Writing and analyzing a speech are two different tasks, but they require several of the same skills to do well. Applying traditional principles of rhetoric as you write or critique a speech can help you consider whether the speech is as effective as it can be -- and if not, how it could be more compelling.

The Rhetorical Triangle

Aristotle, an ancient Greek philosopher, famously described rhetoric as “the power of observing the means of persuasion on almost any subject presented to us.” All speeches contain three basic components as they try to persuade audiences: logos, ethos and pathos. Logos refers to the text’s logic, or the way it’s organized and how it makes its argument. Ethos refers to the writer’s credibility and persona, or how he establishes authority and trustworthiness. Pathos refers to the audience’s emotions; an analysis of pathos asks how audiences with certain values will respond to the kinds of arguments the text makes. To analyze or write a speech using these components, you’ll need to have a sense for the speech’s setting and purpose.


When you’re writing a speech, you can choose from among several genres. Speeches can describe or narrate an action or idea, analyze a topic or argument or overtly aim to persuade the audience of the speaker’s position. Determine which of these genres is most appropriate for your goal, and consider combining them. For example, President Barack Obama’s 2013 speech on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington was primarily persuasive, arguing that institutional change must grow out of individual effort, but it incorporated brief descriptions of people “who are willing to take a first step for justice” to illustrate his main ideas. When you’re analyzing a speech, assess its primary genre. Think about what parts of the speech work together to perform its goal of describing, narrating, analyzing or persuading, and consider whether some parts detract from that aim.


When you give a speech, you project a certain version of yourself to audiences. As you craft your argument, consider how you want your listeners to think about you. It’s usually important that you communicate your authority on your topic, so establish why you are personally qualified to speak on it, cite sufficient experts on your topic to support your position or do both. In an analysis, evaluate whether the speaker sufficiently establishes her credibility. Consider tone as well when writing or analyzing a speech: Do you, or the speaker, come across as rational? Angry? Timid? Ask yourself whether that tone effectively accomplishes the purpose of the speech.


Knowing your listeners is crucial to writing an effective speech. Think about who your target audience is and what their main characteristics are. General categories such as gender, race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, age, geographic location, religious background and education are all useful to consider, but think also about characteristics that have to do with your speech topic. A speaker aiming to persuade listeners to keep an oil pipeline out of a wilderness area, for instance, might be able to use a strong emotional appeal with an audience of animal activists, but might find an economic appeal more effective with an audience of oil industry employees.