ESL Activities - Delivering a Persuasive Speech

Overview: Students need to understand that how they say something and how they physically present themselves are just as important as what they say. By understanding the dynamics involved in effective persuasive speaking, students will improve their overall confidence in communicating.

Purpose: The purpose of this lesson is to improve students' oral persuasion techniques by understanding the appropriate speaking skills. The lesson is presented in second person, making it more meaningful as a resource for the students, and easier for the teacher to use as a handout.

Objectives: Students will be able to...

  1. Demonstrate the appropriate classroom public speaking and listening skills (e.g., body language, articulation, listening to be able to identify specific examples of the speaker's coordination of talking and action) that would be necessary to influence or change someone's mind or way of thinking about a topic.
  2. Define the elements of persuasion.
  3. Recognize the elements of personal credibility.
  4. Develop methods to analyze other students' speeches.
  5. Understand outlining main ideas.
  6. Create a persuasive speech.

Resources/Materials: Teacher-prepared topics for persuasive speeches.

Assessments: The Class will assess each speaker's performance in terms of voice and body coordination, and in terms of persuasiveness. Each class can develop performance assessments such as rubrics to facilitate this process.

Teacher's Anticipatory Set: During class discussion, define and explain how people make decisions based on what they see and hear. Explain that sometimes we have to use skills to convince others about our positions. Have the students recall and list their own experiences trying to convince their friends about something, and then ask them to share these with the class.

The Procedure

Pick a proposition that not everyone would agree with such as: "nuclear power plants are superior energy sources." Write a 6- to 8-minute speech in outline form to persuade the group.

The Lesson: Your Voice and Body are Your Best Tools

You are a natural persuader! You have done it all your life. Every time you enter a conversation, you engage in elementary persuasion techniques. It is true, that any time you make a statement of fact, you are asserting its validity and assuming that your listener agrees.

This speech goes further than a normal conversational assertion: now you have to assume that not everyone will agree with you from the start, and it is your job to make them see things your way. The goal of this speech is to change someone's mind or way of thinking about a topic. This is not a speech to sell, as you do not ask that the listener do anything except to agree with you or to begin to listen to your way of thinking. Your message is, of course, very important in this speech, but your voice and body language are even more important. Here you will see how your delivery can help.

There are several important aspects of presentation to keep in mind:

  1. Body language - make sure that you have a proper posture. If your shoulders are sagging and your legs are crossed, you will not appear as being sincere and people just will not accept your message.
  2. Articulation - articulation means how your total vocal process works. There are several steps to this entire process. First, you need air from the lungs, your vocal cords in your larynx must be working, your mouth and tongue must be in sync, and you have to make sure that you have got some saliva in your mouth to keep things oiled. You should be aware of your physical makeup to be able to understand how you speak.
  3. Pronunciation - pronounce each word. Avoid slang, except to make a point, and do not slur your words. Avoid saying, "you know."
  4. Pitch - pitch refers to the highs and lows of your voice. Whatever you do, avoid a monotone!
  5. Speed - your speed, or pace, is an important variable to control. Between 140-160 words per minute is the normal pace for a persuasive speech. Any faster and you may appear to be glib; any slower and you sound like you are lecturing. If you are not sure about your speed, tape yourself for one minute and then replay it and count the number of words you used in the minute! The human ear and brain can compile and decode over 400 spoken words per minute, so if you are going too slow your listeners' minds are going to start to wander as the brains finds other ways to keep themselves occupied.
  6. Pauses - the pause, or caesura, is a critical persuasive tool. When you want to emphasize a certain word, just pause for one second before; this highlights the word. If you really want to punch it, pause before and after the word!
  7. Volume - volume is another good tool for persuasive speech, but you should use it with caution. If you scream all the way through your speech, people will become accustomed to it and it will lose its effectiveness. On the other hand, a few well-timed shouts can liven up the old speech! Try to "project" or throw your voice out over the entire group - speak to the last row.
  8. Quality - quality of voice is gauged by the overall impact that your voice has on your listeners. Quality of voice is the net caliber of your voice, its character and attributes. Try to keep your vocal quality high; it is what separates your voice from everyone else's.
  9. Variance - variance of vocal elements is your most important consideration of all! One of the most persuasive speakers in modern history was Winston Churchill. One of his most remarkable qualities was his ability to vary the elements of his voice. He would start with a slow, laconic voice and then switch gears to a more rapid pace. People were light-headed after listening to him! Even if you have no desire to run for political office, you can still use the tools of variance. Change your pitch, volume, and speed at least once every 30 seconds, if only for just one word. Never go more than one paragraph without a vocal variance. This keeps your group locked into your speech, if for no other reason than it sounds interesting! Let the words speak for themselves; reflect their nature through your voice. If you use the word "strangle," say it with a hint of menace in your voice. If you say the word "heave," let the group feel the onomatopoeic force behind it. If you say the word "bulldozer," make it sound like a titan earthmover, not like a baby with a shovel.

The Strategy: Appear Rational

When you are trying to convince someone of something, you must first establish your credibility, or in other words, you must sell yourself before you sell your message. If people feel that you are not being reasonable or rational, you do not stand a chance. You must be committed to the ideals and goals of your speech and what you are saying. Do not use words such as "maybe" or "might"- use positive words such as "will" and "must."

You are the authority figure in this speech, so you had better supply enough information to prove your points so that you can seem knowledgeable, and you had better know your material cold. People can usually spot someone who is trying to "wing" a speech. You should also appear to be truthful -even when you are really stretching a point. If you do not appear to be earnest, even if your message is the 100% truth, people will doubt your word and tune out your speech.

Lastly, do not be afraid to show a little emotion - this is not a sterile or static speech. Your body and voice must match the tone of your words. If your language is strong, you must present a physical force to go along with your delivery.

The Comments and Goals

Self-control?

You cannot sit back and let your words do all of the talking. You must use your total self to deliver your message, and this means that you will have to expose a little of your personality to the group. Your group will be supportive.

The Group Reaction

The group has two major criteria to consider after each member's speech. First, the delivery. Were the speaker's body, words, and actions in synchronization and harmony? Did one support the other or was there tension between the body and the voice? Secondly, were you persuaded? Why or why not? Discuss what makes a persuasive speech work and how the intangibles effect a positive outcome.

Contributor: Douglas Parker