This is “Speaking in Personal and Civic Contexts”, section 12.1 from the book A Primer on Communication Studies (v. 1.0).
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Speaking in personal contexts includes elements of all three general purposes we learned earlier. You may inform an audience about an upcoming speaker during a speech of introduction or use humor to entertain during a toast. People are also compelled to speak about issues they care about, which may entail using persuasive strategies to advocate for a person, group, or issue.
Ceremonial speakingSpeeches of praise, tribute, and celebration that bring audiences together on special occasions. refers to speeches of praise, tribute, and celebration that bring audiences together on special occasions. Although most communication classes cover informative and persuasive speaking more than ceremonial speaking, I have had many students tell me after taking the class that the guidelines they learned for speaking on special occasions have been very useful for them. Before we get into specific examples of ceremonial speeches, we’ll discuss three general guidelines for ceremonial speeches: be prepared, be brief, and be occasion focused.
Speakers should always be prepared for a speech, but this can be challenging with special-occasion speaking because it is often unexpected. Even though most special occasions are planned, the speaking that goes on during these events isn’t always as planned. One reason for this lack of preparation is that people often, mistakenly, think they can “wing” a toast, introduction, or acceptance speech. Another reason is that special occasion speeches can “sneak up” on you if the person in charge of the event didn’t plan ahead for the speaking parts of the program and has to ask people to participate at the last minute. More than once, I have been asked to introduce a guest speaker at an event at the last minute. Given these reasons, it should be clear that even though ceremonial speeches are brief and don’t require the research of other speech types, they still require planning, good content, and good delivery.
Special-occasion speeches should always be brief, unless otherwise noted. With only a couple exceptions, these speeches are shorter than other speech types. Special occasions are planned events, and a speaker is just one part of a program. There may be a dinner planned, a special surprise coming up, other people to be honored, or even a limit on how long the group can use the facility. So delivering a long speech on such an occasion will likely create timing problems for the rest of the program.
Ceremonial speeches usually occur as part of a program, so brevity is important.
A special-occasion speech should focus on the occasion. You will almost always be speaking about someone or something else like a group, organization, or event, so don’t make the speech about you. Strategies for effective delivery still apply to special-occasion speeches. Since these occasions are often celebratory, it is important to be enthusiastic or reverent to the tone of the occasion. A toast may be lighthearted and jovial, a eulogy somber, a tribute stirring, or an acceptance speech celebratory. Even when accepting an award, speakers will spend most of their speech talking about others rather than them.
Five minutes after I felt a tap on my shoulder, I was introducing the provost of the university. I didn’t know before the tap that I was going to introduce him, and I didn’t know that much about him. This is just one example of how special-occasion speeches can sneak up on you. Knowing this can help you “expect the unexpected.” As we learned earlier, speaking anxiety increases when there is little time to prepare and practice a speech. Despite the lack of notice and my lack of knowledge about the person I would soon introduce, I drew on my knowledge of special-occasion speaking and made the most out of my five minutes of prep time.
A speech of introductionA ceremonial speech in which one speaker briefly introduces an upcoming speaker who is usually the focus of the occasion. is a speech in which one speaker briefly introduces an upcoming speaker who is usually the focus of the occasion. Such speeches are usually only one to two minutes long. The first step in preparing a speech of introduction is to get to know the person you’re introducing. If you’ve been asked to introduce someone, you are likely part of the team planning the event or you have a relationship with the person. If you already know the person and have a relationship with them, then this step is easily checked off the preparation list. If you’ve just been asked to introduce the guest because you are involved in the planning of the event, then you have hopefully been asked in advance and can take some time to get to know the person. You can find biographical information about many people online, through their professional or personal websites or social media profiles. The guest may have already sent a bio (a biographical sketch with information about their life and accomplishments) to put in the program. You want to make sure the information is up to date and valid, so it’s good to verify any information found on the Internet or just contact the person directly to ask for a bio. While these are good places to start to get to know the person you will introduce, it’s good to have some personal connection, too. You may want to communicate directly with the person and ask them a couple questions that you think the audience might find interesting but aren’t included in the typical bio. Such direct communication might also allow you to make the introduction more personal, as you can note the lunch, phone call, or e-mail exchanges during your speech. In my situation, since I wasn’t able to get to know the person, I had to rely on the information from the bio included in the program.
During the speech of introduction, make sure to say the person’s name, correctly, several times. It so happened that the person I was introducing unexpectedly had a last name that was difficult for me to pronounce. So, after reviewing the bio and picking out highlights, I confirmed the pronunciation of his name with a couple people at the event who knew how to say it and then spent much of the remainder of my time saying the last name over and over. Mispronouncing someone’s name is embarrassing for the speaker and the audience.
You should also establish the speaker’s credentials and credibility. Do not read the person’s bio to the audience, especially if that bio is already included in the program. Remember, you are engaging in public speaking, not public reading. A bio that you pull from the Internet may also include information and accomplishments that aren’t relevant to the occasion or the speaker’s content. If you were introducing a speaker at a civic organization, it might be more relevant to focus on her community engagement and service rather than her academic accomplishments. Keep in mind the introduction sets up an audience’s expectations for the speaker. You want to share his or her relevant credentials and your personal connection, if there is one, but make sure you don’t “over sell” it, as in the following example: “Marko is one of the smartest and funniest people I have ever met. I have no doubts that he will both enlighten and entertain you with his presentation today!”
A speech of introduction also helps set the tone for the upcoming speaker and establish a relationship between the audience and speaker.Toastmasters International, “Introducing a Speaker: What Should You Say?” accessed March 17, 2012, http://www.toastmasters.org/MainMenuCategories/FreeResources/NeedHelpGivingaSpeech/BusinessPresentations/IntroducingaSpeaker.aspx. It is important that the tone you set matches with that of the upcoming speaker. Just as a heavy metal warm-up band wouldn’t be a good setup for Celine Deon, a humorous and lighthearted introduction for a speaker with a serious topic would create an inconsistency in tone that could be uncomfortable for the speaker and the audience. By setting the tone, you help establish a relationship between the speaker and the audience. If you’re unsure of the tone or content of the person’s speech, you should contact that speaker or the event planner to find out. You also want to establish your own credibility and goodwill by being prepared in terms of content and delivery and expressing your thanks for being asked to introduce the speaker.
A welcome speaker introduces the audience to upcoming events.
A speech of welcome is similar to a speech of introduction, but instead of introducing an audience to an upcoming speaker, you introduce the audience to upcoming events. If you are asked to deliver a speech of welcome, you’re likely a representative of the group that planned or is hosting the event. Since a welcome speaker is usually the first speaker of the day and the proceeding sessions are timed, this is definitely an occasion where brevity will be appreciated. Getting behind schedule on the first presentation isn’t a good way to start the day. Aside from graciously welcoming the audience, you should also provide key information about upcoming events and acknowledge key participants. In terms of previewing the events, do not read through a program or schedule if it’s something that audience members already have in their possession. You can reference the program, but allow them to read it on their own. You may want to highlight a couple things on the program like a keynote speaker or awards ceremony. Definitely make sure to announce any changes in the schedule so people can plan accordingly. Thank any sponsors, especially if they are in attendance, and acknowledge any VIP guests.
Welcome speakers should also convey logistical information that audience members may need to know, which helps answer questions before the audience needs to ask them. Many people may not be familiar with a facility, so it may be necessary to inform them where the coffee and snacks are, where the restrooms are, or other simple logistics. Welcome speeches are often allotted more time than is needed, but do not feel obligated to fill that time. Audience members will not be upset if you finish early, as they may have some last-minute things to do before the event gets started, and it doesn’t hurt to get a little ahead of schedule, since things will inevitably get behind later on.
For the speeches previously discussed, just as with all speeches, it’s important to know your audience. The nature of ceremonial speaking occasions helps facilitate audience and situational analysis. If you’re asked to speak at such an occasion, you can usually get information from the event planner or coordinator, who should know the expectations for the tone and the general makeup of the audience.
If you have a leadership role in an organization, you may end up presenting an employee, a colleague, or a peer with an award. There are several steps in presenting an awardA ceremonial speech meant enhance the value of an award and honor the person receiving it., but the main goal of this speech is to enhance the value of the award and honor the person receiving it. As with other special-occasion speeches, it should be focused on the occasion and the particular award. Start by stating the name of the award and providing a brief overview of its purpose. Also share some information about the organization or group that is bestowing the award. Connect the values of the organization with the purpose of the award. You may also want to describe the selection process. If there were many qualified nominees and the decision was difficult to make, then stating that enhances the value of the award. Such statements also recognize others who were nominated but didn’t win.
Once you’ve covered the background of the award and the selection process, you are usually at a good point to announce the winner, since the remaining information is specific to the person being honored with the award. Announce the winner and pause to allow the audience to acknowledge him or her before continuing on with the speech; however, don’t bring the person up until you are ready to hand over the award, as it creates an awkward situation.WestsideToastmasters.com, “Presenting an Award for Maximum Impact,” accessed November 9, 2012, http://westsidetoastmasters.com/article_reference/presenting_awards_for_maximum_impact_2005-01.html. Next, share the qualifications of the person receiving the award. This helps explain to the audience why the winner is deserving of the honor. Then connect the winner to the legacy of the award by saying how they are similar to previous winners. For example, “This year’s winner joins a select group of other college seniors who have been recognized for their dedication to community service and outreach.” You can also say what the person adds to the legacy of the award. For example, “Nick helped establish an alternative spring break program that will continue to service communities in need for many years to come.” It can be an honor to present an award, but most of us would like to be on the other side of this speech.
Congratulations, you won an award! When you deliver a speech accepting an awardA ceremonial speech in which a person briefly, graciously, and humbly accepts an award., be brief, gracious, and humble. Before you begin speaking, take a moment, pause, smile, and make eye contact with the audience.Patricia Fripp, “Accepting an Award with Class,” Toastmasters International, accessed November 9, 2012, http://www.toastmasters.org/Members/SpotlightArticles/AcceptAwardClass.aspx. You may know ahead of time that you’re going to win the award, or you may not. Either way, take time to write out an acceptance speech. Try to memorize most of the content to make the speech look genuine and spontaneous. If you have a lot of people to thank, you may write that information out on a small card to reference, just so you don’t leave anyone out. Make sure to thank the group giving the award and the person who presented you with the award. Also compliment the other nominees, and thank those who helped make your accomplishment possible. In 2002, Halle Berry won an Academy Award for Best Leading Actress, making history as the first African American woman to earn that honor. The acceptance speech she delivered acknowledged the magnitude of the situation, keeping the focus on actresses who came before her and the people who helped her achieve this honor. The video and text of her speech can be accessed in Video Clip 12.1.
Halle Berry’s Oscar Acceptance Speech
Cheers, slainte, skal, prost, and salud! All these words could form the basis for a toastA ceremonial speech that praises or conveys goodwill or blessings in honor of a person, accomplishment, or event., which is a ceremonial speech that praises or conveys goodwill or blessings in honor of a person, accomplishment, or event.
Coworkers may toast the successful completion of a big project.
Toasts are usually the shortest special-occasion speech, which is good since people’s arms get tired if they have to hold their drink up in the air for too long. The degree of preparation needed for a toast varies more than any other special-occasion speech type. Some toasts are practically spontaneous and will therefore have to be impromptu. People can toast an accomplishment, completion of a task, a holiday such as New Year’s Eve, a favorite sports team winning, or the anniversary of a special event. Wedding toasts are more formal and more preparation is needed and expected. Although toasts are generally supposed to be conversational and appear spontaneous, because that makes the content seem more genuine, in situations that are more formal or where there is much at stake, brief notes are OK. You wouldn’t want to see a person giving a toast pull out a stack of note cards, though.
Toasts are definitely a time to include a brief personal anecdote and/or humor, but always make sure to test your story or joke out on someone who knows you and knows the person or people you will be toasting. As I’ve already warned, using humor in a speech can be dangerous, since most people who try to use humor publicly think they are funnier than they actually are. Not having someone else vet your toast material can lead to embarrassment for many people. Aside from having someone review your content, it’s also a good idea to not get too “toasty” before you deliver your toast, or the story or joke that you decided to leave out earlier may find its way back into the speech. Awkward and embarrassing toasts make funny scenes in movies and television shows, but they usually go smoother in real life, especially if you follow the previous advice. You can also spice up your toast by adding a cultural flair. You can see how to say “Cheers!” in many different languages at the following link: http://www.awa.dk/glosary/slainte.htm.
A speech of tributeA longer and more formal version of a toast that establishes why a person, group, or concept is worthy of praise. is a longer and more formal version of a toast that establishes why a person, group, or concept is worthy of praise. Speeches of tribute can honor a group, organization, or concept but usually focus on one person. To effectively pay tribute to someone, introduce the personality of the individual, the values of the group, or the noble history of the event in order to initiate a relationship between the audience and the person, group, or idea that is being honored. Speeches of tribute shouldn’t be biographical sketches. Most people can look up a person’s bio or the history of a group or event quickly using the Internet, so sharing that information doesn’t show that you’ve done any more work than an audience member could do in the five or ten minutes of the speech. People, groups, or events worthy of speeches of tribute have usually accomplished great things and have enriching lessons to share. As a speaker, use a narrative style to convey to the audience a lesson or a “moral of the story.” It’s important to focus on the positive aspects of a person or group’s history; this is not the occasion to offer criticism.
A eulogyA speech honoring a person who has died. is a speech honoring a person who has died. The emotions and grief surrounding the loss of a loved one are difficult to manage and make this one of the most challenging types of speech. However, being asked to deliver a eulogy is an honor. Such speakers are usually chosen because the family and friends of the deceased person see the speaker as someone they can depend on in difficult situations and as someone who can comfort and be an example to others. In the short amount of time you have to prepare a eulogy, usually a day or two, it is important to put time into organizing the speech, just as you would for a professional speech. Create an outline, and structure the speech with an introduction, a body with about three main points, and a conclusion. A eulogy, like a speech of tribute, shouldn’t be a chronological outline of a person’s life or a biographical sketch.Theodore Lustig, “The Most Difficult Speech: The Eulogy,” Toastmasters International, accessed November 9, 2012, http://www.toastmasters.org/ToastmastersMagazine/ToastmasterArchive/2009/December/Articles/The-Eulogy.aspx. As with a speech of tribute, focus on the person’s personality and demonstrate why the person was likable and what he or she added to your life and the lives of others.
Depending on the situation, you may also want to share some of the deceased’s accomplishments. Accomplishments can usually be broken up into three categories, and you may focus on one or more depending on your relationship with the person. Family accomplishments usually entail discussing the loved ones the person is leaving behind or conveying the roles he or she played as a member of his or her family and friendship circles. Professional accomplishments deal with academic and career achievement and would be especially relevant if the person speaking worked with or had a mentoring relationship with the deceased. Community accomplishments include civic engagement, community service, and local involvement. Most people have too many accomplishments to include, so include those that are relevant to your relationship with the deceased and that you think will elicit similar fond memories in others. Focus on the positives of a person’s life, and acknowledge and share in the sorrow of the other people in attendance. Remember, as the person chosen to deliver a eulogy, you set an example and provide comfort to others, which is a difficult but important role to play.
People are often required or expected to speak as part of their academic or professional duties. However, there may also be times when you are compelled to speak or choose to speak because you care about a topic or an issue. Advocacy speaking occurs in contexts that are civic and/or personal, such as at a city council meeting, at a student group meeting, when you post a link on your Facebook page asking your friends to sign a petition, or when you encourage your friends to vote.
Advocacy speaking brings attention to a particular cause or issue in order to raise awareness and create social change.
In the 1950s, radio broadcast pioneer Edward R. Murrow hosted a brief radio segment on which people read essays about their beliefs and lives. Fifty years later, the concept was reborn on National Public Radio and is now an ongoing national project that still produces radio segments, has a free podcast, and produces books. This I Believe speechesSpeeches that encourage people to use the power of their voice to speak from a personal context in a way can inspire, motivate, and resonate with others. encourage people to use the power of their voice to speak from a personal context in a way can inspire, motivate, and resonate with others. In such cases, we can see that personal speeches can cross into civic contexts. Using personal narratives as a basis for advocacy and social change is not new, as stories have been used to move people to action in many historical situations. Personal testimony, witnesses of injustice, and people sharing their everyday experiences can have a powerful effect on the world. I have enjoyed having my students do This I Believe speeches, and even if this isn’t a speech assignment in your class, it is a good way to practice your speaking and writing skills, and it can be fun and inspirational.
Here are some guidelines for the This I Believe speech. Tell a story with your speech and make it personal. Since this speech is about you and your belief, use personal pronouns like I and we and connect to your audience by using you, us, and our. Even if the belief you are focusing on is abstract, and many are, ground it in events from your life that your audience can relate to. Such events or moments may include instances when your belief was formed, tested, or changed. The core belief should be something that can be easily summed up as a thesis statement and elaborated on and supported in the main points. Be positive in your speech by focusing on what you believe, not what you don’t believe. Don’t make this a soapbox speech, and don’t use the speech to preach or editorialize.“This I Believe—Essay Writing Guidelines,” accessed March 17, 2012, http://thisibelieve.org/guidelines. You can listen to and/or read many examples of these speeches at the following National Public Radio link: http://www.npr.org/series/4538138/this-i-believe. The following is the text of a This I Believe speech delivered by one of my students.
I believe in the power of the voice. The human voice transforms and changes a person’s life. I am an example of the voice’s power to change.
When I was young, I didn’t use my voice to speak at first. I would use my hands to gesture what I wanted or needed. It was not until the age of two that I started to talk. Right away, my parents knew my voice was different. I stammered, stuttered, and could not say my Rs. My parents thought, however, that this was just a phase. It wasn’t until I started school that problems arose. As kindergarten started, I felt different. I did not fit in. I don’t mean fitting in socially, but fitting in with my voice. As each of my schoolmates stood to say the alphabet, I did not want to. It wasn’t because I didn’t know it, but because I couldn’t say it. However, I stood up and began to speak: A,…B,…C,…D, and so on. As I finally reached Q, my teacher stopped me. “What are you doing?” she asked. So, I started to say it over; I failed.
I went through the next months in embarrassment. Even though students pointed and laughed, no one outside the school knew of the embarrassment I was feeling. It wasn’t until my teacher gave me my progress report that my parents saw how my voice altered my education. The first meeting my parents had with my teacher proved that my voice did have an effect on my education. I listened outside as a peaceful meeting turned into a shouting match. With words flying, my parents and the teacher finally reached a conclusion. The conclusion was that I needed speech therapy. It would begin the next year.
Starting on the first day of first grade, I would go to speech therapy every other day. My embarrassment grew with every grade that I moved through. When my speech teacher came to my classroom to get me, everyone looked at me. What was in their mind, I could only guess. Thoughts like “What a freak!” or “What’s wrong with him?” flew through my mind. However, over the next five years, my speech did improve. My stuttering slowed and my speech became clearer. By the time I reached middle school, life was getting better. Speech after speech, I became less sensitive to my impairment and to people’s reaction.
During my last year of middle school, I was required to take a public speaking class. I feared this class. I feared the class because I would be giving up to four speeches, the most I have ever done. My teacher told us we could pick the topic for our last speech. Being a fan of history, I chose to talk about World War Two. When I completed my eight-minute speech, everyone looked at me with disbelief. My friend, Garrett, told me, “You did not stutter!” It was then that I realized that when I talk about things I enjoy, I don’t stutter…as much. High school caused a dramatic change in my life. After a few more speeches about history, I decided to become a teacher. I knew I would not let my speech affect the rest of my life.
The power of the human voice shaped my life. Every time I give a speech, I remember the past. I learned not to judge others for their speech because I know how it feels. As my voice continues to shape my life, it will undoubtedly change others. That power will not just change the people around me, but the whole world. This I believe.
There are many opportunities to engage in public advocacyEngaging people through responsible communication that seeks to make a better world for our loved ones and our communities., which is engaging people through responsible communication that seeks to make a better world for our loved ones and our communities.John T. Warren and Deanna L. Fassett, Communication: A Critical/Cultural Introduction (Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2011), 39. This view of communication acknowledges the power of our words to transform the world around us and that we have an ethical responsibility to advocate for a world that better serves the interests and needs of us all. Speaking as an advocate requires a person to take pause and think about his or her own commitments and responsibilities.John T. Warren and Deanna L. Fassett, Communication: A Critical/Cultural Introduction (Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2011), 37. When you are compelled to speak up in the face of an injustice that was committed against you or that you have witnessed being committed against others, you are choosing to take a stand, making a commitment to an issue, and accepting responsibility for your words and actions. Your first steps toward advocacy may be small and uncomfortable. You may not even be sure what issues or causes you care about. Once you know, you can take small steps, as Gandhi noted, to be the change you want to see in the world. As you take steps to model a desired change and speak out, you will begin to learn more about yourself, your place in the world, and the issues that move you. You will likely then feel more compelled to share that information with others.
Speaking as an advocate doesn’t mean you argue for your community or your view at the expense of others. Advocates invite their listeners to engage with them and consider the complexity of an issue. As speakers we have to be open to the perspectives of others as we expect them to be open to ours. This creates an opportunity for growth. Change happens when people choose to change, not when they are forced to change. For change to happen, all parties in an interaction need to be open to dialogue, growth, and transformation.Sonja K. Foss and Karen A. Foss, Inviting Transformation: Presentational Speaking for a Changing World, 2nd ed. (Long Grove, IL: Waveland, 2003), 4–10.
Teaching is a form of advocacy, but you don’t have to be a teacher to teach. We all teach in various capacities as friends, parents, and community members. As we teach, we build bridges between different areas of thoughts and actions. This is a process that helps build communities and alliances. Ask yourself, “What kind of community do I want? What role will I play in creating that community? What work am I willing to do and what sacrifices am I willing to make to create and nurture that community?”John T. Warren and Deanna L. Fassett, Communication: A Critical/Cultural Introduction (Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2011), 38. As speakers, we must seize opportunities we have to speak and use them to talk about socially significant topics that matter to us and our communities. Speaking about these topics invites others who hear us to think about their position in the world and reflect on their own responsibilities as communicators, which can spread advocacy and lead to social change.
Advocacy and Critical Thinking
Being an advocate and responsible citizen in the world means speaking about how we can and should make the world a better place for all as well as listening and thinking critically and compassionately before responding to others’ communication.John T. Warren and Deanna L. Fassett, Communication: A Critical/Cultural Introduction (Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2011), 52–53. Critical listening means we can identify flaws within a message we receive and places for positive change. The positive change occurs because critical listening and critical thinking lead to responsible advocacy. Critical listeners don’t just tear a message apart because it has flaws. When we engage in compassionate critical listening, we make a genuine effort to hear others and reflect on the complexity of their message rather than closing ourselves off or shutting down because we encounter a message with which we disagree. Since the issues and causes people advocate for are often political and controversial, critical thinking and listening become even more important. When we feel ourselves shutting down or disregarding a person’s message without giving it thought, a little alert should go off in our minds to indicate that perhaps we are not engaging in critical compassionate listening. The same alert should go off if we find ourselves wanting to cut someone off or dismiss him or her when that person questions us after we engage in advocacy speaking. Being a critical compassionate listener, however, doesn’t mean that we have to give up our own ways of thinking and our own advocacy positions. There is a delicate balance that critical listeners and thinkers try to maintain, as critical thinkers are generous, cautious, and open minded, but wary.
Ceremonial speeches are intended to praise, pay tribute to, and celebrate individuals or groups in ways that bring audience members together on special occasions. These speeches should be prepared ahead of time, brief, and occasion focused.