What Is a Persuasive Speech?

Learning Objectives

Explain the objectives of a persuasive speech.

Persuasive speaking happens all the time:

  • A community member rallies neighbors to demand that the city replace a broken play structure at the park.
  • A child explains to her parents why she should get an extra half hour of screen time today.
  • A parent discusses with a teacher why he thinks his child should have an Individualized Education Program.
  • A landscaper talks to her supervisor about the advantages of investing in a new lawn machine.
  • Politicians explain why voters should vote for them and support their political agenda.
  • A defense attorney tries to convince a jury that her client is innocent of all charges.
  • An informercial says that you should buy this miracle detergent, which cleans your clothes by harnessing the power of dihydrogen monoxide.
  • A college student in a public speaking class argues that their university should stop considering the SAT and ACT for admissions decisions.

Persuasion means to cause someone to do or believe something based on reasoning and argument. Persuade comes from the Latin roots per– (thoroughly, strongly) and suadere (to advise), from the Proto-Indo-European root *swād- (sweet, pleasant, agreeable; like the Sanskrit svadus, sweet or the word suave).[1] Persuasion, in other words, is an attempt to make a viewpoint or a behavior agreeable to someone. When your objective as a speaker is to convince your audience to adopt a particular belief or engage in a specific action, you are speaking to persuade.

When we persuade, we are acting as advocates and we are encouraging our audience to adopt a point of view or take a particular course of behavior. Learning how to be a better persuasive speaker also has the added benefit of making us better and smarter consumers of persuasive messages.

Persuasion is all around us, of course. Just think of advertising, for example. How many persuasive messages do you receive every day? What makes some of those messages more effective than others? Think about that question as you read this section and begin developing your own persuasive speech.

  1. "persuade, v." "suade, v.," OED Online, Oxford University Press, September 2020, http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/141561.