In his speech to the United States Congress, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy asked for help. His message was short and clear: “We need you right now.”
In recent weeks, Zelenskyy spoke to world leaders in one country after another by video link. His speeches are excellent examples of persuasive speaking. The persuasive speech is one common exercise that teachers give to students in communication or speech classes.
Let us look at what makes an effective persuasive speech.
Choose a good topic
First, you should choose a topic you know something about or have researched well to prepare for your speech. Make sure it is a subject about which people have different opinions. It would not be logical to speak about a fact recognized by everybody.
It is also best to choose a subject your listeners care about or can act on. Do you see people in your town littering? You can expect that they care about how the town appears, or that they can change their actions. So, giving a speech about why littering harms your town’s appearance might persuade people who do it to stop.
Know your audience
You should consider your listeners as you plan your speech. What do they value? President Zelenskyy spoke about protecting democracy to everyone. But he changed his speech to world leaders a little depending on the history of each country. For the United States, he compared the Russian invasion with the attack on Pearl Harbor and the September 11 attacks. Both those events were important turning points in U.S. history. In his speech to the leaders of Israel, he spoke of the Holocaust and how Ukrainians helped to save Jews during World War II.
Thinking of the things your listeners value will help you form arguments in your speech. If you want them to stop eating unhealthy foods, for example, you may appeal to the value of their appearance. You will talk about how healthy foods result in good-looking skin and an attractive body.
Prepare your argument
There are three common ways to persuade people of your way of thinking. We use Greek words to describe them because the ancient Greeks developed and appealed to these ideas. They are:
Ethos – appeal to the listeners’ ethics or morals
Pathos - appeal to the listeners’ emotions
Logos - appeal to the listeners’ logic or intelligence
Again, President Zelenskyy’s speeches are excellent examples of how to use these three ideas to persuade listeners to act. Representing Ethos, in speaking to the German leaders, he said some German businesses had put more importance on economic gain than on morality.
In an appeal to Pathos, Zelenskyy played a video showing injured Ukrainian children to the U.S. Congress to appeal to our emotions.
And in his speech to the British Parliament in London, he made an appeal to Logos. He said that like the British in World War II, Ukrainians will never stop fighting, and so they need Britain’s help to continue. He used words similar to former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s famous words: “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets…” The English translation of Zelenskyy’s words is: “We will fight in the forests, in the fields, on the shores, in the streets."
Organize your speech
After you plan the subject, appeal to your listeners, and the arguments you will use, you should make an outline of your speech. Start with an attention-getting statement. Then explain your main idea and give evidence to support your argument. List the points you want to make and think of how to answer arguments against your position.
Finish with a call to action – what do you want your listeners to do? Finally, practice at home until you need only a note card with your main points on it when you give the speech. Do not plan to read the speech word-for-word from a paper.
For more tips on how to give a speech, see our series on public speaking.
I’m Jill Robbins.
Dr. Jill Robbins wrote this lesson for Learning English.
Words in This Story
logical – adj. apply reason, or the science of using reason
litter – v. to drop waste or unwanted objects on the ground
ethics n. ideas and beliefs about what type of behavior is morally right and wrong
practice –n. to do something repeatedly until you improve
What topic would you talk about if you gave a persuasive speech? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.