Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Writing Conclusions for Essays and Speeches

A tiny man stands trying not to be crushed by giant books on a bookshelf.
Need help learning how to write a conclusion for your essays and speeches?

In order to give your audience a sense of closure at the end of a speech or essay, you must smoothly incorporate some closing thoughts that will help your audience remember your main point.  

A conclusion can be as simple as a reiteration of your main point, theme, or thesis statement, but there are several other "exit strategies" you can use to accomplish closure.  The most important thing to remember is that the conclusion should be "direct, clear, and effective" (Shaw 84).  In other words, when you are done proving your point, end the essay or speech with as few words as possible to help the audience remember your message.

Conclusion Strategies

A great list of conclusion strategies is provided in Susan Anker's text, Steps to Writing Well (87-88). Some of those concluding strategies include 

  • A summary of main ideas
  • A statement of the topic's importance or its broader implications
  • A call to action
  • A warning or forecast about the essays' stated problem
  • A quotation, lesson, or story that adds insight to your position
  • A rhetorical question
  • A play on words
  • A return to the technique used in the introduction of the essay or attention-getter of the speech.

Advice about Conclusions

More than knowing there are several strategies you can use to end your essay or speech, you must know how to use them.

First, in order to find the best strategy for your specific essay or speech (based on its mode, topic, and tone), prepare several different conclusions and choose the best. Next, get feedback from others during the revision process.  Be aware of some pitfalls, however.  Be respectful to your audience and maintain a professional tone.  Furthermore, Anker advises students that although transitional words and phrases are useful in essays and speeches, the use of "In conclusion," "To summarize," or "As you can see, my thesis proves that . . . " is not necessary (90). In an essay, a new paragraph and a strongly stated concluding strategy will clearly indicate to your reader that you are ending your essay.  A meaningful pause and vocal inflections can indicate to your speech's audience that you are wrapping up your speech.

In Conclusion,

The conclusion of a speech or essay is your last chance to allow your words to make a lasting impression on your audience.  Abrupt or non-topical endings, just like rambling, wordy, or pompous endings, will generally "turn off" an audience, thereby weakening your message.  It's all about the message. 

Want to read more about making your speeches and essays more effective?  Try

Works Cited

Wyrick, Jean. "Beginnings and Endings." Steps to Writing Well with Additional Readings. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2011. 87-90. Print.

Shaw, Harry. "Writing the Whole Theme." A Complete Course in Freshman English. 2nd Revised ed. New York: Harper & Bros., 1949. 85-86. Print.

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Giving a Speech: Dos and Don'ts

Whether you are giving your first speech or your 999th speech, there are some things you should do and should not do while communicating your message to your audience.

The most important thing to remember while giving a speech is that your focus should be, as I said above, communicating your message to your audience. However, your ability to focus on that message during your speech comes with practice, practice, more practice, and preparation.

Speech Rule #1
Outline your speech.

An audience can tell when you have not outlined and rehearsed the order and content of your speech. The outline helps you ensure your speech has unity, coherence, and clarity.  Be sure to carefully consider your outline before committing to it and practicing it, but also do not be afraid to change your outline after rehearsing it.  You may realize changes must be made only after timing, pacing, and practicing your speech.

Speech Rule #2
Speak to and look at your audience.

If your eyes wander during a speech, or if it seems as if you are not speaking to your audience, your audience will (unfortunately) concentrate more on your discomfort and less on your message.  Since the message is the most important part of public speaking, be sure to speak to and look at your audience to make sure they are receiving your message.

Speech Rule #3
Move with a purpose.

Just like wandering eyes, wandering limbs are extremely distracting.  It's better to stand in a comfortable position, without leaning or swaying, than to distract your audience with excessive or jittery movements.

Speech Rule #4
Present yourself.

When experts speak on a topic they thoroughly understand, they present themselves as experts with pride in their accomplishments.  How do they present that care?  They dress to impress and groom themselves professionally.   It's more likely an audience will accept your credibility if you are dressed and groomed like a credible person.  Taking a few extra moments to iron and put on dress clothes shows an audience you care enough to prepare for them.

Speech Rule #5
Use standard English.

Colloquial phrases, slang, mumbled words, and bad or invective language should play no part in an academic speech.  Use clear, concise language to convey your message to your audience.  All the better, make sure you use standard English.  If this is difficult for you, transcribe your speech and use a free service, such as Grammarly, to help you correct your grammar before you begin practicing bad phrasing in your speech.

Speech Rule #6
Use transitions.

Break your speech into natural divisions and use transitional words and phrases to help your audience hear you "switch gears" between those divisions.  For example, in a sequential speech, use transitional words and phrases related to step-by-step actions, like "first," "next," or "after."

Speech Rule #7
Add sufficient detail to offer new knowledge.

Part of planning a speech is knowing your audience.  Be sure to offer them new information instead of repeating facts or examples they already understand.  Most college students, for example, know how to tie a shoe, so delivering a speech about how to tie a shoe would not be appropriate.  Likewise, explaining to that audience why they should tie their shoes would certainly be information they do not need.  Offer new information and responsible knowledge.

Speech Rule #8

Have an exit strategy.  Just saying "That's it" at the end of a speech is awkward and does nothing to help the audience retain your message.  Better to carefully plan a conclusion that reiterates your message in as clear a way as possible to really help the audience remember it.  Restate your thesis, point out key pieces of information, or summarize important considerations.

Speech Rule #9
Pace yourself.

If there is a time limit on your speech, be sure to meet it.  However, speaking slowly to make up for a lack of information (or speaking rapidly to stay under a time limit), doesn't fool the audience.  There is nothing that can make up for a lack of information.  Respect the audience enough to research your topic and present new information to keep them involved and engaged.

Speech Rule #10
Be confident or "fake it 'till you make it."

Apologetic speakers are difficult to watch.  The audience (because they are usually really nice people) starts to feel bad for a speaker as soon as they sense the speaker is uncomfortable and lacks confidence.  Remember, you want the audience to pay attention to your message, not your discomfort.  So, how do you show confidence when you feel like you've eaten a breakfast of butterflies?  Imitate confidence, or better yet, know your topic so well you can speak about it with true confidence.  Practice, look at your audience, and present responsible knowledge.

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.