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15.2: Types of Informative Speeches

  • Page ID
    106519
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    Learning Objectives

    1. Identify common topic categories for informative speeches.
    2. Explain the different methods of informing related to the category.

    Choosing an Informative Speech Topic

    Being a successful informative speaker starts with choosing a topic that can engage and educate the audience. Your topic choices may be influenced by the level at which you are speaking. Informative speaking usually happens at one of three levels: formal, vocational, and impromptu (Verderber, 1991). Formal informative speeches occur when an audience has assembled specifically to hear what you have to say. Being invited to speak to a group during a professional meeting, a civic gathering or a celebration gala brings with it high expectations. Only people who have accomplished or achieved much are asked to serve as keynote speakers, and they usually speak about these experiences. Many more people deliver informative speeches at the vocational level, as part of their careers. Teachers spend many hours lecturing, which is a common form of informative speaking. In addition, human resources professionals give presentations about policy changes and provide training for new employees, technicians in factories convey machine specifications and safety procedures, and servers describe how a dish is prepared in their restaurant. Last, we all convey information daily in our regular interactions. When we give a freshman directions to a campus building, summarize the latest episode of American Idol for our friend who missed it, or explain a local custom to an international student, we are engaging in impromptu informative speaking.

    Whether at the formal, vocational, or impromptu level, informative speeches can emerge from a range of categories, which include objects, people, events, processes, concepts, and issues. An extended speech at the formal level may include subject matter from several of these categories, while a speech at the vocational level may convey detailed information about a process, concept, or issue relevant to a specific career.

    11.1.1N.jpg
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Subjects of informative speaking at the vocational level usually relate to a speaker’s professional experience or expertise. Peter Long – Business Meeting – CC BY 2.0.

    Since we don’t have time to research or organize content for impromptu informative speaking, these speeches may provide a less detailed summary of a topic within one of these categories. A broad informative speech topic could be tailored to fit any of these categories. As you draft your specific purpose and thesis statements, think about which category or categories will help you achieve your speech goals, and then use them to guide your research. Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): “Sample Informative Speech Topics by Category” includes an example of how a broad informative subject area like renewable energy can be adapted to each category as well as additional sample topics.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Sample Informative Speech Topics by Category
    Category Renewable Energy Example Other Examples
    Objects and Places Biomass gasifier Tarot cards, star-nosed moles, Washington Monument
    People Al Gore Jennifer Lopez, Bayard Rustin, the Amish
    Concepts Sustainability Machismo, intuition, Wa (social harmony)
    Events Earth Day Pi Day, Take Back the Night, 2012 presidential election
    Processes Converting wind to energy Scrapbooking, animal hybridization, Academy Awards voting
    Categories or Divisions Types of Renewable Energy Dog Breeds, Types of Chocolate, Car Styles

     

    While the topics to choose from for informative speeches are nearly limitless, they can generally be pared down into five broad categories. Understanding the type of informative speech you will be giving can help you figure out the best way to organize, research, and prepare for it, as discussed below.

    Type 1: Objects and Places

    A common approach to selecting an informative speech topic is to discuss the history or development of something. With so much human knowledge available via the Internet, finding information about the origins and evolution of almost anything is much easier than it has ever been (with the disclaimer that there are quite a few websites out there with false information). With that in mind, some of the areas that a historical informative speech could cover would include:

    Objects

    (Example: the baseball; the saxophone). Someone at some point in history was the first to develop what is considered modern baseball. Who was it? What was it originally made of? How did it evolve into the baseball that is used by Major League Baseball today?

    Places

    (Example: your college; Disney World). There is a specific year that your college or university opened, a specific number of students who were initially enrolled, and often colleges and universities have name and mission changes. All of these facts can be used to provide an overall understanding of the college and its history. Likewise, the Disney World of today is different from the Disney World of the early 1970s; the design has developed over the last fifty years.

    Type 2: People

    Speeches about people focus on real or fictional individuals who are living or dead. These speeches require in-depth biographical research; an encyclopedia entry is not sufficient. Introduce a new person to the audience or share little-known or surprising information about a person we already know. Although we may already be familiar with the accomplishments of historical figures and leaders, audiences often enjoy learning the “personal side” of their lives.

    A biography is similar to the history, but in this case, a subject is specifically a person, whether living or deceased. For this class, biographies should focus on people of some note or fame, since researching people who are not at least mildly well-known could be difficult. But again, as with histories, there are specific and irrefutable facts that can help provide an overview of someone’s life, such as dates that President Lincoln was born (February 12, 1809) and died (April 15, 1865) and the years he was in office as president (1861-1865).

    This might be a good place to address research and support. The basic dates of Abraham Lincoln’s life could be found in multiple sources and you would not have to cite the source in that case. But you use the work of a specific historian to explain how Lincoln could win the presidency in the tumultuous years before the Civil War, which would need a citation of that author and the publication.

    Type 3: Concepts

    (Example: democracy; freedom of speech). Speeches about concepts are less concrete than speeches about objects or people, as they focus on ideas or notions that may be abstract or multifaceted. A concept can be familiar to us, like equality, or could literally be a foreign concept like qi (or chi), which is the Chinese conception of the energy that flows through our bodies. It is possible to provide facts on a concept or idea, although in some cases the information may be less precise. For example, while no one can definitively point to a specific date or individual who first developed the concept of democracy, it is known to have been conceived in ancient Greece (Raaflaub, Ober, & Wallace, 2007). By looking at the civilizations and cultures that adopted forms of democracy throughout history, it is possible to provide an audience with a better understanding of how the idea has been shaped into what it has become today. 

    With concepts, you will want to do two things. First, define the aspects of the concept using methods, like classification and differentiation. Secondly, make your concept concrete, real, and specific for your audience with vivid examples. Use the strategies discussed in this book for making content relevant and proxemic (physically and emotionally close) to your audience to help make abstract concepts more concrete.

    If your concept connects to a disputed subject or a matter of concern for society, you must provide objective and balanced information concerning this issue. Speakers must view themselves as objective reporters rather than commentators to avoid tipping the balance of the speech from informative to persuasive. Rather than advocating for a particular position, the speaker should seek to teach or raise the awareness of the audience on both sides of the issue.

    Type 4: Events

    Speeches about events focus on past occasions or ongoing occurrences. A particular day in history, an annual observation, or a seldom occurring event can each serve as interesting informative topics. As with speeches about people, it’s important to provide a backstory for the event, but avoid rehashing commonly known information.

    Type 5: Processes

    (Examples of process speech topics would be baking chocolate chip cookies, throwing a baseball; how a nuclear reactor works; how a bill works its way through Congress).

    Process speeches are sometimes referred to as demonstration or “how-to” speeches because they often entail demonstrating something. These speeches require you to provide steps that will help your audience understand how to accomplish a specific task or process. However, How To speeches can be tricky in that there are rarely universally agreed upon (i.e. irrefutable) ways to do anything. If your professor asked the students in his or her public speaking class to each bring in a recipe for baking chocolate chip cookies, would all of them be the same recipe?

    Probably not, but they would all be similar and, most importantly, they would all give you chocolate chip cookies as the result. Students giving a demonstration speech will want to avoid saying “You should bake the cookies for 12 minutes” since that is not how everyone does it. Instead, the student should say something like:

    “You can bake the cookies for 10 minutes.”

    “One option is to bake the cookies for 10 minutes.”

    “This particular recipe calls for the cookies to be baked for 10 minutes.”

    Each of the previous three statements is absolutely a fact that no one can argue or disagree with. While some people may say 12 minutes is too long or too short (depending on how soft or hard they like their cookies), no one can reasonably argue that these statements are not true.

    On the other hand, there is a second type of process speech that focuses not on how the audience can achieve a result, such as changing the oil in their cars or cooking something, but on how a process is achieved. The goal is understanding and not performance. After a speech on how to change a car tire, the audience members could probably do it (they might not want to, but they would know the steps). However, after a speech on how a bill goes through Congress, the audience would understand this important part of democracy but not be ready to serve in Congress.

    Informative speeches about processes provide a step-by-step account of a procedure or natural occurrence. Speakers may walk an audience through, or demonstrate, a series of actions that take place to complete a procedure, such as making homemade cheese. Speakers can also present information about naturally occurring processes like cell division or fermentation.

    11.1.2NN.jpg
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Informative speeches about processes provide steps of a procedure, such as how to make homemade cheese. Joel Kramer – curdle – CC BY 2.0.

    Type 6: Categories or Divisions

    Sometimes an informative speech topic doesn’t lend itself to a specific type of approach, and in those cases, the topics tend to fall into a “general” category of informative speeches. For example, if a student wanted to give an informative speech on the four “C’s” of diamonds (cut, carat, color, and clarity), they certainly wouldn’t approach it as if they were providing the history of diamonds, nor would they necessarily be informing anyone on “how to” shop for or buy diamonds or how diamonds are mined. The approach, in this case, would simply be to inform an audience of the four “C’s” and what they mean. Other examples of this type of informative speech would be positions in playing volleyball or the customs to know when traveling in China.

    Conclusion

    As stated above, identifying the type of informative speech being given can help in several ways (conducting research, writing the introduction and conclusion), but perhaps the biggest benefit is that the type of informative speech being given will help determine, to some degree, the organizational pattern that will need to be used. For example, a How-To speech must be in chronological order. There really isn’t a way (or reason) to present a How-To speech other than how the process is done in a time sequence. That is to say, for a speech on how to bake chocolate chip cookies, getting the ingredients (Main Point 1) must come before mixing the ingredients (Main Point 2), which must come before baking them (Main Point 3). Putting them in any other order will only confuse the audience

    Similarly, most Histories and Biographies will be organized chronologically, but not always. It makes sense to explain the history of baseball from when it was first developed to where it is today, but certain approaches to Histories and Biographies can make that irrelevant. For an informative speech on Benjamin Franklin, a student might choose as his or her three main points: 1) His time as a printer, 2) His time as an inventor, 3) His time as a diplomat. These main points are not in strict chronological order because Franklin was a printer, inventor, and diplomat at the same time during periods of his whole life. However, this example would still be one way to inform an audience about him without using the chronological organizational pattern.

    As for general informative speeches, since the topics that can be included in this category are very diverse and cover a range of subject matter, the way they are organized will be varied as well. However, if the topic is “types of” something or “kinds of” something, the organizational pattern would be topical; if it were the layout of a location, such as the White House, it would be spatial (organized based on the locations of the main points).

    Key Takeaways

    • Informative speeches teach an audience through objective factual information and can emerge from one or more of the following categories: objects and places, people, concepts, events, processes, and categories or divisions.
    • Effective informative speaking requires good research skills, as speakers must include novel information, relevant and proxemic examples, and “take-away” information that audience members will find engaging and useful.
    • More important than categorizing your informative speech is organizing the speech.

    Exercise

    1. Choose one broad subject and come up with a speech topic for each of the six categories.  Then explain the organizational method you would use for each.

    References

    Verderber, R., Essentials of Informative Speaking: Theory and Contexts (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1991), 3.


    15.2: Types of Informative Speeches is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Lisa Coleman, Thomas King, & William Turner.