Course Content
Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
About Lesson

What is Speech Analysis?

A speech analysis is an evaluation of a speech. Whether the speech is meant to inform, persuade, or entertain, it can be analyzed for its rhetorical intent. When giving a speech analysis, it is important to identify the purpose and target audience. An insightful analysis also examines the rhetorical choices of the speaker as they play an important part in the success of a speech. This analysis is commonly used to improve the communication skills of both the speaker and the person analyzing the speech.

A speech will generally consist of three elements: the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. Outlining these three sections will inform any speech analysis.

Elements of a Speech

Introduction *This is the opening of a speech.
*The first few lines of a speech usually contain a “hook,” also called an “attention-getter.” For example, a speaker may open with jokes, interesting facts, or anecdotes (short personal stories)
*The introduction offers a quick preview of the speaker’s main idea.

Body *This is the longest section of the speech. It contains the speaker’s main ideas, which facts, statistics, or anecdotes should support.
*This is where the speaker will make a variety of rhetorical choices (techniques used to achieve a rhetorical purpose)
*The body often offers arguments (the speaker’s side) and counterarguments (anticipated opposition). An effective speech will show both sides of the argument and thoroughly examine both sides of a debate.

Conclusion *This is the closing of the speech.
*The conclusion usually recaps the main points made in the body section.
*The conclusion will often contain a “call for action,” a final motivation for the audience to agree with a position or do a certain action.

How to Analyze a Speech

Speech analysis can be simplified into three basic steps: analyzing the purpose, identifying the audience, and assessing the effectiveness of the rhetorical choices.

What Should be your First Step in Analyzing a Speech?

Identifying the purpose is the first step in speech analysis. Purposes can include informing, persuading, or entertaining the audience.

Informative Speeches *An informative speech is meant to share information.
*This type of speech should be as unbiased as possible, serving the dominant purpose of teaching the audience.

Persuasive Speeches *A persuasive speech has a clear purpose of arguing a point.
*This category includes a broad range of settings, from political arenas to motivational presentations or philosophical debates.
*The common goal of these speeches is to move the audience to agree with or do something.

Entertaining Speeches *An entertaining speech may have elements of information or persuasion, but its main goal is to entertain the audience.
*Entertainment speeches can be comical or dramatic.

These purposes are centered on the effect they have on the audience. Thus identifying the purpose inherently involves identifying the target audience. Labeling a speech as informative, persuasive, or entertaining automatically calls into question the audience meant to be informed, persuaded, or entertained. The audience must be clearly pinpointed before moving on to the next step because the target audience will inform about the types of rhetoric that will or will not be effective.

What Should be Your Next Steps in Analyzing a Speech?

With the purpose and audience in mind, a speech analysis will move on to rhetorical choices. This involves evaluating the use of humorous anecdotes or statistical evidence as well as choices of diction and tone.

Diction, also called word choice, can create an intentional tone. Negative wording can create an intentionally negative tone for the speech, just as optimistic wording can create an intentionally optimistic tone. In addition to diction and tone, the body of a speech should be analyzed for credibility and type of evidence. Credibility is created through more than just choices of words. Credibility is achieved by the persona of the speaker as well as by the use of facts or other relevant content. A speaker might use statistics to provide a factual basis for an argument or use humorous examples to effect a more casual environment for the speech.

Finally, a speech analysis will draw a conclusion about the speech’s effectiveness. A speech analysis will argue that the rhetorical choices did or did not make the speech effective for its intended audience and purpose.

How to Comment on a Speech

To comment on a speech is to give feedback to the speaker. This process is important to the speaker because it identifies which speech elements are effective or ineffective. Thus, the speaker can improve communication skills based on the feedback.

A good set of feedback will comment on the use of certain types of evidence. For example, a speaker should gather the audience’s response to statistics, examples, and expert testimony to learn which types of testimony worked to achieve the purpose of the speech. Analyzing rhetorical choices helps a speaker develop speech skills by recognizing which rhetorical moves work and which do not.

A less useful set of feedback will focus on agreement or disagreement rather than the structure of the speech itself. When analyzing a speech, it is important not to be influenced by whether the content is agreeable. This takes the focus off of the rhetorical choices made by the speaker and puts it on a debatable topic between the speaker and the person analyzing the speech.

Examples of Speech Analysis

Political speeches are often the subject of speech analysis. Here are examples of analysis using the works of John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln.

Example Analysis of Kennedy’s Civil Rights Speech

John F. Kennedy delivered his speech in 1963 after the United States Supreme Court ruled that the University of Alabama must desegregate. He delivered this speech to the population of the country through television and radio. The purpose of his speech is clearly to persuade, as his main argument lays out a path to support Civil Rights and social equality. In particular, he wants legislation that would protect the voting rights of all Americans.

JFK addresses the nation in 1963

Black and white photo of JFK giving the Civil Rights Speech

In his introduction, Kennedy connects with his audience by describing the beginning sentiments of the United States when it was founded. Kennedy quotes the Declaration of Independence. Referencing the line, “that all men are created equal,” builds credibility for him as a speaker. He then develops a deeper connection with his audience by using the pronoun “we.” When speaking of race issues in the country and the world, Kennedy uses “we” in most references to “Americans.” This simple choice of diction places him inside the group identity of his audience. The word “we” implies that he is involved, just like average Americans.

Rhetorical choices in the body of the speech include statistics and historical allusions. JFK references statistical data that illustrates American citizens’ average income and life expectancy. Then, the historical allusions bring up negative images of a “caste system” and “master race.” Using these references works to stir up urgent emotions in the audience. The audience, then, would follow the logic that supporting his Civil Rights legislation would help America avoid repeating the historical patterns of low income, shorter life spans, and brutal social injustice.

Kennedy’s conclusion is open in his request when he states, “I am, therefore, asking Congress to enact legislation giving all Americans the right to be served in facilities which are open to the public” and “I ask the support of all our citizens.” Appropriate for a persuasive speech, JFK offers a call to action for the audience.

Example Analysis of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

Similar to Kennedy’s speech, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address opens with a reference to the formation of the United States. His speech was delivered at a burial ground, and his audience would be citizens of a country still being torn apart by the Civil War.

In his introduction, Lincoln uses “our” to form a connection with his audience. Thus his purpose is achieved as he inspires his audience to unite to end the war with triumph and valor. The body of his speech continues the use of inclusive pronouns as he tells the people, “we are engaged in a great civil war,” again reinforcing the notion that he and the audience are “engaged” in the campaign together. In this section, Lincoln uses strong emotional wording to describe the “brave” ones who have given their lives to such a “nobly advanced work.” He offers a sense of urgency as he encourages the people not to give up on “the great task remaining before us.”

In Lincoln’s conclusion, he gives a final word of encouragement to the people hoping for “a new birth of freedom.” His last words leave the audience with pride and patriotism as the president projects a victorious nation that “shall not perish from the earth.”

Manuscript of the Gettysburg Address

Archive Manuscript of the Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln

Importance of Speech Analysis

Speech analysis is important for both the speaker and the analyst. A speaker will receive feedback in order to better understand the effect a speech has on an audience. This can help a speaker make more audience-centered choices in future settings. It is also important for the analyst as the analyst learns by observing what is most effective in a speech example.

Some improvements that can be made based on a speech analysis include word choices and analyzing which words inspire or alienate certain audiences. Other improvements that can be learned from speech analysis can be within the structure of an argument as a whole. Arguments and counterarguments are both examined in an analysis, and a communicator can learn how to build credibility by effectively presenting an opposing opinion.

Lesson Summary

Speech analysis examines the elements that make up an effective speech. It involves identifying the target audience and purpose of the speech, assessing how the speech connects to that audience and evaluating the purpose of a speaker’s rhetorical choices (the choices of wording, style, or type of evidence). The first step in a speech analysis is identifying the speech’s purpose or intent. Speeches may be written for a variety of purposes, including to inform, persuade, or entertain. The speech can be evaluated for its effectiveness and validity based on its purpose. A proper speech analysis will examine the use of anecdotes (short personal stories), facts, statistics, examples, or expert testimony. A speech analysis should also include an evaluation of diction (choice of wording) and the inclusion of counterarguments, which is essential to an effective speech. Anticipating the opposing argument proves that a speaker has thought through both sides of the issue, thus strengthening the speaker’s position.

For example, an analysis of President Kennedy’s Civil Rights Speech would evaluate the use of the word “we” as it refers to Americans as a whole. This word choice created a connection with Kennedy’s audience. It made the speech more personal to the listener and created a feeling of unity by implying that the president and the American people were all together in resolving the issue. Like most persuasive speakers, Kennedy ends with a call to action, meaning the speech motivates the audience to do something (for example, to vote a certain way or buy a certain product). Kennedy provides such a call for action when he asks Congress to enact legislation and American citizens to support the legislative action.

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