to the humor of your presenter, that speaker has successfully merged the need to inform with a desire to entertain. How are most of us persuaded to change or to try something new? It’s often the information that is presented -the facts, statistics, and examples -that actually convinces us. Combining heartfelt examples and stories with undisputable facts and statistics is an effective persuasive technique. Without the information you gather to support your ideas, your attempt at persuasion may have been ineffective.

You should have a clear understanding now of the three general purposes for any given speech. However, it’s not enough to simply identify your general goal. Identifying a narrowed more focused goal for your presentation really allows you to consider what you want to say and why you want to say it. The specific goal, or purpose, then, is what you hope to accomplish in that particular speech. Let’s say, as an example, that your instructor has assigned an informative speech with a topic of your choice. You should know immediately then that your general purpose is to inform, right? But what is your specific purpose? Only you can determine the specific purpose, depending upon the topic you choose and the goal you hope to attain at the completion of your presentation. Your specific purpose in that speech might be to demonstrate the proper way to change a tire or the steps to correctly perform CPR. If your general purpose is to persuade, your specific purpose could be to convince your listeners that smoking is harmful and that quitting is essential for a long, healthy life or to motivate your audience to lose weight. Taking a few moments at the beginning of your preparation to actively consider your specific purpose makes it much more likely that you will remain focused and have a clear end goal for your speech.