17.6 Constructing a Persuasive Speech

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In a sense, constructing your persuasive speech is the culmination of the skills you have learned already. In another sense, you are challenged to think somewhat differently. While the steps of analyzing your audience, formulating your purpose and central idea, applying evidence, considering ethics, framing the ideas in appropriate language, and then practicing delivery will of course apply, you will need to consider some expanded options about each of these steps.

Formulating a Proposition

As mentioned before, when thinking about a central idea statement in a persuasive speech, we use the terms “proposition” or claim. Persuasive speeches have one of four types of propositions or claims, which determine your overall approach. Before you move on, you need to determine what type of proposition you should have (based on the audience, context, issues involved in the topic, and assignment for the class).

Proposition of Fact

Speeches with this type of proposition attempt to establish the truth of a statement. The core of the proposition (or claim) is not whether something is morally right and wrong or what should be done about the topic, only that a statement is supported by evidence or not. These propositions are not facts such as “the chemical symbol for water is H20” or “Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008 with 53% of the vote.” Propositions or claims of fact are statements over which persons disagree and there is evidence on both sides, although probably more on one than the other. Some examples of propositions of fact are:

Converting to solar energy can save homeowners money.

John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald working alone.

Experiments using animals are essential to the development of many life-saving medical procedures.

Climate change has been caused by human activity.

Granting tuition tax credits to the parents of children who attend private schools will perpetuate educational inequality.

Watching violence on television causes violent behavior in children.

William Shakespeare did not write most of the plays attributed to him.

John Doe committed the crime of which he is accused.

Notice that in none of these are any values—good or bad—mentioned. Perpetuating segregation is not portrayed as good or bad, only as an effect of a policy. Of course, most people view educational inequality negatively, just as they view life-saving medical procedures positively. But the point of these propositions is to prove with evidence the truth of a statement, not its inherent value or what the audience should do about it. In fact, in some propositions of fact no action response would even be possible, such as the proposition listed above that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination of President Kennedy.

Propositions of Definition

This is probably not one that you will use in your class, but it bears mentioning here because it is used in legal and scholarly arguments. Propositions of definitions argue that a word, phrase, or concept has a particular meaning. There are various ways to define words, such as by negation, operationalizing, and classification and division. It may be important for you to define your terms, especially if you have a value proposition. Lawyers, legislators, and scholars often write briefs, present speeches, or compose articles to define terms that are vital to defendants, citizens, or disciplines. We saw a proposition of definition defended in the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision to redefine marriage laws as applying to same-sex couples, based on arguments presented in court. Other examples might be:

The Second Amendment to the Constitution does not include possession of automatic weapons for private use.

Alcoholism should be considered a disease because…

The action committed by Mary Smith did not meet the standard for first-degree murder.

Thomas Jefferson’s definition of inalienable rights did not include a right to privacy.

In each of these examples, the proposition is that the definition of these things (the Second Amendment, alcoholism, crime, and inalienable rights) needs to be changed or viewed differently, but the audience is not asked to change an attitude or action.

Propositions of Value

It is likely that you or some of your classmates will give speeches with propositions of value. When the proposition has a word such as “good,” “bad,” “best,” “worst,” “just,” “unjust,” “ethical,” “unethical,” “moral,” “immoral,” “beneficial,” “harmful,” “advantageous,” or “disadvantageous,” it is a proposition of value. Some examples include:

Hybrid cars are the best form of automobile transportation available today.

Homeschooling is more beneficial for children than traditional schooling.

The War in Iraq was not justified.

Capital punishment is morally wrong.

Mascots that involve Native American names, characters, and symbols are demeaning.

A vegan diet is the healthiest one for adults.

Propositions of value require a first step: defining the “value” word. If a war is unjustified, what makes a war “just” or “justified” in the first place? That is a fairly philosophical question. What makes a form of transportation “best” or “better” than another? Isn’t that a matter of personal approach? For different people, “best” might mean “safest,” “least expensive,” “most environmentally responsible,” “stylish,” “powerful,” or “prestigious.” Obviously, in the case of the first proposition above, it means “environmentally responsible.” It would be the first job of the speaker, after introducing the speech and stating the proposition, to explain what “best form of automobile transportation” means. Then the proposition would be defended with separate arguments.

Propositions of Policy

These propositions are easy to identify because they almost always have the word “should” in them. These propositions call for a change in policy or practice (including those in a government, community, or school), or they can call for the audience to adopt a certain behavior. Speeches with propositions of policy can be those that call for passive acceptance and agreement from the audience and those that try to instigate the audience to action, to actually do something immediately or in the long-term.

Our state should require mandatory recertification of lawyers every ten years.

The federal government should act to ensure clean water standards for all citizens.

The federal government should not allow the use of technology to choose the sex of an unborn child.

The state of Georgia should require drivers over the age of 75 to take a vision test and present a certificate of good health from a doctor before renewing their licenses.

Wyeth Daniels should be the next governor of the state.

Young people should monitor their blood pressure regularly to avoid health problems later in life.

As mentioned before, the proposition determines the approach to the speech, especially the organization. Also as mentioned earlier in this chapter, the exact phrasing of the proposition should be carefully done to be reasonable, positive, and appropriate for the context and audience. In the next section we will examine organizational factors for speeches with propositions of fact, value, and policy.

Organization Based on Type of Proposition

Organization for a Proposition of Fact

If your proposition is one of fact, you will do best to use a topical organization. Essentially that means that you will have two to four discrete, separate arguments in support of the proposition. For example:

Proposition: Converting to solar energy can save homeowners money
I. Solar energy can be economical to install.

A. The government awards grants.

B. The government gives tax credits.

II. Solar energy reduces power bills.

III. Solar energy requires less money for maintenance.

IV. Solar energy works when the power grid goes down.


Here is a first draft of another outline for a proposition of fact:

Proposition: Experiments using animals are essential to the development of many life-saving medical procedures.

  1. Research of the past shows many successes from animal experimentation.
  2. Research on humans is limited for ethical and legal reasons.
  3. Computer models for research have limitations.

However, these outlines are just preliminary drafts because preparing a speech of fact requires a great deal of research and understanding of the issues. A speech with a proposition of fact will almost always need an argument or section related to the “reservations,” refuting the arguments that the audience may be preparing in their minds, their mental dialogue. So the second example needs revision, such as:

I. The first argument in favor of animal experimentation is the record
  of successful discoveries from animal research.
II. A second reason to support animal experimentation is that research on humans is limited
  for ethical and legal reasons.
III. Animal experimentation is needed because computer models for
  research have limitations.
IV. Many people today have concerns about animal experimentation.
  A. Some believe that all experimentation is equal.
    1. There is experimentation for legitimate medical research.
    2. There is experimentation for cosmetics or shampoos.
  B. Others argue that the animals are mistreated.
    1. There are protocols for the treatment of animals in experimentation.
    2. Legitimate medical experimentation follows the protocols.
  C. Some believe the persuasion of certain advocacy groups like PETA.
    1. Many of the groups that protest animal experimentation have extreme views.
    2. Some give untrue representations.

To complete this outline, along with introduction and conclusion, there would need to be quotations, statistics, and facts with sources provided to support both the pro-arguments in Main Points I-III and the refutation to the misconceptions about animal experimentation in Subpoints A-C under Point IV.

Organization for a Proposition of Value

A persuasive speech that incorporates a proposition of value will have a slightly different structure. As mentioned earlier, a proposition of value must first define the “value” word for clarity and provide a basis for the other arguments of the speech. The second or middle section would present the defense or “pro” arguments for the proposition based on the definition. The third section would include refutation of the counter arguments or “reservations.” The following outline draft shows a student trying to structure a speech with a value proposition. Keep in mind it is abbreviated for illustrative purposes, and thus incomplete as an example of what you would submit to your instructor, who will expect more detailed outlines for your speeches.

Proposition: Hybrid cars are the best form of automotive transportation available today.
I. Automotive transportation that is best meets three standards. (Definition)
  A. It is reliable and durable.
  B. It is fuel efficient and thus cost efficient.
  C. It is therefore environmentally responsible.
II. Studies show that hybrid cars are durable and reliable. (Pro-Argument 1)
  A. Hybrid cars have 99 problems per 100 cars versus 133 problem per 100 conventional
  cars, according to TrueDelta, a car analysis website much like Consumer Reports.
  B. J.D. Powers reports hybrids also experience 11 fewer engine and transmission issues
  than gas-powered vehicles, per 100 vehicles.
III. Hybrid cars are fuel-efficient. (Pro-Argument 2)
  A. The Toyota Prius gets 48 mpg on the highway and 51 mpg in the city.
  B. The Ford Fusion hybrid gets 47 mpg in the city and in the country.
IV. Hybrid cars are environmentally responsible. (Pro-Argument 3)
  A. They only emit 51.6 gallons of carbon dioxide every 100 miles.
  B. Conventional cars emit 74.9 gallons of carbon dioxide every 100 miles.
  C. The hybrid produces 69% of the harmful gas exhaust that a conventional car does.
V. Of course, hybrid cars are relatively new to the market and some have questions about them. (Reservations)
  A. Don’t the batteries wear out and aren’t they expensive to replace?
    1. Evidence to address this misconception.
    2. Evidence to address this misconception.
  B. Aren’t hybrid cars only good for certain types of driving and drivers?
    1. Evidence to address this misconception.
    2. Evidence to address this misconception.
  C. Aren’t electric cars better?
    1. Evidence to address this misconception.
    2. Evidence to address this misconception.

Organization for a Proposition of Policy

The most common type of outline organizations for speeches with propositions of policy is problem-solution or problem-cause-solution. Typically we do not feel any motivation to change unless we are convinced that some harm, problem, need, or deficiency exists, and even more, that it affects us personally. As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” As mentioned before, some policy speeches look for passive agreement or acceptance of the proposition. Some instructors call this type of policy speech a “think” speech since the persuasion is just about changing the way your audience thinks about a policy.

On the other hand, other policy speeches seek to move the audience to do something to change a situation or to get involved in a cause, and these are sometimes called a “do” speech since the audience is asked to do something. This second type of policy speech (the “do” speech) is sometimes called a “speech to actuate.” Although a simple problem-solution organization with only two main points is permissible for a speech of actuation, you will probably do well to utilize the more detailed format called Monroe’s Motivated Sequence.

This format, designed by Alan Monroe (1951), who wrote a popular speaking textbook for many years, is based on John Dewey’s reflective thinking process. It seeks to go in-depth with the many questions an audience would have in the process of listening to a persuasive speech. Monroe’s Motivated Sequence involves five steps, which should not be confused with the main points of the outline. Some steps in Monroe’s Motivated Sequence may take two points.

Monroe’s Motivated Sequence

  1. Attention. This is the introduction, where the speaker brings attention to the importance of the topic as well as his or her own credibility and connection to the topic. This step will include the thesis and preview. More specifically, sub steps under “Attention” are: the attention getter,  the orientation (which includes background information, self introduction, and thesis), the establishment of credibility, and the preview statement. The attention getter should be just that, a statement that pulls the audience into the presentation and makes them want to listen. The orientation serves to establish the topic and tone of the presentation.  It includes any relevant background information, a self introduction, and a thesis statement.  Establishing credibility can be done verbally or nonverbally. If  the speaker has specific credentials or experience with the topic, they should tell the audience about it in the introduction.  If they do not have specific credentials, speakers may establish credibility by dressing nice, making good eye contact, properly citing sources, and demonstrating confidence. The preview statement is the roadmap for the presentation. The preview will indicate the problem, that it has negative impacts, and the speaker has a solution.  It is not recommended for speakers to give away the solution in most cases in the preview statement.  Usually it’s best to let the curiosity build in the audience and introduce it for the first time in the Satisfaction step.
  2. Need. Here, the problem is defined and established with evidence.  It is important to make the audience see the severity of the problem, and how it affects them, their family, or their community. The harm or need can be physical, financial, psychological, legal, emotional, educational, social, or a combination. Specific sub steps for “Need” are: problem statement, illustration, ramifications (side effects), pointing, and establishing clear criteria (features that should be in an acceptable solution). The problem statement should be a direct statement that focuses on a specific concern or problem that exists. The illustration is a real life instance of the problem’s existence. Ramifications are the side effects and harms of the problem. Ramifications may be a variety of supporting materials that underscore the significance of the problem and its effects. Pointing is a clear, direct statement that draws a clear connection between the audience and the topic. As obvious as it may be, speakers need to explicitly tell the audience why they should care about this problem. Establishing criteria is a persuasive tactic. Speakers outline a few vital features that must be in a solution in order for it to be effective. The speaker does not give away the solution yet, but outlines criteria that a good solution should meet.
  3. Satisfaction. A need calls for satisfaction in the same way a problem requires a solution. Not only does the speaker present the solution and describe it, but they must also defend that it works and will address the causes of the problem as well as the symptoms. Sub steps required for “Satisfaction” are: solution statement, explanation, theoretical demonstration, practical experience, and meeting objections. The solution statement is when the solution or advocated behavior is introduced. The explanation will detail the solution and how it will work. The theoretical demonstration shows or explains how the solution meets the criteria from the Need step or has the necessary features.  Practical experience presents an opportunity to show where the solution has proven successful. This may be in the form of a success story or specific instance where the solution made a difference.  Meeting objections gives speakers an opportunity to respond to the potential reservations the audience may ben thinking while listening.  It gives the speaker an opportunity to acknowledge what critics might be thinking and refute those concerns.
  4. Visualization. This step looks to the future either positively or negatively. The speaker creates a hypothetical scenario that places each audience member in their own future. If positive, the benefits from enacting or choosing the solution are shown. If negative, the disadvantages of not doing anything to solve the problem are shown. There may be times when it is acceptable to skip this step, especially if time is limited. If a speaker wishes to use both positive and negative scenarios, it is known as the method of contrast. The purpose of visualization is to motivate the audience by revealing future benefits or through fear appeals by showing future harms. The conditions in this situation should be probable and must be a personalized scenario for the audience members. This step requires imagery and vivid language.
  5. Action.  The action step serves as the conclusion. In the action step, the goal is to give specific steps for the audience to take as soon as possible to move toward solving the problem. Whereas the satisfaction step explains the solution overall, the action step gives concrete, individual ways to begin making the solution happen.  The sub steps of the “Action” step are: brakelight, summary, challenge/appeal, and note of finality. The brake light is the indication that a speaker is nearing the end.  It is usually demonstrated by phrases like, “In conclusion,…” or “In summary,…” The summary statement should be a restatement of the preview statement, but in past tense.  Instead of being vague about the solution, it is emphasized in the summary statement. The challenge or appeal is why this step is called Action. Speakers tell the audience what they should do individually as a result of hearing the speech. The note of finality serves as a strong closing statement.  It leaves the audience reflecting on the presentation.

The more concrete you can make the action step, the better. Research shows that people are more likely to act if they know how accessible the action can be. For example, if you want students to be vaccinated against the chicken pox virus (which can cause a serious disease called shingles in adults), you can give them directions to and hours for a clinic or health center where vaccinations at a free or discounted price can be obtained.

In some cases for speeches of policy, no huge problem needs solving. Or, there is a problem, but the audience already knows about it and is convinced that the problem exists and is important. In those cases, a format called “comparative advantages” is used, which focuses on how one possible solution is better than other possible ones. The organizational pattern for this kind of proposition might be topical:

I. This policy is better because…
II. This policy is better because…
III. This policy is better because…

If this sounds a little like a commercial that is because advertisements often use comparative advantages to show that one product is better than another. Here is an example:

Proposition: Owning the Barnes and Noble Nook is more advantageous than owning the Amazon Kindle.
I. The Nook allows owners to trade and loan books to other owners or people who have downloaded the Nook software, while the Kindle does not.
II. The Nook has a color-touch screen, while the Kindle’s screen is black and grey and non-interactive.
III. The Nook’s memory can be expanded through microSD, while the Kindle’s memory cannot be upgraded.

Blocks stacked vertically, checkmarks upon each block; blocks lead to the top, which contains a bullseye

Building Upon Your Persuasive Speech’s Arguments

Once you have constructed the key arguments and order of points (remembering that if you use topical order, to put your strongest or most persuasive point last), it is time to be sure your points are well supported. In a persuasive speech, there are some things to consider about evidence.

First, your evidence should be from sources that the audience will find credible. If you can find the same essential information from two sources but know that the audience will find the information more credible from one source than another, use and cite the information from the more credible one. For example, if you find the same statistical data on Wikipedia and the U.S. Department of Labor’s website, cite the U.S. Department of Labor (your instructor will probably not accept the Wikipedia site anyway). Audiences also accept information from sources they consider unbiased or indifferent. Gallup polls, for example, have been considered reliable sources of survey data because unlike some organizations, Gallup does not have a cause (political or otherwise) it is supporting.

Secondly, your evidence should be new to the audience. In other words, the best evidence is that which is from credible sources and the audience has not heard before (Reinard, 1988; McCroskey, 1969). If they have heard it before and discounted it, they will not consider your argument well supported. An example is telling people who smoke that smoking will cause lung cancer. Everyone in the U.S. has heard that thousands of times, but 14% of the population still smokes, which is about one in seven (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017)). Many of those who smoke have not heard the information that really motivates them to quit yet, and of course quitting is very difficult. Additionally, new evidence is more attention-getting, and you will appear more credible if you tell the audience something new (as long as you cite it well) than if you use the “same old, same old” evidence they have heard before.

Third, in order to be effective and ethical, your supporting evidence should be relevant and not used out of context, and fourth, it should be timely and not out of date.

After choosing the evidence and apportioning it to the correct parts of the speech, you will want to consider use of metaphors, quotations, rhetorical devices, and narratives that will enhance the language and “listenability” of your speech. Narratives are especially good for introduction and conclusions, to get attention and to leave the audience with something dramatic. You might refer to the narrative in the introduction again in the conclusion to give the speech a sense of finality.

Next you will want to decide if you should use any type of presentation aid for the speech. The decision to use visuals such as PowerPoint slides or a video clip in a persuasive speech should take into consideration the effect of the visuals on the audience and the time allotted for the speech (as well as your instructor’s specifications). The charts, graphs, or photographs you use should be focused and credibly done.

One of your authors remembers a speech by a student about using seat belts (which is, by the way, an overdone topic). What made the speech effective in this case were photographs of two totaled cars, both of which the student had been driving when they crashed. The devastation of the wrecks and his ability to stand before us and give the speech because he had worn his seat belt was effective (although it didn’t say much for his driving ability). If you wanted an audience to donate to disaster relief after an earthquake in a foreign country, a few photographs of the destruction would be effective, and perhaps a map of the area would be helpful. But in this case, less is more. Too many visual aids will likely distract from your overall speech claim.

Finally, since you’ve already had experience in class giving at least one major speech prior to this one, your delivery for the persuasive speech should be especially strong. Since delivery does affect credibility (Burgoon, Birk, & Pfau, 1990), you want to be able to connect visually as you make your appeals. You want to be physically involved and have vocal variety when you tell dramatic narratives that emphasize the human angle on your topic. If you do use presentation slides, you want them to work in seamlessly, using black screens when the visuals are not necessary.


Your persuasive speech in class, as well as in real life, is an opportunity to share a passion or cause that you believe will matter to society and help the audience live a better life. Even if you are initially uncomfortable with the idea of persuasion, we use it all the time in different ways. Choose your topic based on your own commitment and experience, look for quality evidence, craft your proposition so that it will be clear and audience appropriate, and put the finishing touches on it with an eye toward enhancing your logos, ethos, and pathos.

This resource is available at no cost at https://open.library.okstate.edu/speech2713/


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