“Content” means the main points and supporting evidence within the speech. In most circumstances (even special occasion speeches), it is the speaker’s responsibility to provide “reasonably true” information. In other words, does a speaker’s audience know more after the speech than they did before?
This is especially important in persuasive speeches. A persuasive speech is more than a smile, wink, and schmooze. If a speaker expects to change an audience, that speaker had better do his or her research.
Aristotle has been attributed for the ethos-pathos-logos model of supporting a speech. A good speech displays the speaker’s credibility (ethos), emotional sensitivity (pathos), and logical reasoning (logos). This is still true today, but I like to emphasize to my students that they have a moral obligation to say things that are “reasonably true.” That means doing good research and properly citing sources.
The “support” for a speech is how a speaker goes about proving a point. There are many ways to do this, and these can be explored in a good “Argumentation and Debate” course in college. However, I like to keep it simple: I look for a mix of four types of support:
- Definitions/Explanations: defining terms, explaining concepts
- Examples: real or hypothetical instances of this happening
- Statistics: numbers used to show significance
- Quotes/Testimony: expert or lay; lends credibility to the speaker
Any decent book on public speaking or argumentation will go into detail about these and other types of support.
I tell my students that over-relying on any one type of support almost always leads to poor logic (fallacies). A good mix proves the point from multiple angles. A basic rule is, for any main points, at least two different types of support must be used.
Here are some things I evaluate as part of the content grade:
Citing of Sources: I look for a minimum of three “according to” statements. When a “fact” is mentioned, it should be attributed to a source, so the audience can verify it. Wouldn’t it be great if all the news outlets had scrolling citations at the bottom of their newscasts?
Use of Examples: The instances given should be reasonable true, relevant, and interesting.
Use of Statistics: The numbers should be from a credible, unbiased source. Statistics should always be explained, and they should be used sparingly (no “stat stacking”).
Use of Definitions and Explanations: If a significant portion of the audience doesn’t know a concept, it should be defined or explained: better to risk “talking down” to an audience than having mass confusion!
Interest and Emotional Appeal: Think of the worst teacher you had. I bet “boring” was one of the terms you would use to describe that person. Stories (examples) are one of the best ways to make a speech interesting. Also, speakers should watch out for the “boomerang effect”: too much emotion (or inappropriate appeals to emotion) can turn the audience against you!
Logical Appeal: A speaker has the moral responsibility to say things that are reasonably true.
Conversational Language: Sound like “delivery,” right? Not in this sense. Here, I mean that the speaker has actually written his or her speech. The speech should sound authentic, not plagiarized.
Topical Focus: The speech should clearly revolve around one topic. The speech should have a “point.” Also, that main idea should be appropriate for the time given. A speech about a specific, haunted house on Main Street is much better than a speech about “ghosts.” Finally, the speech should match the expectations of the situation: a business briefing should be just that—not a 10-minute dissertation on the speaker’s weekend social activities.
Here is an example of an evaluation that I use: