Writing Well

Information, Please: Speeches That Inform

As you've already learned, informative speeches show, clarify, and inform. To give the audience the information they've come for, you need to learn how to focus on a topic, decide on an effective method of organization, and include sufficient details, examples, and facts. Always start with the topic.

Sweet Themes Are Made of This

Said the after-dinner speaker: “I feel like Roseanne's fourth husband. I know what I'm supposed to do, but I'm at a loss how to make it different.” You won't feel like Roseanne's fourth husband if you start writing an informative speech by choosing a central theme, the main idea or thesis.

As you plan your informative speech, ask yourself, “What is the one idea that I want to convey to my listeners?” That's your theme. First of all, effective themes should appeal to you as well as your audience, because your speech will be more interesting if you're interested in the topic. It will also be easier to write. In addition, effective themes …

Word Watch

A speech's theme is its thesis, the main idea.

Once you've settled on a theme, it's time to select a method of organization that fits with your audience, purpose, and topic.

Writer's Block

Never forget the implied contract between speaker and audience: They must sit still and listen politely. In exchange, you must have something of value to say.

Crystal Clear

Remember that an informational speech is designed to convey the speaker's ideas to the audience. The best-written speeches concentrate on helping listeners grasp and remember the essential ideas the speaker presents. To make sure your speech conveys its purpose, select a clear method of organization. Possibilities include …

Write Angles

It's especially important with speeches to include clues to help your readers follow your method of organization. Possibilities include numbers (such as 1, 2, 3 or the words “first,” “second,” “third,” etc.) and transitions (“in contrast,” “on the other hand,” “however,” and so on).

In addition, keep your points to a minimum. Three or four main points are usually the most an audience can absorb at one sitting. This is exactly the same as the five-paragraph essay structure you learned in You Got Some 'Splaining to Do, Lucy: Exposition (introduction, three main points, conclusion). Also, be sure to link your points clearly and logically. This is crucial with speeches, because you're dealing with an oral medium: Unlike readers, listeners can't go back and reread a confusing passage.


Informational speeches are content-oriented—but that doesn't mean they're dull or dry. Just the opposite is true! As with all effective writing, good speeches are compelling because they include tantalizing facts, delicious details, and succulent examples.

Specific facts are the backbone of any informational speech, because that's what your listeners are going to remember. To get the facts to back up your point, read widely on your topic. Check reference books, the Internet, and experts in the field—the exact same techniques you use when you're writing an expository essay.

Writer's Block

Never include material that's off the topic, cannot be verified, is boring, or might insult your audience.

Model Informative Speech

On February 12, 1959, the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth, the poet Carl Sandburg delivered a speech to a special joint session of Congress. The author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Lincoln, Sandburg included copious detail to make his subject spring to life. Here is an excerpt from that historic speech.

Address on the Anniversary of Lincoln's Birth

—Carl Sandburg

book cover

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Well © 2000 by Laurie Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book direct from the publisher, visit the Penguin USA website or call 1-800-253-6476. You can also purchase this book at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.


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