The Purpose of a Speech

2.1.2

General Purpose

General Purpose is the broad overall goal of a speech.

          The general purpose is the broad overall goal of a speech you want to accomplish. Once you have a topic in mind, you need to decide on the general purpose of your speech. It could be to inform, persuade, entertain, etc.

  • Think: What do you want your audience to remember? Why are you talking/presenting to them? What do you want them to think, feel, or do after you are finished speaking?

  • Example: To inform my audience about dogs.

  • Example: To inform my audience about the political structure of a democracy.

  • Example: To persuade my audience to become a volunteer for a nonprofit in their local community.

  • Example: To persuade my audience to support their university’s lacrosse team.

  • Example: To entertain the patrons in a comedy club.

  • Example: To entertain our troops in a foreign country.

Specific Purpose

Specific Purpose is a single concept establishing what you want to accomplish in your speech.

         The specific purpose is a single concept establishing what you want to accomplish in your speech.

  • Think: What exactly do you want your audience to come away from your speech/presentation thinking, feeling, doing?

  • Example: In my speech, I want you to learn about a breed of dogs, the Shih Tzu.

  • Example: Throughout my speech, I will give your reasons why it’s important to volunteer in your local nonprofits.

  • Example: As you listen to my speech, I want you to focus on the steps I am going to give you to become a healthier person.

Central Idea/Thesis

Central Idea is a combination of your specific purpose and the points you are going to cover.

          The central idea (also may be known as a thesis sentence/preview) is a combination of your specific purpose and the points you are going to cover in your speech. It is narrow and defines the intent of your speech in a single declarative sentence. It incorporates both the general purpose and the specific and “adds” to it the way you will accomplish your task. It is part of the damp sponge approach. You are setting your audience up to absorb your message more deeply and more effectively. 

  • Think: What exactly is my outcome for my audience and how am I going to explain, show, or do? What are my main points, reasons, ideas supporting my hypothesis? How am I able to help my audience focus on my ideas better?

  • Example: Today, I am going to tell (to inform) you about a particular breed of dog, give a quick historical review, and detail a few of the characteristics of the dog so you will have an understanding of this type of dog.

  • Example: Throughout my speech today, I am going to share with you three different nonprofit organizations who have strong volunteer programs, first Big Brothers/ Big Sisters, second the WMCA, and finally touch on the Everyone Reads program.

  • Example: I believe our society is moving in an unhealthy direction and because of that belief today I am going to first provide you evidence to support that assertion, second give you some specific ways you can begin to live healthier, and finally show you the benefits of eating a healthier diet.

Relating the General Purpose, Specific Purpose, and Central Idea

          The general purpose, specific purpose, and central idea all relate to one another. Think of the triangle below to understand the flow of your narrowing process for your topic. When choosing a topic, you need to work from the bottom to the top. Start with your General Purpose, then move to the Specific Purpose, and then finally choose your Central Idea (thesis sentence/preview).

The general purpose, specific purpose, and central idea can be thought of in a triangle. The base is your general purpose while the central idea is the tip. 

Review Questions

How are the general purpose, specific purpose, and central idea related? Which should you start with when developing a speech?

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