14.1 What is an Informative Speech?

Pistol Pete holds a book very close to his face

The improvement of understanding is for two ends: first our own increase for knowledge; secondly, to enable us to deliver that knowledge to others.” -John Locke

Defining what an informative speech is can be both straight-forward and somewhat tricky at the same time. Very simply, an informative speech can first be defined as a speech based entirely and exclusively on facts. Basically, an informative speech conveys knowledge, a task that every person engages in every day in some form or another. Whether giving someone who is lost driving directions, explaining the specials of the day as a server, or describing the plot of a movie to friends, people engage in forms of informative speaking daily. Secondly, an informative speech does not attempt to convince the audience that one thing is better than another. It does not advocate a course of action.

Consider the following two statements:

2 + 2 = 4

George Washington was the first President of the United States.

In each case, the statement made is what can be described as irrefutable, meaning a statement or claim that cannot be argued. In the first example, even small children are taught that having two apples and then getting two more apples will result in having four apples. This statement is irrefutable in that no one in the world will (or should!) argue this: It is a fact.

Similarly, with the statement “George Washington was the first President of the United States,” this again is an irrefutable fact. If you asked one hundred history professors and read one hundred history textbooks, the professors and textbooks would all say the same thing: Washington was the first president. No expert, reliable source, or person with any common sense would argue about this.

(Someone at this point might say, “No, John Hanson was the first president.” However, he was president under the Articles of Confederation for a short period—November 5, 1781, to November 3, 1782—not under our present Constitution. This example shows the importance of stating your facts clearly and precisely and being able to cite their origins.)

Therefore, an informative speech should not incorporate opinion as its basis. This can be the tricky part of developing an informative speech, because some opinion statements sometimes sound like facts (since they are generally agreed upon by many people), but are really opinion.

For example, in an informative speech on George Washington, you might say, “George Washington was one of the greatest presidents in the history of the United States.” While this statement may be agreed upon by most people, it is possible for some people to disagree and argue the opposite point of view. The statement “George Washington was one of the greatest presidents in the history of the United States” is not irrefutable, meaning someone could argue this claim. If, however, you present the opinion as an opinion from a source, that is acceptable: it is a fact that someone (hopefully someone with expertise) holds the opinion. You do not want your central idea, your main points, and the majority of your supporting material to be opinion or argument in an informative speech.

Additionally, you should never take sides on an issue in an informative speech, nor should you “spin” the issue in order to influence the opinions of the listeners. Even if you are informing the audience about differences in views on controversial topics, you should simply and clearly explain the issues. This is not to say, however, that the audience’s needs and interests have nothing to do with the informative speech. We come back to the WIIFM principle (“What’s in it for me?) because even though an informative speech is fact-based, it still needs to relate to people’s lives in order to maintain their attention.

The question may arise here, “If we can find anything on the Internet now, why bother to give an informative speech?” The answer lies in the unique relationship between audience and speaker found in the public speaking context. The speaker can choose to present information that is of most value to the audience. Secondly, the speaker is not just overloading the audience with data. As we have mentioned before, that’s not really a good idea because audiences cannot remember great amounts of data and facts after listening. The focus of the content is what matters. This is where the specific purpose and central idea come into play. Remember, public speaking is not a good way to “dump data” on the audience, but to make information meaningful.

Finally, although we have stressed that the informative speech is fact-based and does not have the purpose of persuasion, information still has an indirect effect on someone. If a classmate gives a speech on correctly using the Heimlich Maneuver to help a choking victim, the side effect (and probably desired result) is that the audience would use it when confronted with the situation.

Pete Goes to the Writing Center

Pistol Pete walks through campus

With his informative speech about the traditions of OSU looming, Pistol Pete knew he needed to ensure his preparation outline was in tip-top shape. While he was confident about his content, he wanted to make certain his structure was clear and cohesive. Who better to help with that than the experts at the OSU Writing Center?

As he approached the Writing Center, Pete felt a mix of nervousness and excitement. The Writing Center had a reputation for being a resourceful hub, a place where many students had honed their writing skills.

He was greeted warmly by a student consultant named Sarah. “How can I help you today, Pistol Pete?” she asked with a smile. Pete explained his assignment and his desire to refine his preparation outline.

Sarah began by asking Pete about his main objectives for the speech. As he shared his thoughts, she listened attentively, jotting down notes. She then asked to see the current state of his outline. As Pete handed it over, he explained his three main points and how he intended to delve into each one.

Sarah reviewed the outline, making annotations. She noticed that while Pete had a wealth of information, it would be beneficial to reorganize some points to improve flow and cohesiveness. They worked together to structure the outline, ensuring each point logically led to the next.

She also gave Pete tips on effective transitions to maintain audience engagement and create a seamless progression between points. Pete, always eager to learn, scribbled down notes, asking questions when needed.

Noticing that Pete had included a lot of historical details in his outline, Sarah suggested incorporating personal anecdotes or experiences related to the traditions to add a touch of relatability. Pete loved the idea and thought of a couple of personal stories he could weave in.

Before wrapping up, Sarah directed Pete to some online resources available through the Writing Center’s website, which could further help him refine his speech. She also reminded him about the importance of rehearsing his speech multiple times to ensure it flowed smoothly with the revised outline.

Pistol Pete left the Writing Center feeling empowered and grateful. Sarah’s guidance had transformed his outline into a clear and engaging roadmap for his speech. He felt more prepared than ever to share the rich traditions of OSU with his audience, all thanks to the support he received at the Writing Center. Have you ever visited the Writing Center on campus?






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