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Parts of a Whole

“Every speech should be put together like a living thing…

[having] both a middle and extremities,

composed proportionately to each other and to the whole.”

(Socrates)

Every speech, no matter how long or short, should have three distinct parts—the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. As the Greek philosopher Socrates said thousands of years ago: “Every speech should be put together like a living thing…[having] both a middle and extremities, composed proportionately to each other and to the whole.” A message should have opening comments, the major points, and closing comments. Or as someone once said: “Tell them what you’re going to say, say it, then tell them what you said.”

The first part of a speech is the introduction. The purposes of an introduction are to capture the attention of the audience, build rapport with the audience, show the audience why they should listen, and orient the audience to the subject matter. A well-developed and well-delivered introduction will connect the speaker and listener and set the tone for a dynamic speech.

An introduction could include one or more of the following components:

  1. reference to subject or occasion,
  2. personal reference or greeting,
  3. interesting description of your topic,
  4. a thought–provoking or rhetorical question,
  5. startling statement of fact or opinion,
  6. quotation from another source or list of statistics,
  7. humorous anecdote, and/or
  8. illustration or visual aid related to the topic.

The second and major part of a speech is the body. The purpose of the body is to develop the main ideas of the speech. The body of the speech should include the main points, the sub-points, the supportive material, and the connectives. According to Litfin, the body of the speech should develop unity, order, and progress. It should communicate units of thought and clear relationships. It should expand ideas in a logical sequence.[1]

The body of a speech provides “the meat” or the main content in a thorough discussion of the topic. In Basic Oral Communication, the authors suggest three steps in the development of the body of a speech:

  1. disclose a central idea – describe a philosophy underlying or justifying the speech
  2. divide the central idea into an organizational pattern – arrange the points and sub-points in a specific order, outlining the content
  3. support ideas with explanation, reasoning, and evidence – develop “the flesh on the skeletal outline,” expanding ideas through explanations, statistics, examples, analogies, testimony, and restatement[2]

In developing the body of the speech, identify main points, explore any specific sub-points, establish an outline for the material, provide supportive information, include relevant illustrations/examples, and transition between points. A longer speech requires more points and sub-points as well as illustrations and supportive material..

The last part of a speech is the conclusion. The purpose of the conclusion is to end the talk in a meaningful way. Carol Kent suggests several effective methods for ending a speech:[3]

  1. A quotable quote,
  2. A dynamic challenge,
  3. A plan of action,
  4. A thought-provoking question,
  5. A summary of main points,
  6. A statement of personal intention, or
  7.  A key story.

There are several general guidelines concerning conclusions. Do not include new information in your conclusion; instead return the audience to the introduction and the main idea. Try to make your conclusion very vivid, working on clarity and conciseness. The conclusion should be long enough to accomplish the purpose but not too long to drag the speech out. Rehearse the conclusion before your presentation, to avoid rambling or fading away. Keep track of time so that you have enough for the conclusion.

When delivering your conclusion, refrain from saying, “in conclusion.” These words often cue the audience to stop listening. Avoid a false conclusion, which is continuing to speak after saying you were finished. Deliver your final sentence with confidence and finality, and then stop! A little boy once said about a sermon, “My favorite thing the preacher said was ‘and finally.’ ”


            [1] Litfin, Public Speaking, 151-162.

            [2] Glenn R. Capp, Carol C. Capp, and G. Richard Capp, Jr., Basic Oral Communication, 5th ed. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990), 127.

            [3] Carol Kent, Speak Up with Confidence: A Step-by-Step Guide for Speakers and Leaders (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2007), 103-109.


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