In an earlier post, I reflected on how a speech is like (and unlike) a conversation.
Today I’d like to argue that a speech is like an essay. (I’m reading a collection of essays by George Orwell, All Art Is Propaganda, which got me to thinking about this connection.)
There’s no definitive definition of an essay, but it’s generally described as 1) a relatively short composition 2) written from the author’s personal point of view 3) that attempts to analyze, understand, or explain a particular theme or subject.
A speech is — or should be — relatively short. I think 20 minutes is a good length for a speech. You can talk longer than that (sometimes you’re asked to speak for an hour, for example), but if you do you should break your speech into shorter (i.e. under 20 minutes) chunks. And you should always remember that while it’s a sin to run over your allotted time, it’s almost always a blessing to finish early.
A speech expresses the speaker’s point of view. If you try to be neutral or objective or to sound like anyone and everyone else, there’s no reason for you to give a speech. Let someone else give it. Or better yet, let no one give it. Invest your wisdom and understanding, your values and passion, your personality in all of its unique and odd splendor into what you say and how you say it.
And a speech attempts to make sense or a particular topic. Just one topic at a time, please. You can talk about a sophisticated, multi-faceted topic, but if you really need to talk about two (or more) topics, give two (or more) speeches.
Preparing a speech, like writing an essay, involves thought: you have to take a position, criticize it, examine the supporting evidence, test its logic, address objections, and refine it. And giving a speech, like publishing an essay, requires commitment: you have to risk putting yourself and what you really believe on the line for others to see, hear, and accept or reject.
What do you think?