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Critical Thinking & Public Speaking


Critical thinking is the levelheaded analysis of an issue in the pursuit of a judgment

          Critical thinking is the levelheaded analysis of an issue in the pursuit of a judgment. 

Relationship to Public Speaking

          One of the distinguishing factors separating humans from other species is our ability to think, to visualize, and to act on factors in our daily lives. Many learning institutions have devoted segments of curriculum to understanding and using critical thinking skills. In public speaking, we have been applying critical thinking skills for many years. When you address, theorize, examine, explain, and review your work (whether written or verbal) you are thinking critically. Critical thinking helps the speaker to grow over time through preparation outlines, speaking notes, audience analysis, topic research and support, delivery, and review. Not being afraid to ask questions such as “How can I make this better? Stronger? What do I need to do?” and “How can I make the greatest impact?” is the application of critical thinking skills. As you go through the entire speechmaking process, you are involved in critical thinking. 

Critical Thinking Process Adapted for Public Speaking


          Based on the work of Drs. Richard Paul and Linda Elder in The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking: Concepts and Tools, we have developed these steps for critical thinking in the speechmaking process.

Purpose – What is the purpose/goal/intent/outcome I am trying to accomplish in my speech? What do I want the audience to know, think, feel, or do when I am done with my speech?

Question – What question am I addressing? What are the needs of my listeners? 

Information – What information am I providing to support my goal and purpose? What experience do I bring to the topic, method, and goal?

Concepts – What are the concepts I want my listeners to understand? Are they clear? Are they relevant? Do they make sense?

Assumptions – What assumptions have I made about my listeners, their knowledge level, their interests, their needs? Are my assumptions valid? Am I taking my listeners for granted? How can I answer the listeners’ questions or assumptions?

Inferences – Have I reasoned out all aspects and lines of thinking in presenting my evidence? What is my support for the inferences and suggestions I am making in my speech? Have I evaluated the sources I will use for support?

Points of View – Do I acknowledge, allow, and respect other points of view from my listeners? In the speech-building stages, how do I incorporate these opposing views? How do I respond to other points of view?

Implications – Do I understand the ramifications and results of the position and goal I am presenting in my speech? How can I incorporate the pieces of information as I progress as a speech writer and presenter for critical thinking for public speaking?


         Another analysis tool is referred to as “the five W’s and one H.” Use the who, what, where, when, why, and how questions to examine your work and the work of others. These are universal questions and tools that directly ask you to seek deeper information. They are similar in approach to the Paul-Elder model but prove to be useful in their own right. 


Example: Who is affected by my message? Who is my intended audience? What do I want to accomplish in my speech? What information will I use to     support my ideas? What should I wear to present? Where am I presenting? A large/small room, etc.? When will I be speaking? Before or after others? As a lone presenter? Morning or evening? Why was I chosen to speak? Why does this topic matter? How can I organize my message for greatest effect? How can I vocally make an impression on my audience? 

          For each question asked, it should lead to more questions, and those answers lead to more questions, and the cycle repeats! It is a never-ending cycle of questions. It is up to you to decide when the cycle will end, is it based on:
•    When you have enough information for your speech?
•    When time doesn’t permit you to keep seeking?
•    When others dictate to you that the search is over? 
•    When you must put thoughts to paper for your preparation outline? Your speaking notes?
•    Or is it when you present your speech for an audience?


          The cycle of using these five W’s and one H can help you find a deeper and more complex understanding of your speechmaking process—and the world around you!

Review Questions

1) What is critical thinking? How does it relate to public speaking?

2) What are the steps to the Paul-Elder model of critical thinking? How are they applied for public speaking?

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