speech (rhetoric)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

man delivering a speech
"Long and curious speeches are as fit for dispatch as a robe or mantle with a long train is for a race" (Francis Bacon, "Of Dispatch," 1625). (CSA Images/Archive/Getty Images)


In rhetoric, a speech is a formal address delivered to an audience--an oration or oral presentation.

In classical rhetoric, three main types or genres of speech were recognized: deliberative, judicial, and epideictic.

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

From the Old English, "to speak"

Examples of Speeches


  • "If I could just say a few words . . . I'd be a better public speaker."
    (Homer Simpson beginning a speech, The Simpsons)
  • Major Parts of a Speech
    "There are three major parts to every speech: introduction, body, and conclusion. . . .

    The introduction serves to introduce the topic and the speaker and to alert audience members to your specific purpose. . . .

    Just like the body of a written essay, the speech body contains the speech's main points and subpoints, all of which support the speech's thesis. . . .

    The conclusion restates the speech purpose and reiterates how the main points confirm it."
    (Dan O'Hair, et al., Speaker's Guidebook. Bedford, 2007)
  • "Surveys show that the number one fear of Americans is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. That means that at a funeral, the average American would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy."
    (Jerry Seinfeld, Seinfeld, 1990)
  • The Art of Delivering a Speech
    Once you've planned and written your presentation and developed your visuals, you're ready to begin practicing your delivery. . . .
    - Memorizing. Unless you're a trained actor, avoid memorizing your speech, especially a long one. You're likely to forget your lines, and your speech will sound stilted. . . .

    - Reading. If you're delivering a technical or complex presentation, you may want to read it. . . . If you choose to read your speech, practice enough so that you can still maintain eye contact with your audience. . . .

    - Speaking from notes. Making a presentation with the help of an outline, note cards, or visual aids is probably the most effective and easiest delivery mode. This approach gives you something to refer to and still allows for eye contact and interaction with the audience. . . .

    - Impromptu speaking. . . . When you're asked to speak 'off the cuff,' take a moment to think through what you'll say. Then avoid the temptation to ramble.
    (Courtland L. Bovée, John V. Thill, and Barbara E. Schatzman, Business Communication Essentials. Prentice Hall, 2004)
  • The Art of Persuasion
    "Typically, a speech is an utterance meant to be heard and intended to exert an influence of some kind on those who hear it. Typically, also the kind of influence intended may be described as persuasion. The hearer is to be moved to action or argued into the acceptance of some belief. The aim of the speaker is, in the words of William Caxton, 'to cause another man . . . to believe or to do that thing which thou wouldst have him do.'"
    (Wayland Maxfield Parrish, "The Study of Speeches," 1954)
  • The Art of Brevity
    - "I attended a dinner where there were three previous speakers. Each had gone on at considerable length and as the evening threatened to become morning, I decided to set aside my own text. When the time came to speak, I stood up, said that every speech, written or otherwise, had to have punctuation. I said, 'Tonight, I am the punctuation--the period,' and sat down. It was one of my most popular addresses."
    (Dwight D. Eisenhower, At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends. Doubleday, 1967)

    - "Nurse Jackie star Merritt Wever took home the award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series as well as the award for delivering the shortest Emmy acceptance speech--maybe ever. "The 33-year-old actress was so moved by her win, which was the first trophy awarded of the night, that she could barely speak to the audience and merely said, 'Thank you so very much. Um, I gotta go, bye.' . . .

    "Despite her loss for words, the speech was a mega-hit among Emmy watchers. Host Neil Patrick Harris even commended her shortly after saying, 'Merritt Wever, best speech ever.'"
    (Rachel Maresca, "Emmy Awards 2013: Merritt Wever of 'Nurse Jackie' Gives One of the Shortest Acceptance Speeches Ever." Daily News [New York City], September 23, 2013)
  • Gorgias, the Sophist, on Speech
    "Speech is a powerful lord that with the smallest and most invisible body accomplishes most godlike works. It can banish fear and remove grief and instill pleasure and enhance pity. I shall show you how this is so."
    (Gorgias, Encomium of Helen. Translated by George Kennedy, 1988. Readings From Classical Rhetoric, ed. by Patricia P. Matsen, Philip B. Rollinson, and Marion Sousa. Southern Illinois University Press, 1990)
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Nordquist, Richard. "speech (rhetoric)." ThoughtCo, Oct. 16, 2015, thoughtco.com/speech-rhetoric-1691985. Nordquist, Richard. (2015, October 16). speech (rhetoric). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/speech-rhetoric-1691985 Nordquist, Richard. "speech (rhetoric)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/speech-rhetoric-1691985 (accessed December 18, 2017).