Michael L. Kent, Ph.D., Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication | Home

Public Speaking Assignments


INTRODUCTORY: (One required)

Tropes (5%)
Yourself in Metaphor (5%)


Required Informative (10%)
Article Review (15%)
Biography (15%)
Demonstration (10%)
Figure of Speech (15%)


Required Persuasion (10%)
Let Them Eat Cake (15%)
Persuasive Sales Speech (10%)
Proposition of Policy (25%)
Reason to Believe (15%)
The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing… (10%)


Oral Interpretation (10%)
Special Occasion Speeches One is required (5%)
We Agree (15%)

WRITTEN ASSIGNMENTS: (One is required)

Notes on Analysis
Essential Information on Written Assignments
Analysis of Underlying Assumptions Paper (10%)
Counter Intuitive Argument Paper (10%)
Persuasion—Written (20%)
Speaker Critique (20%)
Your Choice [May be a Speech] (1015%)

"Let me in one word sum up this almost boundless subject;
I lay it down as a maxim,
that upon the prudence of and the abilities of an accomplished orator,
not only his own dignity but the welfare of vast numbers of individuals,
nay of the whole government rests.
Therefore, my young gentleman, go on; ply the study you have in hand,
for your aim honor, the advantage of your friends,
and the service of your country."

Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Oratore

Tropes (15%)

The tropes Speech is intended to get you thinking about language; it is also intended as a chance for you to share something interesting about yourself with the rest of the class.

In the course of your speech you must use all four of the "Master Tropes," listed below. You may use them in any order you desire, and you may use them as many times as you like—provided each gets used at least once. Be creative in your use of the tropes; come up with some original metaphors rather than "dead" ones.

Four Master Tropes

Irony: The use of words to convey the opposite of their literal meaning. The use of words to express something different from, and often opposite to, their literal meaning. An expression or utterance marked by a deliberate contrast between apparent and intended meaning. Incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs. E.g.: when something designed for protection or betterment leads to an individuals downfall.

Metaphor (Perspective/Comparison): A figure of speech whereby one thing is seen in terms of something else. A figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making an implicit comparison, as in "a sea of troubles." Metaphors use words or concepts that are already known to an audience to explain other words, concepts, or relationships, that may not be so well known. (A metaphor is not the same as a simile: a figure of speech in which two essentially unlike things are compared, often in a phrase introduced by "like" or "as," as in "How like the winter hath my absence been" or "So are you to my thoughts as food to life" (Shakespeare).

Metonymy (Reduction): To convey some incorporeal or intangible state in terms of the corporal or tangible, e.g., to speak of "the heart" rather than "the emotions." Also: "container for the contained," such as references to the pen being mightier than the sword—where the words represent "peace" and the sword "war." Reduction is representation. Substitution of one word for a related word.

Synecdoche (Representation): Part for the whole, whole for the part. An integral relationship, a relationship of convertibility between the two terms. E.g., a politician representing "the people"; the president representing the executive branch. Any act of representation.

The purpose of this assignment is to:
  1. Begin thinking about communication.
  2. Learn about figures of speech.
  3. Begin to think about language creatively (or rhetorically).
  4. Introduce yourself to the class.


You can count how many seeds are in the apple,
but not how many apples are in the seed.

Ken Kesey

Yourself in Metaphor (15%)

This is a 3–4 minute speech through which you will tell the class a little about yourself. The content of the speech, however, will not be the usual "introductory speech" sort of information. Instead, you will be using a series of metaphors, to describe aspects of your personality, beliefs, values, etc.. A metaphor is a figure of speech in which an object, person, or idea, is expressed in terms of another object, person, or idea in order to suggest comparison or analogy. Often the two characteristics are unlike. The purpose of a metaphor is twofold: it is pleasant, evocative, and eloquent to hear; and it serves to clarify a perhaps unclear or not-fully-understood issue or concept. For example "evening of life" to describe old age, "we need to get the students through the pipeline faster" to describe higher education, "this place is a morgue" to suggest little is happening, or "professor X is a weasel" to describe his/her personality.

For this speech you will tell us about three characteristics of your life by drawing upon three metaphors. You might talk about your life chronologically or through three phases. For example: "when I was a boy I was a badger"; "when I was a teenager I was a pitbull"; "as a college student I am an owl." You might also choose to talk about three characteristics of your life that are apparent only to certain people. E.g., "with your parents you are a child"; "with your friends you are a shrink"; and "with your teachers you are a scholar." This is only a few ideas; the list is limitless. Try to avoid "dead" metaphors like sports analogies, horses galloping, lions or bears, or computers. Leave such metaphors to suffer the deaths they have earned. Be creative and original.

The purpose of this assignment is to:

  1. Teach you how to use language more effectively.
  2. Provide you with experience organizing thematically.
  3. To introduce yourself to your classmates.
  4. Start you thinking creatively about speech writing


I had reasoned this out in my mind,
there was two things I had a right to,
liberty and death.
If I could not have one,
I would have the other,
for no man should take me alive.

Harriet Tubman

You can count how many seeds are in the apple,
but not how many apples are in the seed.

Ken Kesey

Let Them Eat Cake (15%)

Much of what this country has become stems from people engaging in social change speaking—individual speakers who asked the audience to engage in civil disobedience (to engage in actions which are against current law).

In this speech, your task is to convince your audience that such action is necessary, and to try and get them to take the action you suggest.

The Speech should:

  1. Be 7–10 minutes.

  2. Delivered with a maximum of five 3 x 5 note cards (to be turned in).

  3. Use visual aids if they will enhance the presentation.

  4. Envision any audience and occasion most effective for the subject and goal and turn in an audience analysis form with the outline.

  5. Use a minimum of three credible sources of information (excluding the encyclopedia and dictionary) noted on a reference page turned in with your outline).

  6. Ask the audience to engage in some action which is against the law.

  7. Use persuasive strategies.

  8. Have a clear introduction, body, and conclusion.

  9. Be delivered effectively.

Censorship, like charity, should begin at home;
but unlike charity, it should end there.

Clare Booth Luce

Figure of Speech (15%)

A figure of speech is the use of language to express a feeling, emotion, mood, or idea. The "four master tropes," are all figures of speech but there are also many others. For example Caesar’s famous line "I came, I saw, I conquered" is what is called "asyndeton"—the omission of a conjunction. Although his statement is not linguistically correct, it has a rhetorical function and served to express his actions more forcefully, more rapidly. There are dozens of figures of speech. In this speech you will explain three of them to the class. See me for a list of possible figures you can use. Or, look up a book on figures of speech in the library.

The purpose of this assignment is to:

  1. Begin thinking more carefully about communication.
  2. Learn about figures of speech.
  3. Begin to think creatively (or rhetorically) about the use of language.
  4. Use informational communication strategies.

You must do the thing you think you cannot do.

Eleanor Roosevelt

We Agree (15%)

There are many different kinds of persuasive speeches—they depend on the goal of the speaker. This assignment asks you are to seek mental agreement from your audience—they should think you are right at the end of the speech.

This assignment asks you to take a definite position on an issue of substance locally, statewide, nationally, or internationally (in other words not why chocolate is the best food) and persuade the audience through logic and evidence to believe as you do. You should make the audience think about an issue that they can be persuaded on and agree with you.

The Speech should:

If a man hasn't discovered something that he will die for,
he isn't fit to live.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Persuasive Sales Speech (10%)

First: One of the biggest issues is delivery—that is, you need to sound like you are completely convinced before I (or we) will be. Watch the "Home Shopping Network" for some examples of this sort of banter.

Second: perhaps the next most important issue is repetition. You need to repeat your ultimate point (to sell your product) over and over ad nauseam. We must know what it is, why we should want it, what it will cost, were we can get it, why it is reasonably priced, how to order it, etc. This includes repeating and demonstrating the features in a variety of (somewhat tedious) ways.

Third: use ethos, pathos, and logos. Give me logical reasons, give me personal accounts of its value, and make me believe that you believe it all.

Fourth: you must have the actual product there to convince us and show it being used in a variety of "useful" ways. You might want to enlist a "wacky" sidekick to banter with you or to demonstrate the product. Depending on the product, a "fit, attractive, professional, competent" or "intelligent" aid will be sought. This is just an idea not required.

Fifth: your job is to sell these things and not just talk about them/it. You must include a means of our acquiring your product in your presentation. This is not an "informative" speech but a persuasive speech where you seek to convince us that we simply "must" have this product. Be prepared to answer any questions. You might want to "seed" the audience with a few questions ahead of time to get the audience rolling.

Sixth: be sure and address the issue(s) of why I should want this product, why I "need" this product, of what benefit will this product be to me, and how the product will make my life better. In doing this you must be able to demonstrate an understand of what factors might motivates the members of your audience through the way that construct your appeals.

One way to accomplish this is by focusing on "features" and "benefits." Features refer to those aspects of a product or item that are a result of its design. For example:

  1. The features of this handout are: inexpensive construction materials, recyclable content, good contrast, highly legible type choice, complete explanations/examples, etc.
  2. The benefits of the features are: cheep to produce, inexpensive to replace, may be easily transported, helps the environment, doesn’t strain the eyes to read and does not require very good vision to see, and the document contains enough information for you to successfully begin preparation for your assignment.

When Hitler attacked the Jews…
I was not a Jew, therefore, I was not concerned.
And when Hitler attacked the Catholics,
I was not a Catholic,
and therefore, I was not concerned.
And when Hitler attacked the unions and the industrialists,
I was not a member of the unions and I was not concerned.
Then, Hitler attacked me and the Protestant church—
and there was nobody left to be concerned.

Attributed to Reverend Martin Niemoller
Congressional Record, October 14, 1968, Vol. 114, p. 31636

Reason to Believe (10%)

Often times it is not enough to get people to agree with our position. We need them to DO SOMETHING as a result of the agreement.

This assignment asks you to take a definite position on an issue of substance locally, statewide, nationally, or internationally (in other words not why chocolate is the best food) and persuade the audience through logic and evidence to take a specific course of action. You should make the audience think and ACT.

The Speech should:

  1. Be 9–11 minutes.

  2. Use a manuscript with the entire speech written out.

  3. Use visual aids if they will enhance the presentation.

  4. Envision this class as the audience.

  5. Use a minimum of three credible sources of information (excluding the encyclopedia and dictionary) noted on a reference page turned in with your manuscript).

  6. Ask the audience to engage in some action.

  7. Turn in the manuscript used the day you speak and the draft with Instructor comments.

  8. Use persuasive strategies.

  9. Have a clear introduction, body, and conclusion.

  10. Be delivered effectively.

Few…look upon the language which they speak and write as an art.
Yet it is, or ought to be, the noblest of all the arts,
looked upon with respect, even with reverence,
and used always with care, courtesy, and the deepest respect.

Mary Ellen Chase

The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth…(10%)

Your goal will be to inform/persuade your audience that one of the beliefs that they hold about the world, around them, their families, their genders, their religion, their political views, their education, etc., is in fact false or misguided. Your goal here is twofold: (1) to "demystify" (inform) the audience regarding some issue, event, phenomenon, etc., and (2) to convince (or persuade) the audience to consider the world, or your issue differently (the way you believe they should).

For this speech you will focus on an issue, person, area, philosophy, belief, etc., that you have reason to believe the audience is mistaken or misguided about. Examples include:

Be sure that you take a position. Be sure that the issue you select is not one the audience has probably ever questioned. Be sure that you make that second step (above) of telling the audience why they should no longer think about the person, issue, event, etc. in the same way any more. And be sure that you tell your audience what your point is. Do not just approach this as a FYI speech. You are helping us to see the world in a new and important way—a more critical way.


  1. 5–7 Minutes.
  2. Two note card—turned in after speech.
  3. Use at least three credible sources—not the WWW, dictionary or encyclopedia.
  4. Be sure to employ adequate forms of support.
  5. Meet the "criteria for effective speeches."
  6. Take a position and support it—don’t be "neutral."

If all my talents and powers were to be taken from me by some inscrutable Providence,
and I had my choice of keeping but one,
I would unhesitatingly ask to be allowed to keep the Power of Speaking,
for through it, I would quickly recover all the rest.

Daniel Webster

Article Review (15%)

For this speech, you will be provided with an article/chapter to review for the class. You must come to see me to get an article—you cannot choose just any article that you desire.

Be prepared to invest some time reading/understanding the article and discussing it with me so that you might transmit the important, interesting, useful aspects of the article to the class.

Your goal in this speech is threefold: (1) to heighten the audiences interest about the article/author you are reviewing. (2) to "review" the article’s key points for the audience in such a way that they understand the essence of the arguments and the thrust of the article—hence the required visual aids. And (3), take a position relevant to the authors claims and either agree or disagree with the authors claims.

Visual aids should not be paragraph by paragraph outlines of the article but rather, should contain key facts/points, explain difficult concepts, and include examples to illustrate the authors claims.


We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.

John Stuart Mill

Biography (15%)

Many individuals have contributed immensely to the functioning of our everyday lives of which we know very little. Nicoli Tesla, for example, is responsible, more than anyone, for the invention of AC current—the current that runs all of our electric appliances and lights. Tesla was installing AC current in homes for years while Thomas Edison went around the country electrocuting dogs trying to discredit AC current and preserve his monopoly on DC current. For this speech you should locate one of these obscure individuals and bring them to life for the class. Your goals here include: (1) helping your audience understand more about an important cultural figure. (2) trying to elicit an emotional response from your audience in regard to the individual discussed—sympathy, pity, camaraderie, compassion, fear, loathing, envy, etc. (3) biographically recounting the life of the person selected in terms of some relevant time period in their lives—birth to death, their professional careers, their wartime activities, their social accomplishments, etc. And (4) making an effort to make the some aspect(s) of the life of the person discussed relevant to the class.

You have two options on this assignment:

Option (1): select someone with a cultural background different than yours and present their life and contributions to the class. Note: all people born in the US are considered to have the same cultural background unless you can convince me otherwise.

Option (2): select any woman born in the United States prior to 1920 and present their life and accomplishments to the rest of the class.


Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful,
committed citizens can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead.

Demonstration (10%)

Throughout our personal and professional lives, we are often called on to explain/demonstrate things to those around us: bosses, friends, colleagues, co-workers, family members. No matter who we are "teaching," we need to frame our demonstrations and explanations so that they understand how to do what we are explaining.

Although "demonstrations" are sometimes conducted of new products, automobiles, computer systems, and other complicated phenomenon in such a way that the audience cannot actually duplicate what was demonstrated to them, that is not your goal in this speech. You should not select something to demonstrate that cannot be actually brought into the classroom and "demonstrated" in the timeframe available. Furthermore, your demonstration should be conducted with the assumption that your audience could actually go home and do what you demonstrated. Thus, any activity involving heavy machinery, complicated power tools, or an understanding of some specialized knowledge base such as computers, mathematics, or machine repair should be avoided.

For this speech you should pick something that you already know how to operate, use, or explain. Be sure to choose something that can be explained in the timeframe that you have available. Keep in mind that when done everyone in the audience should, in theory, be able to do what you have demonstrated.

For this speech be sure to do the following: (1) create a textual visual aid(s) that will serve to remind your audience of the steps involved in the activity you are demonstrating. (2) bring in sufficient visual aids to demonstrate your activity. This likely will involve having multiple V.A.s to demonstrate the progress of your activity. For example, showing the ingredients to the cake you will demonstrate making and how they are combined. Showing how to test if the cake is done with a model cake. Showing how to cool the cake. And finally, having finished (and frosted) samples for your audience to try. (3) utilize the steps involved in informational communication: motivation, clarification, and retention/repetition. (4) attempt to select something to demonstrate that the members of your audience would feel is interesting, useful, or valuable. (5) be competent at demonstrating what you select.


You may be disappointed if you fail,
but you are doomed if you don't try.

Beverly Sills

Required Informative (10%)

The informational speech is a challenging speech. It involves making judgments about your audiences level of knowledge about an area, their interests in the subject, their willingness to accept new information, and their ability to apply the information you are presenting effectively.

Your goal here is to "inform" the audience about some issue, subject, event, phenomena, activity, etc., that they would be interested in hearing about, and find valuable to hear about. Your topic should be an issue of substance rather than some banal or trite topic. Make an effort to inform about an area of general interest to the audience but also an area where they could stand to know more about.

There is no point in informing your audience about an issue that they already know a great deal about or already agree with—no preaching to the congregation. Nor should your efforts be aimed solely at persuasion—you should be concerned with informing not convincing.

One must be aware, when one is attempting to "inform," what that information should mean or be worth to your audience. Be aware of the political value of the information to your audience. Just because you think that an informative speech on rape is significant does not mean that your audience does, or even has to, the informer must supply the link to the audiences values.

Although this is to be an informative speech, the line between information and persuasion is a thin one. At times it may be necessary to convince your audience that what they knew before (before you came to inform them) was false or misguided. Although "information" may seem politically neutral All information, to some extent, has a political or ideological component. Information is the basis for knowledge, and knowledge is the basis for many forms of power, thus information may and does constitute power.

For example, when the federal government puts a ban on federally funded agencies preventing them from providing information concerning abortion to women they are hindering free choice by limiting information. Similarly, the teaching of religion in schools is prohibited because of the assumption that such information could tend to oppress those with differing views or limit the freedom of expression of the majority of citizens. Information is not "politically neutral."

Issues such as "abortion" or "gun rights" are so emotionally charged that so called efforts at "informing" are often doctrinaire persuasive efforts in disguise. Try to avoid issues that are so heavily charged that "honest" informing is not possible.


He doesn't bark like a dog, and he knows the secrets of the deep.

Gerald De Nerval Explaining why he kept a lobster as a pet

Required Persuasion (10%)

There are several kinds of persuasive speeches (to stimulate, convince, to actuate). The type of persuasive intent desired dictates the type of speech you will deliver. For this speech, your goal is to "actuate," or to move your audience to action. The action you seek should be observable or quantifiable. That is, you might try to persuade your audience to sign a petition, donate money, join you in some activity, take some other sort of action, etc. Your speech must include some sort of action step where you move, invite, or encourage your audience to take the action you desire. For this speech, you will be employing Monroe’s Motivated Sequence (MMS).

The attention step refers to your introduction where you "get your audience’s attention," or "motivate" them to listen. The need step is established in the body of the speech where you establish some tangible "need" to be resolved in the minds of your audience.

The satisfaction step is where tell your audience, explicitly, what needs to be done to "satisfy" the issue in question—the satisfaction step also occurs in the body of your speech.

The visualization step usually is the last main point of your speech. This is where you paint a vivid picture in the mind of your audience and provide them with either "positive" or "negative" visualization. "Positive visualization" is where you tell your audience what benefits will result from taking the action you advocate; "negative visualization" is where you tell your audience what unfortunate events will occur if they fail to take the action you advocate.

Finally, the action step is where you call the audience to take the action you are advocating—the action that will resolve the "need" you have already discussed.

What you are not doing here is simply trying to get you’re your audience’s agreement. Nor are you trying to convince them that they are wrong and you are right. Your goal is to move them to take some action. The mere willingness on the part of an audience member to take some action is proof enough that you have stimulated or convinced them.

Once again, in this speech you must use MMS and have some sort of "observable," measurable, quantifiable, action step.

Topics for this speech should emerge from intellectually significant social, cultural, economic, and political questions confronting our society and/or university environment today. The speech subjects should be well adapted to the classroom audience. Your topic, whether it deals with the Middle East, the energy crisis, UFOlogy, Emporia, or Marriage, should involve action steps.

Specific Objectives of the Speech to Persuade


Everybody experiences far more than he understands.
Yet it is experience, rather than understanding, that influences behavior.

Marshall McLuhan

Proposition of Policy (25%)

There are essentially three types of persuasive speeches: fact, value, and policy. In this persuasive speech you will either (1) argue for a change in an existing policy; or (2) argue for us to adopt a new course of action. Policy is concerned with any plan or course of action designed to influence or determine future decisions. Questions of policy usually involve a change from the status quo advanced in the form of a "suggested plan of action." Policy issues are typically identified by use of the word "should."

In this speech it will be necessary to clearly define the "problem" as you work to convince your audience that there is in fact a need that they should be addressing. Once you have effectively established that there is a need, you must demonstrate how the policy that you are proposing provides a satisfactory solution. Some questions you might want to address include: is the solution desirable? Is the solution feasible? Is it an improvement over the status quo? Does the solution tie into the audiences beliefs, values, and behaviors?

Topics for this speech should emerge from intellectually and socially significant societal, cultural, economic, religious, moral, and political questions confronting society or the university, today. Speech subjects should be well adapted to the classroom audience. Your topic, whether it deals with the Bosnia, science, UFOlogy, SUNY, or the cost of milk, should be phrased as a proposition of policy.

A proposition is something which is advanced, or proposed, to another for consideration. Propositions of "policy" are issues that deal with "policies," or how we should act or proceed. Other types of propositions (which you will not be employing in this speech) include: propositions of "fact" which deal with issues of truth or falsehood—is something so, or not so; and propositions of "value" which deals with good and bad, or how we should conduct our lives, our "values."

Propositions of policy lend themselves’ well to judgment based on proposed criteria. Propositions of fact and value are not so readily determined by criteria but often involve assessment of external criteria. Propositions of fact, for example, are often subject to "proof" and are used to support propositions of policy. Propositions of value, by contrast, are often more influenced by an audiences beliefs about the world: politics, religion, family, etc., are also useful for supporting propositions of policy.

See the persuasive speech handout for more information on persuasion.


Watch out w’en you’er gitten all you want.
Fatten’ in hogs ain’t in luck.

Jole Chandler Harris, Uncle Remis: His Songs and His Tales, 1881.

Counter Intuitive Argument Paper (10%)

As Protagoras of Abdera, 500–400 BCE, known as the father of debate, suggested, to be informed about an issue you must be able to argue both sides of an issue. For this paper you will do the same thing by engaging in logical argument and sound reasoning. For this essay you will want to consider any actual research on the (real) issue you have been given—i.e., if you got "bicycles only in the city limits," you might research the health benefits of bicycles, the detrimental aspects of automobiles, the value of mass transportation, etc.

Your task will be to argue in favor of the topic given—no matter how absurd—and to come up with sound arguments for pursuing said course of action. Your paper will be evaluated based on how well you construct an argument—that is, your use of ethos, pathos and logos, your use of "support"—and how appropriate, believable, convincing, relevant, suitable, and credible your sources are.

Your paper will also be evaluated based on the "notes on the scholarly essay" handout on my Web page http:WWW.fredonia.edu/department/communication/kent/essays.html. Proper referencing, citation, and bibliographic referencing are also expected. Be sure and review the handout on writing scholarly essays also before you begin.


NB: Final drafts of papers may be turned in early for extra credit. I will also "review" papers before they are due for you if you come by my office.

It is not enough to teach a man a specialty. Through it he may become a kind of useful machine but not a harmoniously developed personality. It is essential that the student acquire an understanding of and a lively feeling for values. He must acquire a vivid sense of the beautiful and of the morally good. Otherwise he—with his specialized knowledge—more closely resembles a well-trained dog than a harmoniously developed person. He must learn to understand the motives of human beings, their illusions, and their sufferings in order to acquire a proper relationship to individual fellow-men and to the community.

Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions, 1954, p. 66

Analysis of Underlying Assumptions Paper (10%)

learning are usually guided by a set of principles: a mission statement as it is often called. This statement usually represents the core of what an organization values. Like an organizational mission statement, disciplines are often based on a series of often unstated assumptions about the conduct of professionals in the field or the course that research should take. In this essay you will examining these assumptions—many of which you have never given much thought to before—in an effort to better understand the conduct of professionals in your field.

This assignment will call on you to examine the underlying assumptions of your major/minor or field of study, to identify the assumptions that guide the practice of research and the theories in your field. You are not required to agree with the assumptions that you identify, nor are you required to disagree, however, you should take a position in regard to what you learn.

Your task in this essay will be to identify and examine the underlying assumptions of your field in order to explain how said assumptions affect conduct in your field. Your essay will be evaluated based on how well you analyze the assumptions of your field—and how appropriate, believable, convincing, relevant, suitable, and credible your sources and arguments are. Your paper will also be evaluated based on the "notes on the scholarly essay" handout on my Web page http:WWW.fredonia.edu/department/communication/kent/essays.html. Proper referencing, citation, and bibliographic referencing are also expected. Be sure and review the page on writing scholarly essays also before you begin.


NB: Final drafts of papers may be turned in early for extra credit. I will also "review" papers before they are due for you if you come by my office.

Few new truths have ever won their way against the resistance of established ideas save by being overstated.

Isaiah Berlin, in Paul Heyer, Communications and History:
Theories of Media, Knowledge, and Civilization

Essential Information on Written Assignments

  1. Nothing that is considered illegal by the University or the State will be considered appropriate to bring into the classroom.

  2. Nothing can be done that violates the rules of common sense.

  3. Nothing can be done that violates the rules of good taste (PG-13 rating).

  4. Do not attempt to persuade the audience to believe in a particular God.

  5. Proper English must be used in all speeches.

  6. Proper attire is required; you must look credible.

  7. All speeches will be original material.

  8. Topics used for written assignments in this class may not be used for speaking assignments.

  9. While you may use an encyclopedia and dictionary for background information, neither fulfill the "credible source" requirement.

  10. Late work will carry a penalty.

  11. Plagiarism of any kind is unacceptable.

  12. Sources of facts and statistics must always be cited.

  13. Follow the APA guide to writing papers.

  14. You will be asked to resubmit any written assignment that does not fulfill the requirements stated for the particular assignment.

  15. Page length requirements DO NOT include the title page or the reference page.

  16. No topics used for written projects may be used for speaking assignments.

  17. Encyclopedia and the dictionary DO NOT count as credible sources.

  18. Topics for papers must be original—You cannot use any of the banned topics identified in the public speaking section. Old and worn topics should also be avoided.

  19. Topics that are old and worn MUST be avoided. If you can make an argument that an otherwise "old" topic has been revived and needs further consideration I MAY waive this.
  20. Please review the "Topics to Avoid" list. These topics are banned for several reasons: (1) They are easy to do the night before the assignment is due so little learning takes place; (2) Since they have been argued sufficiently by hundreds of other people one is simply taking old arguments not creating new ones so little learning takes place; (3) Listening to several speeches on the same topic does not make for good audience members; (4) There are plenty of other topics available.

NB: Once a written project has been turned in, graded, and returned to the student, it may be re-written for an improved grade. The student has one week to complete the re-write and you must turn in the original paper AND evaluation form with the re-write. Work turned in late will still carry the late penalty assessed regardless of a re-write.

Even the smallest dog can pee on the tallest building.


Notes on Analysis

According to Webster’s, analysis is defined as follows:

The separation of an intellectual or substantial whole into its constituent parts for individual study.

Tautology is defined as:

1.a. Needless repetition of the same sense in different words; redundancy. b. An instance of such repetition.

Logic: An empty or vacuous statement composed of simpler statements in a fashion that makes it logically true whether the simpler statements are factually true or false; for example, the statement Either it will rain tomorrow or it will not rain tomorrow.

Circular reasoning. When conducting your analysis, you do not need to restate the obvious for me like: "education assumes that people can be taught," unless your statement is somehow in contention of you will argue that the assumption is false.

Just because you write that "X is an assumption of the field" does not mean you have conducted an analysis. Analysis involves "separation of an intellectual or substantial whole into its constituent parts for individual study." You must support your claims about the field as well as making them. Analysis involves telling me why something is or is not the so and how that assumption guides or influences practice in your field.

Bottom line. Do not restate the obvious to me. I already understand the basic assumptions of most fields. I want you to explain to me how those assumptions influence professional or academic practices in your field. Your job is to conduct an analysis that demonstrates to me that you understand why these assumptions exist and how they influence the conduct of members of your discipline.

And a further reason for caution, in this respect, [susceptibility to jealousy and fear] might be drawn from the reflection that we are not always sure that those who advocate the truth are influenced by purer principles than their antagonists.

Publius [Alexander Hamilton], The Federalist Papers

Your Choice (10–15%) [May be a Speech]

The "your choice" assignment is designed to provide you with an opportunity to pursue an area of informative or persuasive writing or speaking. Possibilities for this assignment include: a counter-intuitive speech topic; an essay that explores some area of communication in more detail such as the enthymeme, syllogism, ethics, etc.; a persuasive/informative essay that elaborates some issue from the class; or, more simply, an effort to strengthen your speaking ability be exploring some relevant readings and writing or speaking about what you learned.

For this option you should submit a proposal for approval as soon as possible so that you might begin. You must submit your proposal and have it approved before you begin this assignment.

Your proposal should include the following:

See me with questions. Do not wait until the last minute for this.

I am Ratis-Norvegicus, I’m sitting in some shit hole rats nest and I’m a little angry. I wanted to be a talk show host not a Rat. You men think you have it bad with women? Well I've got it a lot worse let me tell you. What am I going to say to some nice looking girl who I want to meet: "I can tread water for over thirty-six hours, I can chew through lead pipes and cinder blocks, I can run on telephone wires." And what if I do get the girl home—Can’t fit her through the door, it’s too small. Yea I got a lot of gripes. How would you like to have a tail the length of your body to drag around all the time? Not my idea of fun by a long shot. And do you see the neighborhoods that I’m forced to live in, those people live like pigs. Can’t catch the subway they haven’t built it yet; Can’t catch the uptown bus I can't reach the step up—Hey Taxi! And everyone wants to kill me, feed me drugs and poison, put electrodes in my head, make me run on treadmills, dissect, bisect, and infect me, bind, blind, maim and tame me…Are you folks crazy? You never invite me to you parties—as if I would really want to go anyway. Have you ever asked me to go to a movie, how about bowling? You ever seen a Rat cry? I got tears, and I have a heart, and I’ve got brains. And if you could just see past the fur, I think you would see, that I’m a lot like you.

Henry Rawlins, Black Flag: "Ratis-Norvegicus"

Persuasion—Written (20%)

To be an effective persuader—whether in speech or text—requires that one can evaluate both sides of an issue objectively and effectively. For this assignment, you will write an essay that does this. Your overall goal in this essay is to be able to justify your own position using logical arguments, sound reasoning, statistics, evidence, "facts," etc. If you cannot convincingly defend a belief that you hold dear against the strength of sound counter arguments then this assignment is not for you. Select a controversial issue, one which you feel strongly about, and examine what those on the other side of the issue, as well as your own, are saying about the controversy. Based on what you discover about both positions, write your essay defending your own position against that of the opposition. You must fairly characterize the oppositional arguments—do not make the ad verecundiam, ad hominem, or strawperson fallacies.

Specific Objectives of Persuasion

See me with questions. Do not wait until the last minute for this.

Now to the salaries of teachers. In a healthy society, every useful activity is compensated in a way to permit of a decent living. The exercise of any socially valuable activity give inner satisfaction; but it cannot be considered as part of the salary. The teacher cannot use his inner satisfaction to fill the stomachs of his children.

Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions,1954, p. 66

Speaker Critique (20%)

Isocrates (a contemporary of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle) said that we learn to be effective public communicators in three ways: by combining "theory, model and practice." Indeed, modeling other speakers is an excellent way to pick up new skills and learn new ways of communicating effectively. These speakers are not always "good" speakers, sometimes they are very bad…but we learn from them nonetheless. The speaker critique assignment is an important assignment because it affords you an opportunity to apply some of the theories, concepts, and critical frameworks that you have been studying all semester to the conduct of another’s communication. This is the reason that this assignment is not due until late in the semester when you have had the opportunity to internalize some of the concepts and theories useful for understanding and evaluating speeches.

For this assignment, you should go out and observe a speaker. The event cannot be something you saw on television, or a speaker you saw last year, but must be some real, live, event that will take place this semester (after you have read this). You must take "critical" notes when you are at the event—which is why this must be a future speaking event.

Your goal in this paper is to critically evaluate the speakers using concepts from the class, your text, and class discussions. You should evaluate the credibility of the speaker, his/her organization, message, delivery, sources, structure (introduction, body, conclusion), his/her use of evidence and sound reasoning or rhetorical strategies, and whatever else you deem relevant. In the critique you should not simply "describe" what the speaker did, but "analyze" it. Answer questions such as: "why was the speaker effective/ineffective?" "Why were his/her arguments persuasive, sound, flawed, etc.?" And, any other questions that seem relevant. This should not be a summary of what the speaker did but an explanation of why or how what s/he did was effective and why. Do not simply assert that the speaker was effective but be able to provide "good reasons" for why s/he was effective.

To support your analysis and claims in your essay you are expected to draw upon concepts and theories from the textbook and class discussion. As part of your analysis you should provide a brief audience/occasion/speaker analysis that addresses several questions: what was the event?; what time of day did it occur?; what was the location of the event?; what was the seating like?; how many people were in attendance?; why were they there?; what was their dispositions like?; what was the format of the lecture/talk like?; were there opportunities for questions and answers?; where were you seated?; why were you there, and what was your disposition? And finally, as suggested above, was the speaker effective and why? Your paper will also be evaluated based on the "notes on the scholarly essay" handout on my Web page http:WWW.fredonia.edu/department/communication/kent/essays.html. Proper referencing, citation, and bibliographic referencing are also expected. Be sure and review the page on writing scholarly essays also before you begin.


No man, however strong,
can serve ten years as schoolmaster, priest, or senator,
and remain fit for anything else.

Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams

Oral Interpretation† (20%)

Oral interpretation, unlike the name might imply, is not about "explaining," or interpreting a work for an audience. What the speaker "interprets" is the work itself. That is, you do not, for example, read a song to the audience and then explain what you think it means to them. You choose a selection of poetry or prose and "deliver" that to the audience. In other words, you do a "cover." Now as we all know, "covers" are "almost never" better than the originals. But sometimes, very rarely, they are. This is where your dramatistic analysis of the selection comes in and why it is crucial for you to conduct it.

NB: At no point in an oral interpretation "speech" should you try to explain to the audience what the text you have selected is "supposed to mean," what it means to you, what you think the author meant, etc.. Based on your delivery of the selection alone, all of those things should become clear to your audience.

Selection of Material: Select a piece of poetry or prose that has universality or profundity—something that speaks to everyone in the audience.

profundity (pre-fnd-t, pro-) noun; plural profundities

  1. Great depth.
  2. Depth of intellect, feeling, or meaning.
  3. Something profound or abstruse.
    • Select a piece that has individual appeal—something that appeals to you.
    • Select a piece that has suggestibility—a piece that suggests new meanings to you each time you read it. A piece with layers, textures, colors. Do not select something trite, banal, specific to only one part of the audience, or because it is "hip."
  1. Who is speaking?—a character, the author, an author's persona. You must "know," or have an idea of who is speaking. Investigate the poem or prose piece for ideas, inferences, cues. If you cannot answer this or the next questions, create/invent answers.
  2. To who is the person speaking? Are they speaking to themselves, the Gods, an absent friend, an inanimate object (this is Lyric poetry); are they speaking to a specific character or person (this is Dramatic poetry); or are they speaking to the audience, or to a combination of the audience and a specific person (this is Epic poetry). No matter who they are speaking to, give that person a "location." Place the character in the room with you, and make sure you have a specific image in your mind of who that person is. Face the audience as well; do not speak in profile.
  3. Where is the piece taking place? Visualize this location and know what it consists of—items in the room, location of furniture, doorways, lights, lamps, tables, etc..
  4. When is the piece taking place? The location in space and time of an event has a significant influence on how a poem/prose piece will be delivered. A conversation about love that takes place in Appleby’s last week will be very different than the same conversation that takes place in a tea-house in London in the 1850s.
  5. Why are you saying this?—to make your audience understand something, to help us understand you, to stop us from making a mistake, to remind us of something, to instruct us? What is your goal?
  6. How are you saying it? What is your frame of mind—are you compelled to speak, "casually" mentioning something, passionately declaiming this message, writing it in a letter, saying it over the phone, reading from your diary?
Remember: Thanks to Jim Ryan, Emporia State University, for these helpful suggestions.


  1. 5–7+ minutes.
  2. You may give the audience a "brief" (title, author, play, etc.) explanation of the piece, not an "interpretation," before you begin.
  3. You must turn in your analysis at least a week before the speech.
  4. You may provide the audience with the text as a handout if you like.
  5. Do not just read your selection. Deliver/Interpret it. Most oral interpretation deliveries are very close to memorized so be polished.

Ninon De Lenclos (1620-1705), a French courtesan whose salon attracted many prominent literary and political figures, including the playwright Moliere and the philosopher Saint Evremond. Her disregard for religion prompted Anne of Austria, mother of Louis the XIV, to have her confined to a monastery. Her friends soon arranged her release, but not before she had seduced (or been seduced by) 439 monks; she apparently kept detailed records.

The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes, 1985, p. 350

The humble obedience which one learns as a follower has become rather the humble obedience which one teaches as a leader.…

Kenneth Burke, The Rhetoric or Religion.

Writing is like prostitution: first you do it for the love of it, then you do it for a few friends, and finally you do it for money.


In real love you want the other person’s good. In romantic love you want the other person.

Margaret Anderson, The Fiery Fountains, 1969 [1951]

There are no honorable bargains
involving exchange of qualitative merchandise like souls
for quantitative merchandise like time and money.

William S. Burroughs,
"Words of advise for young people,"
Spare Ass Annie and Other Tales

The worst evil of all is to say that neither good nor evil is anything in itself,
but that they are only matters of human opinion.

Justin Martyr, First Apology, p. 25.

The most basic rule of survival in any situation is never look like food.

Park Ranger,
Great Smokey Mountains National Park

If you make people think they’re thinking, they’ll love you;
but if you really make them think, they’ll hate you.

Don Marquis, In, The Essential Ellison, p. 341

Send E-Mail to: Michael L. Kent

© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, Michael L. Kent


Last updated: Monday, August 20, 2007