Writing the Speech Goal

Writing the Speech Goal

Once you have chosen your topic and analyzed the audience and setting for your speech, you continue the preparation process by identifying the general goal you are hoping to achieve and then writing a specific speech goal.

General Goal

The general goal is the intent of your speech. Most speeches can be classified as those that are meant to entertain, inform or persuade. Because speech is a complex act that may affect an audience in different ways, these headings are useful only to show that in any public speaking act one overriding general goal is likely to predominate. Consider the following examples.
Jay Leno’s opening monologue on The Tonight Show is intended to entertain, even though it may include material that is perceived as informative or persuasive. Likewise, a political candidate’s speech is intended to persuade listeners to vote for him or her even though it may include some material that is perceived as amusing or informative.
Although some public speakers give speeches solely for the purpose of entertaining, in this text we focus attention on informative and persuasive speeches, the kinds of speeches most of us give in our daily lives.

Specific Goal

The specific goal, or specific purpose, is a single statement that specifies the exact response the speaker wants from the audience. For a speech on the topic “Evaluating Diamonds,” the goal could be stated as “I would like the audience to understand the four major criteria for evaluating a diamond.” For a speech on “Supporting the United Way,” the goal could be stated as “I would like the audience to donate money to the United Way.” In the first example, the goal is informative: The speaker wants the audience to understand the criteria. In the second example, the goal is persuasive: The speaker wants the audience to donate money. Now let us consider a step by step procedure for completing the specific speech goal.
1. Write a first draft of your speech goal that includes the infinitive phrase that articulates the response you want from your audience. Suppose Julia begins her first draft on the topic of Illiteracy by writing, “I want my audience to understand illiteracy.” With this goal statement, Julia recognizes that her goal is to have the audience understand something. Julia now has the start of an informative speech goal. Suppose instead, she had started, “I want to explain illiteracy.” Although it appears to be a reasonable goal, this statement puts the emphasis on the speaker rather than on audience response. Make sure that the specific goal begins with an expression of desired audience response.
2. Revise your first draft until you have written a complete sentence that specifies the nature of the audience response. The draft, “I want my audience to understand illiteracy,” is a good start, but “understand illiteracy” is not clear. Exactly “what” about illiteracy is it that Julia wants her audience to understand? As Julia works with the wording, she amends it to read, “I would like the audience to understand three aspects of the problem of illiteracy.” This draft is a complete sentence statement of her speech goal. Notice that it includes the desired audience response, “to understand three aspects of illiteracy.”
Now the question becomes, does the phrase “understand three aspects of illiteracy” fully capture what she will be talking about? Is Julia concerned with illiteracy in general? Or illiteracy in a specific situation? As Julia thinks about it, she sees that what she really wants to focus on is how illiteracy hurts people who are trying to function well at work. With this in mind, she revises the goal by writing, “I would like the audience to understand three aspects of the problem of illiteracy in the workplace.” Now she has the goal limited not only in number but also in situation.
3. Make sure that the goal contains only one idea. Suppose Julia had written, “I would like the audience to understand three aspects of the problem of illiteracy in the workplace and to prove how it is detrimental to both industry and the individual.” This draft includes two distinct ideas; either one can be used but not both. Together they blur the focus of the speech. Julia must make a decision: (1) Does she want to focus her talk on aspects of the problem? If so, her goal statement would be, “I would like the audience to understand three major aspects of illiteracy in the workplace.” (2) Does she want to focus on how harmful it is? If so, her goal statement would be, “I would like to prove that illiteracy in the workplace is detrimental to the individual and to industry.”
4. Revise the infinitive or infinitive phrase until it indicates the specific audience reaction desired. If you regard your ideas as useful but noncontroversial, then your intent is primarily informative and the infinitive that expresses your desired audience reaction should take the form “to understand” or “to appreciate.” If, however, the main idea of your speech is controversial, a statement of belief or a call to action, then your intent is persuasive and will be reflected in such infinitives as “to believe” or “to change.”
5. Write at least three different versions of the goal. The clearer your specific goal, the more purposeful and effective your speech is likely to be. Even if Julia likes her first sentence, she should write at least one additional version. The second version may prove to be an even clearer statement. For instance, on a second try, she might write, “I would like the audience to understand three major effects of the problem of illiteracy in the workplace.” Changing “three aspects” to “three major effects” gives the goal a different emphasis. She may decide she likes that emphasis better.

Relationship among Subjects Topics Goals and Thesis Statements

The specific goal is a statement of how you want your audience to respond. The. thesis statement is a sentence that outlines the specific elements of the speech supporting the goal statement. For example, for a speech on evaluating diamonds, Sandy wrote:
Specific goal: I would like the audience to understand the major criteria for evaluating a diamond.
Thesis statement: Diamonds are evaluated on the basis of carat (weight), color, clarity and cutting.
Notice that the specific goal clearly states what Sandy wanted the audience to do (understand the major criteria), but it does not identify the criteria for actually evaluating. Because Sandy had worked in a jewelry store, she already knew the information about criteria; she was able write a thesis statement showing the criteria of carat, color, clarity and cutting before doing any research. We mention the thesis statement in this chapter to give you an idea of the relationship among subject, topic, general goal, specific goal and thesis statement. If you think you have enough understanding of your specific goal to sketch a thesis statement, then go ahead. By specifying the focus of the speech, you give yourself even more direction when beginning research.


The first step of effective speech preparation is to determine your speech goal. You begin by selecting a subject that you know something about and are interested in, such as a job, a hobby or a contemporary issue of concern to you. To arrive at a specific topic, brainstorm a list of related words under each subject heading. When you have brainstormed at least twenty topics, you can check the specific topic under each heading that is most meaningful to you.
The next step is to analyze the audience and occasion to decide how to shape and direct your speech. Audience analysis is the study of your audience’s knowledge, interests and attitudes. Gather specific data about your audience to determine how its members are alike and how they differ. Use this information to predict audience interest in your topic, level of understanding of your topic and attitude toward you and your topic. Also, consider how the occasion of the speech and its physical setting will affect your overall speech plan.
Once you have a speech topic and have accounted for your audience and setting, you can determine your speech goal and write a thesis statement. The general goal of a speech is to entertain, to inform, or to persuade. The specific goal is a complete sentence that specifies the exact response the speaker wants from the audience. Writing a specific speech goal involves the following five step procedure: (1) Write a first draft of your speech goal. (2) Revise your first draft until you have written a complete sentence that states the specific response or behavior you want from your audience. (3) Make sure that the goal contains only one idea. (4) Revise the infinitive or infinitive phrase until it indicates the specific audience reaction desired. (5) Write out at least three different versions of the goal before deciding on one.

Determining Your Goal

Determining Your Goal

Donna Montez is a marine biologist. She knows that her audience wants to hear her talk about marine biology, but she doesn’t know what aspect of the topic would most interest her audience.
Ben Petrocelli is running for office and he is going to give a speech to people living in the West End. His goal is to say something that will motivate these constituents to vote for him. Dan Wong has been invited to speak to an assembly at his old inner city high school. He thinks he may have a lot to say to these students coming up behind him, but most of all he wants them to understand the qualities a person needs to do well in college.
Ayanna Cartland is taking a public speaking class, and her first speech is scheduled for two weeks from tomorrow. As of today, she doesn’t have the foggiest idea of what she is going to talk about.
Do any of these situations seem familiar? Donna has a general subject, but it is too broad for a single speech. Ben has identified his goal, but he doesn’t know what topic will help him achieve it. Dan has isolated his most important message, but he must how best to present it to this audience. Then there is Ayanna. All she is sure of is that she must give a speech soon!
Having an effective speech plan will help you solve all of these problems. An effective speech plan is a product of five action steps. In this chapter, we consider the first step: Determine a specific speech goal that is adapted to your audience and occasion. This involves selecting a topic from a subject area that is important to you and that you know something about, analyzing your audience and the speech setting and finally, articulating your goal by determining the response you want from your audience. Although each task in the process is discussed separately, they do overlap and are sometimes accomplished in a different order.

Selecting a Topic from a Subject Area

In real life settings, people are invited to give speeches because of their expertise on a particular subject, but selecting the best topic is often left in the hands of the speaker. What is the difference between a subject and a topic? A subject is a broad area of knowledge, such as the stock market, cognitive psychology, baseball or the Middle East. A topic is some specific aspect of a subject. Thus, an authority on the subject of the stock market might be prepared to speak on such diverse topics as the nature of the New York Stock Exchange, the NASDAQ, investment strategies or bull versus bear markets.
The goal of this section is to help you identify a suitable subject area and then select potential specific topics from that subject area.

Identifying Subjects

When you are asked (or required) to give a speech, use the same criteria for identifying subjects as those used by professional speakers. Start by identifying subject areas (l) that are important to you and (2) that you know something about. Then select suitable topics within those areas.
Subjects that meet these criteria probably include such things as your vocation (major, prospective profession, or current job), your hobbies or leisure activities, and special interests (social, economic, educational, or political concerns). Thus, if retailing is your actual or prospective vocation, tennis is your favorite activity, and problems of illiteracy, substance abuse, and toxic and nontoxic waste are your special concerns, then these are subject areas from which you could draw topics.
It is tempting to think, “Why not just talk about something I know an audience wants to hear about?” The reason for avoiding this temptation is that an audience chooses to listen to a speaker because of perceived expertise or insight on a particular subject. Even professional speakers can get in “over their heads” when they speak on subjects they know little about.
As an inexperienced speaker, it is especially important to choose topics in those subject areas in which you already have spent months or years developing expertise and insight.

Brainstorming for Topics

Once you have identified your subject area, a few good topics may come to mind. But most of us need to list potential choices to draw from. To stimulate your thinking, try using a form of brainstorming. This is a free association procedure that generates as many ideas as possible.
To brainstorm for topics, divide a sheet of paper into three columns. Using the column headings as your guide, write one subject area at the top of each column. Work for at least a few minutes on each column, brainstorming topics for each subject area. Although you may not finish all the columns in one sitting, try to list at least twenty items in each column before you begin evaluating them. When the list under each column is complete, read the entries and check the topics that strike you as particularly important or that might be of special interest to your audience. For instance, a person who listed the subject area of “magic” as his or her hobby might list.
Why does brainstorming help? Brainstorming enables you to take advantage of a basic commonsense principle. It is easier to select a correct answer to a multiple choice question than to think of the answer to the same question without the choices. So too, it is easier to select a topic from a list than to come up with a topic out of the blue. Instead of asking “What should I talk about?” ask yourself “What is the topic under each subject heading that is most compelling to me?” When you start with a subject area of expertise and interest, you often can list twenty, thirty, fifty or even more related topics.

Analyzing the Audience

Because speeches are given for a particular audience, early in your preparation process you need to conduct an analysis of your prospective audience. Audience analysis is the study of the specific audience for your speech. It includes (1) gathering essential audience demographic data to determine in what ways a majority of audience members are alike and (2) making predictions of audience level of interest in, knowledge of and attitudes toward you and your topic. The results of this analysis can guide you in selecting supporting material and in organizing and presenting your speech in ways that adapt to that audience.

Kinds of Audience Data Needed

The first step is to gather essential audience demographic data to determine in what ways a majority of audience members are alike. The specific categories in which you need accurate data are age, education, gender, occupation, income, culture, geographic uniqueness and group affiliation.
Age Data needed are the average age and the age range of your audience.
Education Data needed are whether audience members have high school, college or post college education or whether their education levels are mixed.
Gender Data needed are whether your audience will be primarily male, primarily female or fairly well balanced.
Occupation Data needed are whether the majority of your audience have a single occupation, such as nursing, banking, drill press operating, teaching or sales.
Income Data needed are whether the average income level of the audience is high, low or average.
Culture Data needed are whether your audience is alike ethnically, including race, religion and nationality.
Geographic uniqueness Data needed are whether audience members are from the same state, city or neighborhood.
Group affiliation Data needed are whether the majority of audience members belong to the same social or fraternal group.

Ways of Gathering Data

Now that we have considered the kinds of audience data you need, let’s consider three ways you can gather that information.
1. You can gather data through observation. If you are at all familiar with members of your audience (as you are likely to be with members of your classroom audience), you can get much of the significant data about them from personal observation. For instance, from being in class for even a couple of sessions, you will have a good idea of class members approximate age, the ratio of men to women and their racial makeup. As you listen to them talk, you will learn more about their interest in, knowledge of and attitudes about many issues.
2. You can gather data by questioning the person who scheduled your speech. When you are invited to speak, ask your contact person to supply as much audience data as possible. Even if the information is not as specific as you would like, it will still be useful. Be especially sure to ask for the kind of data that will be likely to be most important for your topic. For instance, you may be speaking on a topic for which audience education level is especially important.
3. You can make intelligent guesses about audience demographics. If you cannot get information in any other way, you will have to make informed guesses based on such indirect information as the general makeup of the people who live in a specific community or the kinds of people who are likely to attend a speech on your topic.

Using Data to Predict Audience Reactions

The next step in audience analysis is to use the data you have collected to predict the audience’s potential interest in, knowledge of and attitudes toward you and your topic. These predictions form a basis for the development of your speech strategy, “Adapting Verbally and Visually.”
Audience interest Your first goal is to predict how interested the audience is likely to be in learning about your topic. For instance, suppose you are planning to give a speech on cholesterol to your classroom audience. You can predict that you will have to build audience interest. Why? For most college age students, the cholesterol heart attack connection is not meaningful.
Audience understanding  Your second goal is to predict whether the audience has sufficient background to understand your information. For instance, for a speech on big band music or folk music, an older audience is likely to have better background knowledge than a younger audience. However, for a speech on rap music, a younger audience is likely to have better background knowledge than an older audience.
Audience attitude toward you as speaker Your third goal is to predict your audience’s attitude toward you. Your success in informing or persuading an audience is likely to depend on whether it perceives you to be a credible source of information. Credibility is based on whether a person seems to be knowledgeable (having the necessary information to give this speech), trustworthy (being honest, dependable, and ethical) and personable (showing enthusiasm, warmth, friendliness and concern for members of the audience).
Audience attitude toward your topic  Your final goal is to predict your audience’s attitude toward your topic. This assessment is especially important if your goal is to attempt to change a belief or move the audience to action. Audience attitudes are usually expressed by opinions. Except for polling the audience, there is no way to be sure about your assessment, but you can make reasonably accurate estimates based on demographic knowledge. For instance, a meeting of the local Right to Life chapter will look at abortion differently than will a meeting of NOW (National Organization for Women). The more data you have about your audience and the more experience you have in analyzing audiences, the better are your chances of accurately judging audience attitudes.

Considering the Setting

The location for your speech or the setting, provides you with guidelines for both meeting audience expectations and determining the tone of the speech. Because your class meets regularly at the same time under the same conditions, your consideration of setting is not much of a challenge. For speeches under other conditions, however, you will need to spend time considering the setting. Let’s review the questions about the setting that are most important to answer.
1. How large will the audience be? If you are anticipating a small audience (perhaps up to fifty people or so), you will be close enough to all of them to talk in a normal voice and feel free to move about. In contrast, if you anticipate a large audience, you will probably need a microphone and you will be less likely to be able to move about.
2. When will the speech be given? A speech given early in the morning requires a different approach from one given right after lunch or in the evening. If a speech is scheduled after a meal, for instance, the audience may be lethargic, mellow or even on the verge of sleep. As a result, you may want to insert more “attention getters” (examples, illustrations and stories) to counter potential lapses of attention.
3. Where in the program does the speech occur? If you are the only speaker or the featured speaker, you have an obvious advantage you are the focal point of audience attention. In the classroom, however, in other settings where there are many speeches, your place on the schedule may affect how you are received. For example, if you go first, you may need to “warm up” the listeners and be prepared to meet the distraction of a few audience members strolling in late. If you speak last, you must counter the tendency of the audience to be weary from listening to several speeches.
4. What is the time limit for the speech? The time limit for classroom speeches is usually quite short, so you will want to make sure that you are not packing too much information into your speech. “Three Major Causes of Environmental Degradation” can be presented in five minutes, but “A History of the Human Impact on the Environment” cannot. Problems with time limits are not peculiar to classroom speeches. Any speech setting includes actual or implied time limits. For example, a Sunday sermon may be limited to twenty to thirty minutes.
5. Are there special expectations for the speech? Every occasion provides some special expectations. At an Episcopalian Sunday service, for example, the congregation expects the minister’s sermon to have a religious theme. For classroom speeches, one of the major expectations is meeting the assignment. Whether the speech assignment is defined by purpose (to inform or to persuade), by type (expository or descriptive), or by subject (book analysis or current event), your goal should reflect the nature of that assignment.
6. Where will the speech be given? Because classrooms vary in size, lighting, seating arrangements and the like, consider the factors that may affect your presentation. In a long, narrow room, you may need to speak louder than usual to reach the back row. In a darkened room, make sure the lights are on and that the blinds or shades are open to bring in as much light as possible. Venues outside of school settings offer even greater variations in conditions. Ask for specific information about seating capacity, shape, number of rows, nature of lighting, existence of a speaking stage or platform, distance between speaker and first row and so on, before you speak.
7. What equipment is necessary to give the speech? For some speeches, you may need a microphone, a chalkboard or an overhead or slide projector and screen. In most instances, speakers have some kind of speaking stand, but it is wise not to count on it. If the person who has contacted you to speak has any control over the setting, be sure to explain what you need but always have alternative plans in case what you have asked for is unavailable. It is frustrating to plan a slide presentation, for example, and then discover that there is no place to plug in the