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How to Give a Persuasive Speech

By Christopher J. Klicka
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #52, 2003.

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Chris Klicka


One of the most important skills to develop is the ability to give a persuasive speech. All homeschools should include a class on how to give a good speech.

Why is this so important? Are not some people geared more to work with their hands and others with their tongues? Obviously, this is true. Some of our children are more verbal and others are more silent. However, as Christians who are serving as a reflection of Jesus Christ in this dark world, we have a responsibility to shine for Him. This means that we have to be able to articulate God's truths to a world that is lost. We must be able to explain why abortion is wrong, and what the Scriptures say about how we should live. Our highest priority of all is to share the gospel and thus fulfill the Great Commission.

Paul said in I Corinthians 5:11, "Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord we persuade men." In the preceding verse Paul explained that all men will be coming before the judgment seat of God. What a terrible and glorious day that will be. Because he understood this and had the proper and necessary fear of the Lord, he worked hard to persuade men of the Gospel. Further on he states, "Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ." We need to remember that at all times we are the special representatives of God Almighty to share the good news with a needy world. We have to be able to speak with clarity and accuracy. I Peter 3:15 says, "Always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence."

If we teach our children in the skill of giving a persuasive speech, they will be able to apply these principles each and every day as they walk through this life. Teaching them how to speak well will give them confidence and boldness, both of which are necessary to share God's truth with those whom they meet and work with.

There are several principles which are important to incorporate in any persuasive speech class that you have in your homeschool.

The Secret to Success

The secret to creating a persuasive speech is thorough preparation. Anyone who wants to convince someone else of a particular issue or truth must be very familiar with their subject. It is important, therefore, to spend sufficient time preparing and understanding the topic on which you are giving a speech. If you know your subject well and truly believe in your position the audience will tend to lean your way.

A key aspect of preparation is creating an ideal outline. The oft-quoted principle of persuasive writing or speaking is true and should be applied in every persuasive speech. First of all, tell them what you are going to tell them. Secondly, tell them. Thirdly, tell them what you have told them. Another way of saying it is to "name it, explain it, prove it, and conclude it." Your outline should follow these simple principles. The outline does not need to be extremely detailed; it simply needs to be accurate and precise. If you are talking about a solution to a problem in our culture, you must describe the problem, explain the solution, prove why the solution will work, and then conclude it.

Your conclusion is definitely the most important part of your speech, since it will be the last thing that your audience hears and is likely to remember. So be sure to prepare a strong and coherent conclusion that you write out beforehand.

Good Organization

It is important to follow your outline as described above as much as possible. Be sure to focus on the issues and not get lost in the facts. Usually, any particular issue is tied to many examples, facts, and figures. Your speech can end up wasting too much time on facts and thereby missing the important issues and solutions that you want to present and convince the audience of.

It is also helpful to begin with your strongest argument in order to capture the attention of your audience and hopefully their early support.

Good Language

As you speak, be precise so that people know exactly what you are talking about. For example, if you were trying to persuade an audience of the ineffectiveness of daytime curfews and part of your argument is that the statistics show that there is no difference in the number of youth involved in burglaries with or without curfews, use the term "burglary." Do not be tempted to generalize and use the term "crime." Being precise, you avoid misleading people and hopefully present the material in the most convincing way.

Also, be sure to tell a story or two in your speech. The audience loves illustrations. If the illustration clearly proves your point it will be much more effective than other evidence that you present in your speech. You need to stir the imagination of the audience and create an image in their mind which will not be easy to forget.

Real-life examples are best; however, fictitious examples that demonstrate a particular aspect of your argument are also highly effective and will enable your audience to retain what you have told them.

Delivery

Be certain to make sure your arguments come alive. If at all possible, avoid reading your speech, and keep your eyes on the audience. A simple outline with your key points should be sufficient to deliver your speech if you have thoroughly prepared.

Guard against talking too fast. You do not want your audience to miss any word. Therefore, speak strongly and distinctly, avoiding allowing your voice to trail off at the end of a sentence. Be sure to consider the proper emphasis of the different aspects of your speech. Practice pausing and changing tones, and avoid as much as possible "ah's," um's," "and's," and "you know's."

Speak in common language. Some speakers think that the most effective speeches use big words. But this does not necessarily enhance your speech or contribute to your speech being more persuasive. It only demonstrates to the audience how educated you are, and that you regularly use a thesaurus. You do not want to ever be in the position of using such big and complicated words that the average man and woman in your audience does not know what you are saying.

Know Your Audience

As much as possible, be aware of who you will be speaking to. If you are speaking to a group of scientists, be sure to speak in a logical and accurate way, clearly supported by scientific evidence. If you are speaking to youth, be sure that you speak at a level that they can absorb and stay attentive. If you are speaking to a friendly audience that generally supports your position, you can speak with great emotion and fervency. If you are speaking to an audience who is opposed to your position, it is important to speak from a position where you lay a strong foundation and much supporting evidence, yet deliver your speech with sufficient force to demonstrate that you really believe in your position.

Use Humor

Using humor in your speech will serve a number of purposes. First of all, it will help people stay awake. Secondly, humor can serve the purpose of bringing home a point. Funny examples are often remembered, and you can disarm your opponent by proving your point through such an example.

But beware that humor does not always come across well, so be sure to carefully gauge your audience ahead of time. Also thoroughly know your joke so you do not mess it up, and embarrass yourself.

Use of Handouts or Visual Aids

Every effective persuasive speech should include some visual aids. I have spoken at homeschool conventions for almost 18 years to groups of 100 to 5,000 people. I have found that overheads can be very effective with smaller crowds. Very few words, however, can be put on the overhead in order to enable people to read it clearly. Illustrations and pictures are also very effective. I have used some PowerPoint slides, and have found that this can be important to help the crowd better remember the points that I make during my speech.

However, I still believe the most effective visual aid is a handout. I think it is worth providing a detailed outline that can be distributed to the whole audience. This gives individuals the opportunity to bring something home. They'll read more of it later and thus be better convinced of your position. Many times people will not be taking notes, so this also helps them. Handouts often end up having a life of their own, being photocopied and distributed in other group settings. This is effective for the message of your speech to be distributed far and wide, thereby convincing more people of your position.

Sincerity

I believe the most effective speakers are those who can exhibit sincerity as they deliver their speech. Sincerity is a quality that must be consciously developed. If you are speaking on a topic that you believe, you need to make that clear with the audience. If they at all receive a hint that you are insincere, your opportunity to convince them of your position is greatly diminished.

One way that a speaker can appear to be insincere is if he or she puts on an "air" of professionalism or superiority. The speaker deep down may not be insincere, but that's what the audience ends up believing.

I cannot emphasize how important and crucial it is to be sincere in your delivery of your speech. It very well may make the difference of whether or not you convince your audience of your position.

A good speech can be summed up in the words of Cicero, "Be clear so the audience understands what is being said; be interesting so the audience will want to listen to what is said; be persuasive so the audience will agree with what is being said." Think of a speech as playing catch with someone. You want to throw them the ball and have them throw it back to you. When you speak, make sure you are not just speaking above the heads of your audience. You want to speak at the level of your audience, always keeping them interested by interjecting various stories and humor throughout your speech. You do not want to be throwing the ball way past them, so that they miss your point. This takes a certain concentration on making sure that your audience is responding and understanding what is being said. This can usually be determined by looking at their faces, listening to their laughter, or hearing their expressions.

My hope is that the homeschool movement will produce many good and effective speakers who can be ambassadors for Jesus Christ, to be able to articulate the Gospel and to present it with emotion and sincerity. You can train your children well, even if you do not consider yourself a good speaker. These points listed above will help you as you faithfully and diligently teach your children.


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