Chapter Fifteen – Speaking to Inform

Functions of Informative Speeches

People encounter a number of formal and informal informative presentations throughout their day, and these presentations have several consequences. First, informative presentations provide people with knowledge. When others share facts or circumstances associated with some topic, our comprehension, awareness or familiarity is increased. The speaker imparts information, and this information is turned into knowledge. A music teacher describes the difference between a note and chord as an introduction to music. When issuing a warning to a teenager, a police officer explains the nature of the moving violation. A travel agent clarifies for customers the policies for airline ticket refunds. Participants at a cultural fair are enlightened by a shaman explaining her spiritual practices. Knowledge helps us to understand the world around us, enables us to make connections, and helps us to predict the future.

All men by nature desire knowledge. – Aristotle

Second, informative presentations shape our perceptions. These presentations can affect how people see a subject by bringing it to light or may influence what is seen as important by virtue of directing attention to the subject (Osborn & Osborn, 1991). Information helps us to interpret our experiences, it shapes our values and beliefs, it may alter our self-concept, and it gives meaning to situations. Imagine you meet your new boss, and she is very curt and pre-occupied during the first staff meeting. You may at first perceive her as being rude, unless later you find out that just before your meeting with her, she learned that her father had been hospitalized with a stroke. Learning this new information allowed you to see the situation from a different perspective. In the same way, informative presentations enable us to get a sense of “the big picture” and improve our ability to think and evaluate.

Some informative presentations may be aimed at helping listeners understand the number, variety, and quality of alternatives available to them (Hogan et al., 2010). Consequently, informative presentations also serve to articulate alternatives. A car sales associate might explain to you the features of one car in comparison to another car in order to help you differentiate between the models. A doctor might explain to your grandmother her treatment options for arthritis. A fitness trainer may demonstrate to you several types of exercises to help you strengthen your abdominal muscles and reduce your waistline. If you go to a temporary employment agency, a staff member may provide you will a range of job options that fit your qualifications. Successful informative presentations provide information which improves listeners’ ability to make wise decisions, because they understand all of their options (Jaffe, 1998).

Finally, informative presentations enhance our ability to survive and evolve. Our existence and safety depend upon the successful communication of facts and knowledge. An informative speech “helps keep countries developing, communicates valuable and useful information in thousands of areas, and continues to change, improve or upgrade the lives of audiences” (Wilbur, 2000, p. 99). For thousands of years, cultural and technical knowledge was passed from generation to generation orally. Even today with the presence of the internet, you are still likely to get a good amount of information verbally. We have all seen “how to” YouTube videos, and although these have a significant visual components, the “experts” still have to give a verbal explanation. Through meetings, presentations and face-to-face interactions, we gain information about how to perform and improve in our jobs. To keep our children safe, we don’t give them an instruction manual, we sit down with them and explain things. All of the knowledge we accumulate while we live will be passed down to (hopefully) improve on the lives of those who come after us. Much of this information will be passed down in the form of a presentation.

Types of Informative Speeches

A man tutoring a woman while using a dry-erase board

For some speakers, deciding on a topic is one of the most difficult parts of informative speaking. The following subsections begin by discussing several categories of topics that you might use for an informative presentation. Then we discuss how you might structure your speech to address potential audience difficulties in understanding your topic or information.


The term “objects” encompasses many topics we might not ordinarily consider to be “things.” It’s a category that includes people, institutions, places, substances, and inanimate things. The following are some of these topics:

  • Mitochondria
  • Dream catchers
  • Sharks
  • Hubble telescope
  • Seattle’s Space Needle
  • Malta
  • Silicon chip
  • Spruce Goose
  • Medieval armor
  • DDT insecticide
  • Soy inks

You will find it necessary to narrow your topic about an object because, like any topic, you can’t say everything about it in a single speech. In most cases, there are choices about how to narrow the topic. Here are some specific purpose statements that reflect ways of narrowing a few of those topics:

  • To inform the audience about the role of soy inks in reducing toxic pollution
  • To inform the audience about the current uses of the banned insecticide DDT
  • To inform the audience about what we’ve learned from the Hubble telescope
  • To inform the audience about the role of the NAACP in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • To describe the significance of the gigantic Spruce Goose, the wooden airplane that launched an airline

These specific purposes reflect a narrow, but interesting, approach to each topic. These purposes are precise, and they should help you maintain your focus on a narrow but deep slice of knowledge.



This category applies both to specific individuals and also to roles. The following are some of these topics:

  • Dalai Lamas
  • Astronauts
  • Tsar Nicholas II
  • Modern midwives
  • Mata Hari
  • Catherine the Great
  • Navajo code talkers
  • Mahatma Gandhi
  • Justice Thurgood Marshall
  • Madame Curie
  • Leopold Mozart
  • Aristotle
  • The Hemlock Society
  • Sonia Sotomayor
  • Jack the Ripper

There is a great deal of information about each one of these examples. In order to narrow the topic or write a thesis statement, it’s important to recognize that your speech should not be a biography, or timeline, of someone’s life. If you attempt to deliver a comprehensive report of every important event and accomplishment related to your subject, then nothing will seem any more important than anything else. To capture and hold your audience’s interest, you must narrow to a focus on a feature, event, achievement, or secret about your human topic.

Here are some purpose statements that reflect a process of narrowing:

  • To inform the audience about the training program undergone by the first US astronauts to land on the moon
  • To inform the audience about how a young Dalai Lama is identified
  • To inform the audience about why Gandhi was regarded as a mahatma, or “great heart”
  • To inform the audience about the extensive scientific qualifications of modern midwives

Without a limited purpose, you will find, with any of these topics, that there’s simply too much to say. Your purpose statement will be a strong decision-making tool about what to include in your speech.



An event can be something that occurred only once, or an event that is repeated:

  • The murder of Emmett Till
  • The Iditarod Dogsled Race
  • The Industrial Revolution
  • The discovery of the smallpox vaccine
  • The Bikini Atoll atomic bomb tests
  • The Bay of Pigs
  • The Super Bowl
  • The Academy Awards

Again, we find that any of these topics must be carefully narrowed in order to build a coherent speech. Failure to do so will result in a shallow speech. Here are a few ways to narrow the purpose:

  • To explain how the murder of Emmett Till helped energize the civil rights movement
  • To describe how the Industrial Revolution affected the lives of ordinary people
  • To inform the audience about the purpose of the Iditarod dogsled race

There are many ways to approach any of these and other topics, but again, you must emphasize an important dimension of the event. Otherwise, you run the risk of producing a time line in which the main point gets lost. In a speech about an event, you may use a chronological order but if you choose to do so, you can’t include every detail. The following is an example:

Specific Purpose: To inform the audience about the purpose of the Iditarod dogsled race.

Central Idea: The annual Iditarod commemorates the heroism of Balto, the sled dog that led a dog team carrying medicine 1150 miles to save Nome from an outbreak of diphtheria.

Main Points:

  1. Diphtheria broke out in a remote Alaskan town.
  2. Dogsleds were the only transportation for getting medicine.
  3. The Iditarod Trail was long, rugged, and under siege of severe weather.
  4. Balto the dog knew where he was going, even when the musher did not.
  5. The annual race commemorates Balto’s heroism in saving the lives of the people of Nome.

In this example, you must explain the event. However, another way to approach the same event would describe it. The following is an example:

Specific Purpose: To describe the annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Central Idea: It’s a long and dangerous race.

Main Points:

  1. The 1150-mile, ten- to seventeen-day race goes through wilderness with widely spaced checkpoints for rest, first aid, and getting fresh dogs.
  2. A musher, or dogsled driver, must be at least fourteen years old to endure the rigors of severe weather, exhaustion, and loneliness.
  3. Mushers are responsible for their own food, food for twelve to sixteen dogs, and for making sure they don’t get lost.
  4. Reaching the end of the race without getting lost, even in last place, is considered honorable and heroic.
  5. The expense of participation is greater than the prize awarded to the winner.

By now you can see that there are various ways to approach a topic while avoiding an uninspiring time line. In the example of the Iditarod race, you could alternatively frame it as an Alaskan tourism topic, or you could emphasize the enormous staff involved in first aid, search and rescue, dog care, trail maintenance, event coordination, financial management, and registration.



Concepts are abstract ideas that exist independent of whether they are observed or practiced, such as the example of social equality that follows. Concepts can include hypotheses and theories.

  • The glass ceiling
  • Ethnocentrism
  • Honor codes
  • Autism
  • Karma
  • Wellness
  • Fairness theory
  • Bioethics
  • The American Dream
  • Social equality

Here are a few examples of specific purposes developed from the examples:

  • To explain why people in all cultures are ethnocentric
  • To describe the Hindu concept of karma
  • To distinguish the differences between the concepts of wellness and health
  • To show the resources available in our local school system for children with autism
  • To explain three of Dr. Stephen Suranovic’s seven categories of fairness

Here is one possible example of a way to develop one of these topics:

Specific Purpose: To explain why people in all cultures are ethnocentric.

Central Idea: There are benefits to being ethnocentric.

Main Points:

  1. Ethnocentrism is the idea that one’s own culture is superior to others.
  2. Ethnocentrism strongly contributes to positive group identity.
  3. Ethnocentrism facilitates the coordination of social activity.
  4. Ethnocentrism contributes to a sense of safety within a group.
  5. Ethnocentrism becomes harmful when it creates barriers.

In an example of a concept about which people disagree, you must represent multiple and conflicting views as fully and fairly as possible. For instance:

Specific Purpose: To expose the audience to three different views of the American Dream.

Central Idea: The American Dream is a shared dream, an impossible dream, or a dangerous dream, depending on the perspective of the individual.

Main Points:

  1. The concept of the American Dream describes a state of abundant well-being in which an honest and productive American can own a home; bring up a family; work at a permanent, well-paying job with benefits; and retire in security and leisure.
  2. Many capitalists support the social pattern of working hard to deserve and acquire the material comforts and security of a comfortable life.
  3. Many sociologists argue that the American Dream is far out of reach for the 40 percent of Americans at the bottom of the economic scale.
  4. Many environmentalists argue that the consumption patterns that accompany the American Dream have resulted in the depletion of resources and the pollution of air, water, and soil.


If your speech topic is a process, your goal should be to help your audience understand it or be able to perform it. In either instance, processes involve a predictable series of changes, phases, or steps.

  • Soil erosion
  • Cell division
  • Physical therapy
  • Volcanic eruption
  • Paper recycling
  • Consumer credit evaluations
  • Scholarship money searches
  • Navy Seal training
  • Portfolio building
  • The development of Alzheimer’s disease

For some topics, you will need presentation aids in order to make your meaning clear to your listeners. Even in cases where you don’t absolutely need a presentation aid, one might be useful. For instance, if your topic is evaluating consumer credit, instead of just describing a comparison between two different interest rates applied to the same original amount of debt, it would be helpful to show a graph of the difference. This might also be the sort of topic that would strongly serve the needs of your audience before they find themselves in trouble. Since this will be an informative speech, you must resist the impulse to tell your listeners that one form of borrowing is good and another is bad; you must simply show them the difference in numbers. They can reach their own conclusions.

Organizing your facts is crucially important when discussing a process. Every stage of a process must be clear and understandable. When two or more things occur at the same time, as they might in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, it is important to make it clear that several things are occurring at once. For example, as plaque is accumulating in the brain, the patient is likely to begin exhibiting various symptoms.

Here’s an example of the initial steps of a speech about a process:

Specific Purpose: To inform the audience about how to build an academic portfolio.

Central Idea: A portfolio represents you and emphasizes your best skills.

Main Points:

  1. A portfolio is an organized selection containing the best examples of the skills you can offer an employer.
  2. A portfolio should contain samples of a substantial body of written work, print and electronically published pieces, photography, and DVDs of your media productions.
  3. A portfolio should be customized for each prospective employer.
  4. The material in your portfolio should be consistent with the skills and experience in your résumé.

In a speech about the process of building a portfolio, there will be many smaller steps to include within each of the main points. For instance, creating separate sections of the portfolio for different types of creative activities, writing a table of contents, labeling and dating your samples, making your samples look attractive and professional, and other steps should be inserted where it makes the most sense, in the most organized places, in order to give your audience, the most coherent understanding possible.

You’ve probably noticed that there are topics that could be appropriate in more than one category. For instance, the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helen’s could be legitimately handled as an event or as a process. If you approach the eruption as an event, most of the information you include will focus on human responses and the consequences on humans and the landscape. If you approach the eruption as a process, you will be using visual aids and explanations to describe geological changes before and during the eruption. You might also approach this topic from the viewpoint of a person whose life was affected by the eruption. This should remind you that there are many ways to approach most topics, and because of that, your narrowing choices and your purpose will be the important foundation determining the structure of your informative speech.


Developing Informative Speeches

The first sections of this chapter explained the importance of informative speaking, the functions of informative speeches, and the four major types of informative speeches. This final section discusses three goals in developing informative speeches and advice for increasing the effectiveness of your speech. These three goals include 1) arousing the interest of your audience, 2) presenting information in a way that can be understood, and 3) helping the audience remember what you have said (Fujishin, 2000).

Generate and Maintain Interest

Use Attention-Getting Elements

Before you capture the interest of an audience, you have to get their attention. As you know, attention getters are used in the introduction of a speech, but attention getters can also be used throughout your speech to maintain an audience’s attention. There are a number of techniques you can use that will naturally draw listeners’ attention (German et al., 2010).


A hammerhead shark
Shark. CC BY-NC-ND

Intensity refers to something that has a high or extreme degree of emotion, color, volume, strength or other defining characteristic. In a speech about sharks’ senses, showing how sharks smell 10,000 times better than humans would be an example of the intensity principle.

Novelty involves those things that are new or unusual. Discussing the recent invention of the flesh-eating mushroom death suit developed by Jae Rhim Lee would be novel. This suit is designed to help bodies decompose naturally above ground to avoid the use of dangerous embalming chemicals.


Piles of different hot peppers
Hot Peppers. CC BY: Attribution

Contrast can also be used to draw attention through comparison to something that is different or opposite. This works best when the differences are significant. If you were showing the audience how to make hot sauce, and you showed a bar graph comparing the Scoville units (level of hotness) of different chili peppers, this would be contrast. Jalapenos rate at 2500–8000 Scoville units, habaneros rate at 100,000–350,000, and the naga jolokia rates at 855,000–1,041,241.

Audiences will also attend to movement or activity. To employ this technique, speakers can either use action words, well-chosen movements, an increased rate of speech, or show action with video. A speech describing or showing extreme sports with high levels of risk, a fast pace, or amazing stunts could be used to illustrate activity.

Finally, humor can be used to draw attention to a subject or point but be sure that it is relevant and in good taste. In a speech about the devotion of Trekkies (Star Trek fans), you could share the example of Tony Alleyne who designed and outfitted his flat in England as a replica of the deck of the Voyager. You could also direct the audience’s attention to couples who have wedding ceremonies spoken in Klingon.

A man laughing

Tell a Story

Story telling is not only the basis for most of our entertainment; it is also one of the best ways to teach an audience (Carlson, 2005). Also known as narratives, stories typically have a beginning in which the characters and setting are introduced, a rise in action, some complication or problem, and a resolution. Stories with compelling characters can be used in a creative way to weave facts otherwise dry and technical facts together (Walters, 1995), as in a speech about preparing a space shuttle for take-off from a mouse’s perspective. Jaffe (1998) differentiates between three types of narratives that can be used in informative speeches. The first type of story is a natural reality in which natural or scientific facts are brought together in chronological accounts, as in the formation of the Grand Canyon. The second narrative involves social realities which detail historic events, and the development of cultures and institutions. The last kind of story, the ultimate reality, is focused on profound philosophical and spiritual questions like “Where do we come from?” and “What happens to us when we die?”

Nursery rhymes and song lyrics familiar to the audience can also be used in an interactive way to get listeners interested in the topic (Maxey & O’Connor, 2006). In a speech about the global population explosion, you could ask audience to finish the phrase “There was an old woman who lived in a shoe…” Common commercials, lyrics to Beatles songs, holiday songs, and children’s games are universal.

The wisest mind has something yet to learn. – George Santayna
A rock band playing a concert
Dom and Chris. CC BY: Attribution

Commercial jingles and song lyrics also work to get the audience involved. You could start a speech on boating safety with these lyrics: Just sit right back / And you’ll hear a tale / A tale of a fateful trip / That started from this tropic port / Aboard this tiny ship (from Gilligan’s Island). Depending on the make-up of your audience, you might use lyrics from Johnny Cash, Billy Holiday, The Doors, The Beatles, JayZ, The Judds or the Arctic Monkeys. Just remember you probably can’t read all of the lyrics, you need to make sure the lyrics are directly linked to your topic, and you should be sure to cite the artist and song title.

Just for fun, can you name the artist who sang the lyrics below? Can you think of a speech topic that would correspond to the lyrics? (Answer at the end of the chapter)

Lyric Artist Speech Topic
Money, get away.

Get a good job with good pay and you’re okay.

Money, it’s a gas.

Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash.

New car, caviar, four star daydream

Think I’ll buy me a football team.

Be Creative

Speakers who are different are memorable (Maxey & O’Connor, 2006). To give your speech impact, be imaginative and dare to push the envelope of conformity. When you have spent time researching a topic, you may be able to envision ways to incorporate surprising facts, props or visuals that make your presentation different from others, and therefore more memorable. You could dress like a Shakespearian actor for a speech about the famous playwright. You could have the audience move their chairs and take part in a yoga demonstration. Or you might use your own audience plants to help with a speech entitled “Behind the Scenes of TV Talk Shows.” When one student got up to speak, he drew a row of houses on the blackboard and then began to drink a glass of water and speak about the life giving properties of water. After making a few comments, he threw the glass of water on the blackboard—erasing most of the houses. Then he began his speech on the devastating effects of a flood (be sure to get your professor’s permission before you do something like this!). Another student giving a speech about “Clowning” had two actual clowns wait in the hall until she was ready to bring them in and show off their make-up and costumes. The speaker was wise to have her cohorts in the room just long enough to make the point (but not the entire time which would distract from the speaker), and the audience was attentive and grateful for the variety. Hanks and Parry (1991) explain that anyone can be creative, if they want to be and are willing to make the effort.

For some tips on how to foster your creativity, see Table 15.2. However, you need to remember that creativity is just a tool to help you teach your audience. Do not overlook the requirements of the occasion, the content of your research, or the needs of your audience in your zeal to be creative.


  • Take a different way to work
  • Collaborate with others with complementary skills
  • Seek inspiration in beautiful surroundings
  • Start working on the problem right away
  • Work in a blue room (it boosts creativity)
  • Get a hobby or play music
  • Think about your problem right before falling asleep
The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.  – Sylvia Plath

Stimulate Audience Intellect

Most people have a genuine desire to understand the world around them, to seek out the truth, and learn how to solve problems. The role of the informative speaker is to satisfy this desire to learn and know. To illustrate our quest for knowledge, consider the success of the Discovery Channel, the Learning Channel, the History Channel, the Food Network and other educational broadcasts. So how do we appeal to the minds of listeners? Think about all of the information we encounter every day but do not have time to pursue. Think about subjects that you would like to know more about. Ask what information would be universally interesting and useful for listeners. Many people fly on airplanes, but do they know how to survive a plane crash? People also share many ordinary illnesses, so what are some common home remedies? All of the people on earth originated someplace, so who were our ancient ancestors?

In addition to finding topics that relate to listeners, the information we supply should be up to date. For instance, Egypt organized a revolution in 2011, and if you are giving a speech on traveling to the Pyramids, you should be aware of this. When you are talking about a topic that your audience is familiar with, you should share little known facts or paint the subject in a new light. In a speech about a famous person, you might depict what they are like behind the scenes, or what they were like growing up. In a speech about a new technology, you might also talk about the inventors. In a speech about a famous city, you could discuss the more infamous landmarks and attractions.

Create Coherence

Organize Logically

Neon lights that say Past Present Future
past present future. CC BY-SA

Several types of organizational patterns are discussed in Chapter 9. Using these as a starting point, you should make sure the overall logic of the speech is well thought out. If you were giving speech best suited to chronological order, but presented the steps out of order, it would be very difficult to follow. Those of you who have seen the movie Memento (which presented the sequence of events backwards), may have noticed how difficult it was to explain the plot to others. In a logical speech, the points you are trying to draw are obvious, the supporting materials are coherent and correspond exactly to the thesis, and the main points are mutually exclusive and flow naturally from start to finish. Clarity of thought is critical in presenting information. As Peggy Noonan (1998, p. 64) argues:


The most moving thing in a speech is always the logic. It’s never the flowery words and flourishes, it’s not sentimental exhortations, it’s never the faux poetry we’re all subjected to these days. It’s the logic; it’s the thinking behind your case. A good case well-argued and well said is inherently moving. It shows respect for the brains of the listeners. There is an implicit compliment in it. It shows that you are a serious person and that you are talking to other serious persons.

When planning your speech, ask questions like: What information needs to come first? What organizational pattern best suits the topic? What information must be shared or omitted to aid in audience understanding? What points or sub-points should be grouped together to aid listeners’ understanding?

Use Simple Language

A woman speaking into a microphone
Speech. CC BY-SA

One common mistake that speech writers make when they are writing their speech is to use the same language that they would use in a written document. Experienced speech writers know that simple language and ideas are easier to understand than complex ones. “Clear speaking is not an alternative to intelligent discourse, but rather an enabler of intelligent discourse” (Carlson, 2005, p. 79).

Did you know that Lincoln’s Gettysburg address contains only 271 words, and 251 of these words only have one or two syllables (Hughes & Phillips, 2000)? Another benefit of using simple language is that you are less likely to trip over or mispronounce simple words.

Refer to Chapter 12 on Language Use for further differences between the written word and spoken word.

Table 15.3 Simplify Your Language
Low Impact High Impact
Under the present circumstances Currently
At the present time Now
Are in agreement with Agree
Due to the fact that Because
Is fully operational Works
In close proximity to Near
Of sufficient magnitude Big enough
In the event of If
Each and every one Each
In the course of During
Never before or since Never
Deciduous trees (jargon) Trees that lose their leaves
Somnolent (jargon) Drowsy
Awesome (slang) Impressive
Put the bit on (slang) Borrow
No brainer (cliché) Easy decision
An arm and a leg Expensive
Vertically challenged (euphemism) Short
Gone to the great beyond (euphemism) Dead

Instead of “protracted,” say “drawn out.” Instead of “conundrum,” say “puzzle.” And instead of “loquacious,” say “talkative.” As you are writing your speech you also want to avoid technical jargon, slang, clichés, and euphemisms. This type of language is difficult to understand and tends to be low impact, as we mentioned previously in the chapter on Language. Compare the Low Impact language column with the High Impact column in Table 15.3 above to see examples of ways to make your language more powerful.

Avoid Information Overload

No one is given an unlimited amount of time to speak. You can’t cover everything that there is to know about your topic. And even if you could speak forever about everything there was to know about a subject, your listeners would never be able to take it all in. Information overload occurs when a person feels that they are faced with an overwhelming amount of information, with the effect that they are unable to process it all or unable to make decision. So, whether you have five minutes to give a presentation or three eight-hour days, you will need to narrow and focus your speech topic and objectives. If you know that you have ten minutes to speak, you will not be able to cover “Car Maintenance for Dummies,” but you probably could give a good speech entitled “How to Change the Oil in Your Car.” When planning your speech, be sure to determine the amount of information that can reasonably be covered in the time allowed. In fact, rather than taking the entire allotted speaking time, you should get into the practice of speaking only for 90—95% of the time that you are given (Reynolds, 2008). More is not always better—and your audience will appreciate it if you can skillfully make your point with time to spare.

Today knowledge has power. It controls access to opportunity and advancement. – Peter Drucker

Make Your Speech Memorable

Build in Repetition

Audience retention is determined by a number of factors including listeners’ interest, knowledge, physical and emotional state, level of stress, background, and other competing demands (Fujishin, 2000). One way to help your audience remember the content of your speech is by repetition (Hughes & Phillips, 2000). There are three ways to incorporate repetition into your speech. The first form repetition involves restating your main points in your introduction, body and conclusion. When you do this, you will restate your points using different language—not repeat the points word for word. The second form of repetition is where a word or a phrase is repeated in a poetic way, either throughout the speech or at a critical point in the speech. One example of this would be Abraham Lincoln’s “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Another example can be found in Sojourner Truth’s speech, delivered in 1851 at a women’s rights convention.

The word freedom etched in stone four times.
Osajus. CC BY: Attribution.
… That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere.
Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm!
I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much
as a man—when I could get it—and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery,
and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?

The final way to use repetition in your speech is through nonverbal communication. When you say the word “four” and you hold up four fingers, or when you verbally agree with a point and nod your head at the same time, you are reinforcing the idea verbally and nonverbally.

Appeal to Different Ways of Learning

Individuals have different learning style preferences, so some people prefer to learn visually [V], some aural [A], some by reading [R] and writing, and some prefer to learn kinesthetically [K] (Fleming, 2001). You can test your own learning style preference at Understanding your own and others’ learning styles is useful for two reasons. First, you will find that you tend to teach others using your own learning style. Second, regardless of your own learning styles, you need to appeal to as many different learning styles as possible in your informative speech. To see how each learning style prefers to be taught, see the table below.

Unfortunately, since the ear alone is a very poor information gathering device, steps must be taken to improve retention. Typically, listeners only retain only a small fraction of what is explained to them verbally. The first way to enhance retention is to appeal to as many of the senses as possible. Studies show that audiences retain 20 percent of what they hear, 30 percent of what they see, and 50 percent of what they hear and see (Westerfield, 2002). When the audience has an opportunity to do something (adding the kinesthetic sense), their retention increases to 80 percent (Walters, 1995). Or, if participation is not possible, a handout will raise retention to an impressive 85 percent—if the audience can review the handout at least once (Slutsky & Aun, 1997).


Table 15.4 The VARK Model of Learning
Learning Style Approach the Learner With…
Visual Learners Maps, charts, graphs, diagrams, brochures, flow charts, highlighters, different colors, pictures,
word pictures, and different spatial arrangements
Aural Learners Explanations of new ideas, large and small group discussions, lectures, audio recordings, stories, and jokes
Read/Write Learners Lists, essays, reports, textbooks, definitions, printed handouts, readings, manuals, and web pages
Kinesthetic Learners Field trips, hands-on projects, sensory stimulations, laboratories, recipes and solutions to problems, and collections of samples
From Hawk and Shaw (2007, p. 7) and Fleming (2001).

Another way to help your listeners remember is by the use of techniques like association, linking the new topic to things that the audience knows about or already understands. If you were giving a speech about rugby, you might compare it to soccer and football to help the audience understand the rules. The use of acronyms also aids retention. On the “Krusty Krab Training Video” episode of Spongebob Squarepants (a spoof on corporate training videos), they use the acronym “POOP.” When I asked my then eight-year-old son if he remembered (several weeks after watching the episode) what “POOP” stood for, he immediately and correctly answered “People Order Our Patties.” The final technique to help audiences remember information is the simplicity criterion. Information is best retained when it is explained from top to bottom (rather than bottom to top), when events are presented from first to last (rather than last to first), and when information is presented in the positive voice (rather than in the negative voice) (Devito, 1981).

Link Current Knowledge to New Knowledge

Certain sets of knowledge are common to many people in your classroom audience. For instance, most of them know what Wikipedia is. Many have found it a useful and convenient source of information about topics related to their coursework. Because many Wikipedia entries are lengthy, greatly annotated, and followed by substantial lists of authoritative sources, many students have relied on information acquired from Wikipedia in writing papers to fulfill course requirements. All this is information that virtually every classroom listener is likely to know. This is the current knowledge of your audience.

Because your listeners are already familiar with Wikipedia, you can link important new knowledge to their already-existing knowledge. Wikipedia is an “open source,” meaning that anyone can supplement, edit, correct, distort, or otherwise alter the information in Wikipedia. In addition to your listeners’ knowledge that a great deal of good information can be found in Wikipedia, they must now know that it isn’t authoritative. Some of your listeners may not enjoy hearing this message, so you must find a way to make it acceptable.

One way to make the message acceptable to your listeners is to show what Wikipedia does well. For example, some Wikipedia entries contain many good references at the end. Most of those references are likely to be authoritative, having been written by scholars. In searching for information on a topic, a student can look up one or more of those references in full-text databases or in the library. In this way, Wikipedia can be helpful in steering a student toward the authoritative information they need. Explaining this to your audience will help them accept, rather than reject, the bad news about Wikipedia.

Use Visuals

One man wears a sensor glove while another man points at the glove and speaks into a microphone. Behind them is a large powerpoint slide showing schematics for the sensor glove.
Imagine Cup Finalists. CC BY: Attribution

Visual aids can be a very powerful and efficient way to present facts that might otherwise be difficult to convey verbally. The benefits of visuals used for informative speeches include increasing interest, understanding, retention, and the speed at which your audience can understand complex facts. We live in a mediated culture, where people are visually oriented. This means that they expect to be visually stimulated with pictures, graphs, maps, video images and objects. Speakers who do not make use of visuals may be at a disadvantage when compared to speakers who use them. This is assuming of course that the visuals enhance what you are saying and that you use them well. As you know, plenty of people use Power Point, and it does not necessarily make their speech better or more memorable.

Perhaps the best reason to use visuals aids during an informative speech is to help your audience understand a concept that may be difficult to understand just by explaining it. In a speech about heart bypass surgery, would it be better to verbally describe the parts of the human heart, or to show a picture of it? How about a model of the heart? How about an actual human heart? Be sure to consider your audience! What if your speech is about an abstract concept that does not lend itself well to slick graphic representations? One way trainers get their audiences involved and make their presentations memorable is to provide handouts which the listeners complete (in part) themselves. Regardless of the type of visual media you select for your speech, just make sure that it does not overpower you or the subject. Work to keep the audience’s attention on you and what you are saying and use the visual to complement what you have to say.

Refer to Chapter 14 on Presentation Aids for more in-depth discussion of visual aids.







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Principles of Public Speaking Copyright © 2022 by Katie Gruber is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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