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How to Write a Speech for the
Principles of Public Speaking DSST

This page shows you how to write a speech for the Principles of Public Speaking DSST. If you've come here looking for that study guide, simply click on the name to go to the first page.

For all you folks who just came from that page, let's get started!

How the Speech Portion Works

Once you're done with the question portion, the proctor will give you a speech topic as well as the audience you'll be responsible for influencing. Listing the actual topics that appear on the exam breaks quite a few rules, so I'm not going to do it. However, if you'd like to see some pretty close examples, you can find them on this very helpful InstantCert thread. The audience is also important, so be sure to get that information from your proctor.

You'll get 10 minutes to prepare a 3 to 5 minute persuasive speech. That's not a whole lot of time, but I'll show you how to make the most of it in just a minute.

You're going to give the speech into a recording device. What that device is depends on the testing center. As long as it's on a cassette tape, there doesn't seem to be any standard. So it may be a walkman, or a tabletop cassette player, or in one experience I read about, a microphone hooked to an AV deck.

Once it's recorded, the speech is graded by a teacher at an accredited facility and is given a either a passing or failing grade.

Here's how the speech itself is graded:

25% Structure/Organization
25% Delivery
20% Content/Supporting Material
20% Effect and Persuasiveness
10% Language and Style

If you look at the above list, you'll see that the actual speaking only counts for 35% of the total speech (Delivery and Language/Style). As long as you nail the preparation portion, you'll be well on your way to passing. If the idea of giving a speech worries you, just remind yourself that most of this portion relies on writing, not speaking.

The fact sheet also mentions a few ways to automatically fail the speech portion. Let's take a look at those so we know what not to do.

  1. Having a speech last less than 3 minutes or longer than 5 minutes.
  2. Editing (By this I'm guessing they mean not following the speech outline)
  3. Topic not addressed
  4. Failure to take a position (After all, it's a persuasive speech)
  5. Took several positions (Pick one position and stick with it)

Pretty common sense stuff, right? Nothing to get too worried about. The time limit tends to worry people, but we're going to go over how to make that a non-issue in just a few minutes.

For now, let's talk about that speech preparation. Unless you're a speed writer (or practice shorthand in your spare time) it's a safe bet that the 10 minutes will not be enough time for you to write out a good 3-5 minute speech. That's where the speech outline comes in. If you don't know how to make a speech outline, then you need to go back to the question portion and read those free resources. Seriously.. You'll likely get a few questions about them.

How to Write a Speech

There's plenty of advice on the Internet on how to write a speech outline. I'm going to share with you how I do it, but if you find a way that feels more naturally elsewhere, please feel free to use it.

For the purposes of this study guide, the following topic and audience will be used:

Topic - "Children should only be served pancakes, eggs and toast every morning for breakfast."

Audience - A mixed gender audience of people in their 20's-30's.

Yes, it's ridiculous but I wanted something easy. ;) Chances are good that your topic will be of a bit more serious slant.

The first thing you'll need to do is to pick a side. You either agree with the above statement or not. Keep in mind your target audience. Try to think about how you can use their age, gender, education level, etc to come up with reasons to support your chosen side. Once you've got your side, you'll need to get writing.

Breaking down the speech

Anytime I'm given a large task, I try to break it down into smaller steps. In this case, our task is to give a 3-5 minute speech. To get started, let's break down the speech itself. Once again, this my way of doing this. If you already have a preferred method of how to write a speech, please feel free to disregard.

Both my speeches and essays always follow the same format -

  • Introduction
  • Body (Main Point 1)
  • Body (Main Point 2)
  • Body (Main Point 3)
  • Conclusion

The three points in the body can take whatever shape the speech or essay calls for. For persuasive speeches, I try to make them my killer points. Remember, in a persuasive speech, just talking about the topic isn't going to be enough. You'll need to have those killer points to show why you're right, and the other view is wrong.

Now that we've broken down the speech, we need to assign times to each section. Since we have between three and five minutes to give this speech, let's make 4 minutes our target. That gives us the largest buffer each way.

If we wanted to assign the times equally, it would be 48 seconds for each part of our speech. We could do that, but for this I would suggest you just use 30 seconds for the Intro and Conclusion and give each body point a full minute. My reasoning is this - Most people, once they get going, tend to talk really fast during a speech. At the beginning it's easy to remember to speak slowly. At the end, you're watching the clock and trying to draw that conclusion out if you need to. It's always the middle that people end up burning through. Because of this, I've found it better to start with a full minute for each point. Even if you finish each main point in 45 seconds, you'll still be good on time and can milk the conclusion a bit to get closer to your target.

Our timeline now looks like this:

  • Introduction - 30 seconds
  • Body (Main Point 1) - 1 minute
  • Body (Main Point 2) - 1 minute
  • Body (Main Point 3) - 1 minute
  • Conclusion - 30 seconds

Grand Total - 4 Minutes

All of the above doesn't count towards your time. If you know the length of the speech (and we do), and you know what type of speech (and we do), then you can figure out a timeline for each section of the speech before you ever walk into the testing center (and we did!)

Preparing your speech

Here's where you start getting timed. Once you have that topic and audience and the proctor says "Go!" you've got ten minutes worth of preparation. The good news? That's plenty of time.

We're going to argue against the topic in this example. First step is going to be identifying our three main points. You may ask why not the intro and the conclusion first, but trust me on this. Intro's and conclusions are easy to come up with, and we want to give the body the time it deserves.

Earlier I mentioned that the three main points are our killers. They're the main reason we're right and the other view is wrong. For that reason, they need to be well thought out and strong (hard to argue with). So now's the time to brainstorm - Why shouldn't we only serve pancakes, eggs, and toast every morning to our children? Hmm, let's see....

  • Nutrition
  • Lack of Variety
  • Allergies
  • Preparation time
  • Food shortages

Okay, those were brainstormed in about the time that it took to type them. I took a few extra seconds on that last one, and I think it's obvious.. Food shortages? Really Justin? Thankfully, we only need three main topics, so we're going to choose the best of those listed. Let's go with Nutrition, Lack of Variety, and Preparation Time. All three are hard to argue with. Allergies could be grouped as a danger of Lack of Variety. The Preparation Time could be countered by someone saying "The children are worth the time!", but we'll counter that by offering healthier alternatives that are also quicker to prepare.

Now that we've got our three main topics, it's time to flesh them out. This should be easy enough for everyone. If you find yourself lagging behind that minute mark on a topic, you can fill those missing seconds by either telling a personal story or confronting an argument that the other side would make against your point.

For example - If you're on the Nutrition point and running out of steam, you can tell them about the time you ate a huge pancake breakfast at McDonalds and only afterwards found out how many calories were in those three, tiny pancakes. Oh the horror! Or, you can argue that while some may say there are healthy versions of the pancakes, eggs, and toast available, the cost of those are significantly higher than most people would be willing to pay when there are cheaper alternatives available... Fill that time!

Once you get the three main points down, it's time for the introduction and conclusion sections.

The introduction is the simplest part of the speech and super easy to fill 30 seconds. In a persuasive speech, you're going to want to introduce yourself, introduce the topic, and establish credibility or rapport with the audience. Wrap things up by identifying the three main topics in your body. I think you can get 30 seconds out of all that, don't you?

Using our topic and audience from above, I'd probably start off like this -

"Hello! My name is Justin and today I'll be talking about a very important topic. Now you may have heard of the recent views that we should serve children the same pancakes, eggs, and toast every morning for breakfast. I'm here to argue against that view, and hopefully persuade everyone here that there are better ways of serving breakfast to the children of the world. We were once children ourselves, and many of you here may have children of your own. It's a topic that touches all of us in one way or the other. Today I'm going to show you that serving only those foods to our children for breakfast is unhealthy, boring, and is an inefficient use of your time in the morning."

I usually try to come up with an earth shattering statement at the beginning of these, just to wake up the audience. I have to admit, I came up blank on this topic. Hard to be earth shattering about pancakes in 30 seconds or less. :P If you can work in a sentence to make them sit up and take notice, please do.

In the mean time, we introduced ourselves, introduced the topic, took our stand on the topic, and tried to establish rapport taking into account our audiences age (probably has young children). We also introduced our main points, and left us well-positioned to roll into that personal story for the first point. Simple stuff, right?

The conclusion is the same as the intro. You want to review your points, give them a worse case scenario of what happens if your view isn't followed, a best case if it is, and then thank the audience for it's time. Another easy 30 seconds. Since I've already typed a small novel, here's another example.

"Today I've shown you that nutritionally, our children need more than just those three foods to get them through the day. I've also shown you that our children need as much variety in foods as we can give them growing up. The food we introduce them to today may remain a favorite for years to come. Finally, I've shown that there are cheaper and more time-efficient ways of preparing a healthy, varied breakfast than serving the same three boring and unhealthy foods. In closing, I hope that everyone can agree that our children need, no, deserve more than just those three foods for breakfast. We don't want a world full of unhealthy, unhappy children do we? Of course not, we want our children to be healthy and living life to the fullest; and that's my goal here today. Please join me in making sure that happens. Thank you for your time. "

Now you're probably thinking to yourself, "Man, he's so full of it!" and you'd be right. ;) Nobody says this can't be a fun thing to do. Ham it up! Be as eloquent or verbose as you want to. The fact that you're having fun will come across when you're recording the speech, and provided that your points are well thought out, can only help you when it comes to grading your language and style.

That's it! We've created an outline for our speech in five or six minutes max. Here's what my outline would look like using the above.

  • Introduction - 30 seconds
    • Introduce Myself
    • Introduce Topic
    • Introduce Killer Points
  • Nutrition (Main Point 1) - 1 minute
    • Personal Story of McDonalds Horror!
    • Childhood Obesity in the US and need for nutrition
    • The Anti-Healthy Pancake Triad Argument
  • Lack of Variety (Main Point 2) - 1 minute
    • Personal story of loving pancakes when little but sick of them when too many are eaten.
    • Taste buds dying over lifetime, experience now! (Children allergic to one of those foods)
    • The Anti-Give them only what they want argument
  • Preparation Time (Main Point 3) - 1 minute
    • Give a scenario of getting kids ready for school in the morning.
    • Alternatives that are healthier, cheaper, and quicker to prepare.
    • The Anti-Children are worth the time argument
  • Conclusion - 30 seconds
    • Review Points
    • Worst Case Scenario
    • Best Case Scenario - Tie your points to it
    • Thank Audience

Easy stuff! You'll get to practice yourself on the next page. I've set up some examples for you to use.

Delivering Your Speech

This will be a quick section, I promise. You probably want to practice on your own, so let me just hit a few things to watch out for, and I'll let you get to it.

First of all, you're giving the speech to the recorder, not the proctor. You don't need to worry about rocking from side to side, hand gestures, or any of the other fun stuff that comes with a Toastmaster meeting. Knowing that, the only thing you really need to pay attention to is your time, talking points, and tone of voice. Most of this is going to be off-the-cuff which is fine as long as you stick to your talking points. Keep your voice conversational and friendly. Try to imagine your audience in front of you. You're just having a conversation with a bunch of people; trying to change their opinions on a certain subject.

I'll spare you the suspense now.. Something is going to go wrong. It's a rare speech that something doesn't happen. You'll mix up your words, stumble, whatever. It doesn't matter. Just pick it up and act like it never happened. You'll get more points from your grader doing that than if you hesitate or just stop. Work it into your speech if you can. If you cough or sneeze, say something with a smile, like, "Excuse me, couldn't fight it off any longer"and then go right back into your speech.

Remember! The body is where the money is. If you're approaching the 2 minute mark and are rolling into your third point, you need to slow down. Draw it out a little. Start using pauses in between sentences for effect. When you hit 3 minutes you can then go to your conclusion and be perfectly safe. Use the body to pace yourself.

Closing Thoughts

Whoa, long study guide! Trying to explain each step was probably overkill, but I see a lot of people having issues with this and I wanted to hopefully help. The end goal is to show you how to write a speech for this exam. If there's something here that you don't understand, please use the Contact Us form at the top and let me know. We'll tweak it as many times as we need to in order to meet that goal.

Don't forget! Check out our practice page for this exam. It's nothing spectacular, but will hopefully give you the tools you need to do a few dry runs before the actual exam.

Good luck!

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