14.4 Guidelines for Preparing an Informative Speech

Pistol Pete lecturing in front of a classroom of students with his notes on the projector screen.

Don’t Be Too Broad

In preparing and writing an informative speech, one of the most common mistakes students make is to think that they must be comprehensive in covering their topic, which isn’t realistic. Take for example an informative speech on Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was 56 years old when he died, so to think that it is possible to cover his entire life’s story in 5 to 7 minutes is un-realistic. The better option is to select three aspects of his life and focus on those as a way to provide an overall picture of who he was. So a proposed speech on Lincoln might have the specific purpose: “To inform my audience about Abraham Lincoln’s administration of the Civil War.” This is still a huge topic in that massive books have been written about it, but it could be addressed in three or four main points such as:

I. The Civil War began in the aftermath of Lincoln’s Election and Inauguration
II. Finding the right military leaders for the Union was his major challenge at the beginning.
III. The Emancipation Proclamation changed the nature of the War.
IV. Lincoln adopted a policy that led to the North’s victory.

Regardless of the topic, you will never be able to cover everything that is known about your topic, so don’t try. Select the things that will best help the audience gain a general understanding of the topic, that will interest them, and that they hopefully will find valuable.

Be Accurate, Clear, and Interesting

A good informative speech conveys accurate information to the audience in a way that is clear and that keeps the listener interested in the topic. Achieving all three of these goals—accuracy, clarity, and interest—is the key to being an effective speaker. If information is inaccurate, incomplete, or unclear, it will be of limited usefulness to the audience.

Part of being accurate is making sure that your information is current. Even if you know a great deal about your topic or wrote a good paper on the topic in a high school course, you will need to verify the accuracy and completeness of what you know, especially if it is medical or scientific information. Most people understand that technology changes rapidly, so you need to update your information almost constantly. The same is true for topics that, on the surface, may seem to require less updating. For example, the Civil War occurred over 150 years ago, but contemporary research still offers new and emerging theories about the causes of the war and its long-term effects. So even with a topic that seems to be unchanging, carefully check the information to be sure it’s accurate and up to date.

What defines “interesting?” In approaching the informative speech, you should keep in mind the good overall principle that the audience is asking, “what’s in it for me?” The audience is either consciously or unconsciously wondering “What in this topic for me? How can I use this information? Of what value is this speech content to me? Why should I listen to it?” One reason this textbook uses examples of the Civil War is that the authors’ college is located by several Civil War sites and even a major battlefield. Students see reminders of the Civil War on a regular basis.

You might consider it one of the jobs of the introduction to directly or indirectly answer these questions. If you can’t, then you need to think about your topic and why you are addressing it. If it’s only because the topic is interesting to you, you are missing the point. For example, why should we know about Abraham Lincoln’s administration of the Civil War? Obviously, because it had significant, long-term consequences to Americans, and you should articulate that in terms the audience can understand.

Keep in Mind Audience Diversity

Finally, remember that not everyone in your audience is the same, so an informative speech should be prepared with audience diversity in mind. If the information in a speech is too complex or too simplistic, it will not hold the interest of the listeners. Determining the right level of complexity can be hard. Audience analysis is one important way to do this. Do the members of your audience belong to different age groups? Did they all go to public schools in the United States, or are some them international students? Are they all students majoring in the same subject, or is there a mixture of majors? Never assume that just because an audience is made up of students, they all share a knowledge set.


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