Thursday, October 04, 2007

Speech Writing: Subject, Purpose, Audience, Occasion


Public Speaking Organization: Subject, Purpose, Audience and Occasion


Jakarta – As promised in the last OnWords, today we will begin to explore how to become better public speakers.

Public speaking success is in a large part determined by your attitude. You can maximize this positive attitude potential by keeping in mind the four organizational basics of subject, purpose, audience and occasion while you plan your speech.


You cannot have confidence in front of others, if you do not have confidence in your subject. That is why it is essential for you, especially if you are a beginning orator, to choose a topic that you know well, something that genuinely interests you and something you understand.

There are numerous techniques which can help you whittle down broad subjects until they become specific enough for you to give a concise and, therefore, effective talk on. Some methods, such as brainstorming, listing, the journalist approach, and freewriting have been explained in previous OnWords columns which are archived on my blog,

If you are able to sum up your topic, your thesis, in less than half a minute, you have most likely sufficiently narrowed it down. Later in the process, as you write your speech, you will need to keep coming back to your thesis asking yourself if what you are writing is relevant to the topic.


Once you have uncovered a topic you feel comfortable talking about, it is time to for you consider the purpose of your talk. There are three main motivations behind a speech, to entertain, to inform and to persuade.

George Grice and John Skinner say in their textbook Mastering Public Speaking that you are an entertainer when you want to amuse, a mentor if you wish to inform and an advocate when you persuade.

The most memorable speeches combine elements of more than a single purpose. At the early stages of your speaking journey it is usually best to stick with entertaining and informing.

While going through this step, you need to ask yourself what you would like the audience to do or to learn. What do you hope they gain from their giving of their time?


Who you speak to greatly influences the subject and the purpose of your speech. To be an effectual communicator you must never forget who your audience is.

Have you spoken to the group before? If so, what did you learn about them? If it is a new group, you need to ask yourself what the audience members have in common. What is your connection to them? How can you establish a rapport with them? What do they hope to gain from listening to you?

Different audiences have different needs and different expectations. Although they share a subject, a speech you give to your child’s class on career day would be completely different than one you would give to a panel during a group interview. Vocabulary, tone, grammar, body posture and gestures are all determined by who you are speaking to.


Related to audience and purpose is the occasion. You need to know if you are going to be the event’s only speaker. If you are one of many, you will need to be more aware of how disconnected your audience may be feeling by your time to speak arrives.

Time constraints are likewise important. Always leave the audience wanting more by wrapping up your speech before the audience begins to tune out. The last thing you want to see as you look out over the audience is a sea of glazed-over fish eyes. Remember, listeners will complain about you speaking for too long before they complain about you being too short.

After you have organized your speech while always being cognizant of your subject, purpose, audience and occasion the time to write it comes. OnWords’ next column will help you with that.

Until then, good organizing,


This article was originally published in The Jakarta Post.

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