There are instances where you will be called upon to give an informative speech as part of a group of other informative speakers. This situation may be referred to as a panel or as a symposium. The difference is that in a panel, the focus is on a discussion by experts in front of an audience. The expert speakers may start with an opening statement, but typically the panelists are seated and their opening remarks are designed to present their basic position or stance and the bulk of time is spent in question-and-answer from the audience, from the moderator, or from each other. Some tips for panels are given here.
A symposium is more formal and the experts or presenters have put together prepared speeches on different aspects of an overall topic. For example, they may all be experts on juveniles in the criminal justice system, but they have chosen or been assigned a specific informative topic for the audience, who are probably also professionals in that field. One might speak on challenges with legal representation for juveniles, another on family reconciliation, another on educational opportunities, and so on. While there may be time for question and answers at the end, the bulk of the time is taken up by the prepared speeches.
The author has used the symposium format in her teaching of the informative speech for over 25 years. The students at first are skeptical, but usually afterward they see the benefit of the experience in the classroom. For one thing, instead of a class of 25-30 separate and unrelated informative speeches in the class, there are four sets of related speeches that explore a topic in more depth. Some popular topics have been physical and mental health issues (diabetes, breast cancer, pets, schizophrenia, phobias), the arts (musical genres, history of film), travel, and food. In those years, there have been topics that didn’t work. Serial killers and sexually transmitted infections were two of them. One speech on that is acceptable. Six or seven, not so much. Just to clarify, the author always assigns the groups but the students pick the topics.
Here are some pointers if you are assigned to give a symposium-style informative speech:
- Spend ample time discussing the topics so that everyone is supportive of the overall topic and the way the topic is broken down into separate speech topics. Do not let one person run the show and insist on a specific topic. A strong personality can sway the rest of the group and then later the other members become unhappy about the topic and resentful of the persuasive member.
- Try to develop topics in different ways; for example, let’s take the overall topic of phobias. The temptation is for each separate speech to be a specific phobia. While this is all right, it becomes repetitive to the audience. There are other ways to develop the subtopics (origins, different treatment options, phobias related to certain demographic groups) instead of six or seven speeches on different phobias.
- Be in constant communication with your peers so that you know exactly what their topics are and how they are being developed. You don’t want one or two co-presenters to “go rogue” and change their topics without the knowledge of the others in the group. You also do not want to end up overlapping, so that part of your speech is actually in someone else’s speech. Share phone numbers so you can text or call each other, if the members are willing.
- You should appoint a moderator who will introduce the speeches and speakers and close or call for questions when the speeches are completed, and possibly summarize the set of speeches at the end. This member does not have to be the first or last speaker in the group.
- Be sure the order of speeches is logical, not random.
- Be sure to get to the class early so you can set up and feel secure that your team members are present.
- If you are required to have a question-and-answer session at the end, the moderator should try to make sure that the participation is balanced and one talkative person doesn’t answer all the questions. There will be questions you cannot answer, so just be honest and say, “I didn’t find that answer in my research.”
Many instructors use this format because it not only teaches informative speaking skills, but because it emphasizes team work. You will be expected to do many team projects in your educational and professional careers, and this is a good way to start learning effective teamwork skills.
Learning how to give informative speeches will serve you well in your college career and your future work. Keep in mind the principles in this chapter but also those of the previous chapters: relating to the informational needs of the audience, using clear structure, and incorporating interesting and attention-getting supporting evidence.