The Goals of a Speech

Learning Objectives

Outline the goals of a speech.

There are four primary goals of public speaking:

  1. Inform the audience.
  2. Persuade the audience.
  3. Entertain the audience.
  4. Commemorate a person, occasion, or event.

Although a good speaker will inform, entertain, and persuade the audience throughout the speech, the primary goal of the speech will be determined by the question, What do I want my audience to know, do, or feel as a result of my speech?

To Inform

A park ranger holding an armadillo explains something to a group of students

A park ranger explains an armadillo.

The difference between a book report and a goal-driven informative speech is not about what you know, but what the audience needs to know. A goal-driven informative speech concentrates only on substance that will help the audience to overcome confusion, clarify misunderstanding, or learn new information.

Further, considering how your audience will interact with this new information determines the depth and span of information to include in your speech. Should they be able to explain it to someone else, identify the concepts you talked about in other aspects of their lives, or be able to create something with the knowledge you provided?

To Persuade

Maulian Dana stands before a school board meeting, the words "Not Your Mascot" appear above her.

Penobscot Nation Tribal Ambassador Maulian Dana speaking at a Skowhegan, Maine school board meeting

If the primary goal is persuasion, then the speech should attempt to change attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, or policy. A good orator will introduce information, anecdotes, and other emotional appeals that logically lead to a specific call to action.

To Entertain

Photo of an audience laughing

An audience entertained by a joke

When the goal is to entertain, the presenter aims to form a connection with the audience. Good speakers prepare by considering the emotions they want their listeners to feel and how they want to connect with the audience. When we think of entertaining speeches, we sometimes imagine that they have to be funny. To move away from this thinking, it’s helpful to consider the original meaning of the word entertain. The French word entretenir comes from the Latin inter (“within” or “among”) and tenere (“to hold”). To entertain, in other words, is to hold the audience within an emotional state. This category includes any speech or story that is trying to bring out emotions—happiness, sadness, grief, wonder, joy—for their own sake. This last phrase is important, since many persuasive speeches will evoke emotions, but they do so in order to persuade the audience to take action. Likewise, an informative speech may be funny, sad, or frightening, but its primary purpose is to teach something to the audience. In the case of an entertaining speech, the audience is there to take part in an emotional moment—whether one of joy, sadness, fascination, or suspense.

To Commemorate or Celebrate

Speaker speaking in front of a projection that reads: 50th Anniversary: A Commemoration of Dr Martin Luther King Jr

A speaker commemorates the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The word commemorate has two Latin roots: the prefix com-, which means “with” or “together” (as in combine, compare, and communicate) and memorare, from memor, which means “mindful of” (as in remember and memory). Speeches intended to commemorate bring the audience together mindfully; they help the audience remember someone or something, or they make a particular occasion memorable. Commemorative speeches include memorials (such as a eulogy for someone who has just died or a speech memorializing a historical event) and celebrations or honors (such as wedding toasts or awards presentations). Although commemorative speeches can be entertaining, the difference between an entertaining speech and a commemorative speech is that a speech to entertain centers on the emotional connection between the speaker and the audience, whereas a commemorative speech centers on a third priority beyond the speaker and the audience, such as a person being honored or remembered or an event being celebrated or memorialized.

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