I’m in the Charles Pearson Theatre at the University of Melbourne, watching 12 short speeches. It’s a 3 minute speech competition called the 3 minute Thesis.
These annual, 3 minute speech competitions challenge Ph.D and Masters students to effectively communicate 3-1/2 years’ of technical research into a short speech. Their task is to convey only the most important ideas and findings to a non-technical audience – and with only a single slide.
A short speech is a great test
As you’d imagine, it can be difficult to condense all that research and knowledge into a 3 minute speech, yet still convey all the pertinent information.
But that’s exactly why it’s such a great exercise for all speakers.
That’s because, in order to be effective, your ideas must be able to be communicated in the most brief, simple and clear manner possible. You need them to stick in the listener’s mind.
Not everyone is good at this skill – indeed, few people are. But you need to be if you want other to see the value of your ideas.
By the way, if you think giving a good 3 minute speech is hard, try doing one in just 5 words! That’s what they do at the Webby awards.
What did the winning speakers do right?
Despite giving a short speech on very different topics, there were some common practices I noticed about the winning speakers.
- They presented an exceptionally clear message.
- They included a “top and tail” element.
- They made use of metaphor and other verbal illustrations to simplify a complex idea.
- They spoke like they were having a conversation with their audience – not ‘giving a formal speech’.
The losing speakers, by contrast, were more forced. Some were so unnatural they seemed to be giving a pantomime a speech for an audience of children. The engagement of conversation was missing. We’ve talked before about the importance of an unforced, natural style.
How to create a short speech.
1. Use a simple structure.
Start by clearly saying the ‘headline’ and key idea underpinning your speech in simple, everyday language, and follow with a simple structure supporting your main point.
Here are some examples:
A: Headline and 3 supporting reasons:
With this approach, follow your “headline” statement with 3 simple supporting reasons. State each reason clearly, and explain how each one helps achieve or support the objective.
“We must change the way we work – for 3 important reasons:
B: Problem – solution:
This is a simple structure of only 2 parts. It’s an easy yet powerful way to capture people’s attention and interest when done well. But you’ll want to avoid the trap of rushing through the problem, and spending too much time on your brilliant solution.
If you really want to hook people, take some time to paint a vivid picture of the problem first. Your audience will then be clambering for a solution with both ears open.
In this type of short speech, you might cover:
- The history of the issue …
- The current situation …
- What might happen in the future …
- And the ramifications of agreeing (or disagreeing) with your main argument.
D: Metaphor/Top & Tail:
To “top and tail” simply means starting with a story/quote that hints at your message. At the end, you recall that story and link it to your message.
This short speech from a 3 minute speech competition makes excellent use of this approach.
Start your speech (“the top”) with a compelling metaphor to make a memorable point, and end the speech (“the tail”) with the same metaphor — but adjusted to show the benefit of adopting your central argument.
2: End with a memorable message:
Just as important as how you begin and structure your speech, is how you end it.
Consider the same techniques at the end of your speech. A metaphor that links back to your original premise, or finishing with a thought-provoking question, are two ways to burnish your speech in your listener’s mind.
These videos of the 1st and 2nd place winners of a 3 minute speech competition show how effective these closing techniques can be:
1st Place: Sara Ciesielski
2nd Place: Samantha Lichter
People worry that time limitations mean they have to ‘dumb down’ their valuable research — this is not the case!
A vivid message and a compelling short speech can become a window to the depth of your research, and give clarity to the value of your ideas.
A 3 minute speech gives you a huge amount of time to do this – if you use the time wisely and structure your speech to maximum effect.
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Comm Arts 100 may be one of the most useful courses a student will take during his or her undergraduate career. Not only does it focus on the skills involved in selecting, researching, organizing and writing persuasive messages, it teaches students the skills they need to present their ideas effectively in public. In a small, supportive classroom environment, students learn to communicate their ideas effectively using verbal, written, and visual techniques. They also learn important listening skills, and peer evaluations of student speeches are an important component of the course. Students also undertake self-evaluations, by viewing videotapes of their own speeches and analyzing their performance. CA100 teachers are specially trained to be supportive and effective.
Here's what CA100 students have to say about their experience:
“A powerful, amazing class which teaches students a new way to think and speak.”
“This course has not only allowed me to become more confident as a speaker, but it has also made me like public speaking.”
“Of all my classes, I think my speech course is the most interesting and useful. . . . Besides improving my speaking skills, I've also learned to write and listen better. . . . The thing I like most about this class is the personal attention each person received due to its small size.”
“It's a great confidence booster.”
“It is especially helpful to get feedback on papers and speeches. . . . I think it is outstanding that as a student I receive so much personal attention. It helps improvement immensely.”
“Very worthwhile class that helped me grow as a speaker and as a writer – something I didn't expect – and it was quite fun.”
“I learned far more than just speech communication; I learned about myself and the world.”
Why students will benefit from trying CA100 to satisfy their Comm A requirement:
- small classes, individualized attention (only 13 students per section)
- develops valuable public speaking skills, as well as writing and critical thinking
- overcomes fear of public speaking in supportive, helpful environment
- students are evaluated on writing, speaking, and by performance on multiple choice tests (not on writing or speaking alone)
- CA100 instructors go through weekly training sessions, supervised by internationally recognized speech expert Professor Stephen E. Lucas, author of The Art of Public Speaking (now in its 9th edition, the most widely used textbook in university public speaking classes)
CA 100 Syllabus
Communication Arts 100 is an introductory course in speech composition. Its purpose is to improve your skills of writing and presenting effective public speeches, with special emphasis on informative (expository) and persuasive (argumentative) discourse. It fulfills Level A of the University’s communication/composition requirement as well as other requirements. The principles you learn in this class should benefit you not only in subsequent courses in the University, but also in your career and in your life as a citizen in a democratic society.
- To improve your ability to write effective public speeches. This will engage you in the full process of speech composition, including the following:
- Selecting, narrowing, and focusing topics
- Generating researching materials
- Adapting the topic and research materials to the specific audience being addressed
- Supporting ideas with evidence and reasoning
- Organizing the message for effective communication
- Preparing and revising drafts of the speech
- Expressing yourself accurately, clearly, vividly, and appropriately
- Using correct grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc.
- To improve your ability to deliver effective public speeches. This will engage you in activities such as the following:
- Understanding the nature of speech anxiety and how to deal with it
- Learning the vocal principles of effective speech delivery
- Learning the nonverbal principles of effective speech delivery
- Generating speaking notes from a full speech manuscript
- Rehearsing the speech prior to final presentation
- Using visual aids to reinforce and clarify the verbal message
- To improve your ability to think critically and to apply the skills of critical thinking to the analysis of written and oral texts. This will engage you in activities such as the following:
- Distinguishing main points from minor points in written and oral discourse
- Gauging the credibility of sources and the reliability of claims in supporting materials
- Judging the soundness of evidence in public discourse
- Assessing the validity of reasoning in public discourse
- To improve your ability to listen effectively to public speeches. This will engage you in activities such as the following:
- Distinguishing among the introduction, body, and conclusion of a public speech
- Focusing on a speaker's ideas rather than being diverted by his or her delivery
- Listening for the main points and supporting materials of a speaker's message
- Developing note-taking skills
- Preparing written analyses of classroom speeches
- To improve your ability to utilize research skills and strategies. This will engage you in activities such as the following:
- Developing skills of information acquisition, including interviewing, writing away for information, conducting library research, creating a research bibliography, and taking research notes efficiently
- Thinking critically and creatively about materials acquired from print and electronic sources
Stephen E. Lucas, The Art of Public Speaking, 12th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2014).
Stephen E. Lucas and Sarah Jedd, Speech Composition Resources: Communication Arts 100 Course Book, 15th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2014).
Rebecca Howard, Writing Matters. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010).
A two- to three-minute speech introducing yourself or a classmate. Your instructor will give you the specific details for this assignment. But be sure to construct a speech that explains some aspect of your (or your classmate's) personality, background, beliefs, or aspirations.
This speech is to be written in manuscript form and is designed to fulfill two purposes. The first is to give you a brief, initial exposure to speaking before an audience. The second is to provide a piece of original prose that can be used to help diagnose your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. Do your best to express yourself clearly and concisely. Make sure your ideas are clearly organized and that you proofread the manuscript carefully to eliminate errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc.
When you are writing your speech, it is important to keep focused on introducing yourself (or your classmate) to the rest of the class. If you are directed to begin with an article or an object, use it only as a starting point to explain something of consequence about you (or your classmate). The more creative your speech, the more successful it is likely to be.
A typed manuscript of the speech (two copies) is due on the assigned day. When you type your manuscript—and all assignments for this course—double space and use 11- to 12-point type, with one-inch margins on all sides.
A seven-minute speech informing the audience about an object, concept, process, or event. The speech should follow the guidelines for effective informative discourse presented in Chapter 15 of The Art of Public Speaking. Use of a visual aid is required. A typed full-sentence preparation outline of the speech, including bibliography, is due both on paper and as email attachment approximately one week before the speech is presented in class. A final, revised outline is due on the day the speech is delivered. Again, students are required to turn in a paper copy and to upload the final outline. The speech is to be delivered extemporaneously from a speaking outline.
A nine-minute speech designed to persuade the audience for or against a question of policy. In the speech, you may seek either passive agreement or immediate action from the audience. In either case, you should be sure to deal with all three basic issues of policy speeches—need, plan and practicality—and to employ the methods of persuasion discussed in Chapter 17 of The Art of Public Speaking. This speech will require considerable research and skillful use of supporting materials. Special emphasis should be given to evidence and reasoning in constructing persuasive arguments.
A typed full-sentence preparation outline of the speech, including bibliography, is due approximately one week before the speech is presented in class. A final, revised outline is due on the day the speech is delivered. As with all speech assignments, students should turn in an electronic version as well as a paper copy. The speech is to be delivered extemporaneously from a speaking outline.
In addition, as part of the persuasive speech assignment, you are required to construct an audience-analysis questionnaire in which you seek to gauge the knowledge, interest, and attitudes of your classmates with regard to your speech topic. As explained in Chapter 6 of The Art of Public Speaking, these questionnaires should use a blend of fixed-alternative, scale, and open-ended questions.
After you have tabulated the results of your questionnaire, you should use those results to help adapt your speech to the knowledge, interests, and attitudes of your audience. This does not mean you should compromise your beliefs to get a favorable response. Nor does it mean you should use devious, unethical tactics to persuade your listeners. You can remain true to yourself and to the principles of ethical speechmaking while simultaneously seeking to make your ideas as clear, appropriate, and convincing as possible.
A four- to five-minute speech paying tribute to a person, a group of people, an institution, or an idea. The subject may be historical or contemporary, famous or obscure. In writing this speech, you should seek to use language creatively and imaginatively so as to invest the topic with dignity, meaning, and honest emotion.
This speech will be delivered from manuscript rather than from a speaking outline.
Note: Students must complete all four major speech assignments in order to pass the course.
Other Written Assignments
Throughout the semester, there will be periodic written homework assignments in which you work with the principles of speech composition presented in the textbooks. These assignments are due in class on the assigned day and will constitute a portion of your semester grade. Late homework assignments will not be accepted.
Peer Speech Assessments
As the semester progresses, you will be assigned to write a two-page typed assessment of a speech by one of your classmates during the informative and persuasive units. These assessments are due in class on the assigned day and will constitute a portion of your semester grade. As with other assignments, speech assessments are expected to be carefully written and to be free of errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar, etc. As with other assignments, assessment papers should be submitted as email attachment as well as in paper form.
One of the most effective ways to become a better public speaker is to view your speeches on videotape and to engage in serious, objective self-assessment of those speeches. After the speech, you will view your recording on Learn@UW and prepare a two-page typed self-assessment evaluating your performance on that speech and explaining the major items you want to work especially hard on in your next speech. As with other written assignments, self-assessments should be thoughtfully composed, clearly expressed, and carefully proofread. Self-assessments are due in class (and as a Learn@UW upload) as assigned by your instructor and will constitute a portion of your semester grade.
Communication Arts 100 will have two midterms and a final examination. The midterms will be primarily objective (multiple-choice and short-answer) and will test your command of the principles, concepts, and skills presented in the textbooks and discussed in class. The final exam will require you to analyze a speech and to answer a series of essay questions about it.
Please note: Your instructor will notify you of the scheduled time for the final exam. The exam will be given at this time only. In keeping with University policy, there will be no early or late exams. If you have travel (or other) plans that conflict with the scheduled examination date, you need to change your plans or to take the course a different semester.
Final grades will be calculated according to the following scale:
|Assignment||Points||Proportion of Final Grade|
|Introductory Speech||50 points||5 percent|
|Informative Speech||150 points||15 percent|
|Persuasive Speech||200 points||20 percent|
|Commemorative Speech||150 points||15 percent|
|Peer Assessments (2)||20 points||3 percent|
|Self-Assessments (3)||30 points||3 percent|
|Homework||30 points||3 percent|
|First Midterm Examination||100 points||10 percent|
|Second Midterm Examination||100 points||10 percent|
|Final Examination||120 points||12 percent|
At the end of the course, each student in Communication Arts 100 will submit a digital portfolio of her or his work across the entire semester. The following items are to be included in the portfolio:
- Introductory Speech (initial version and revised manuscript)
- Informative Speech (preparation outline and final outline)
- Persuasive Speech (preparation outline and final outline)
- Commemorative Speech (initial version and final manuscript)
- Peer Speech Assessments and Self-Assessments
Failure to turn in a complete portfolio will result in a penalty on your final grade.
Because participation is a central aspect of Communication Arts 100, regular and punctual attendance is vital. Therefore, for each absence beyond three (two for classes that meet twice a week) you will incur a significant penalty on your final grade. You are expected to attend class without exception on those days when assignments are due. If you fail to show up on a day when you are assigned to speak, you will receive an “F” on that assignment.
You are responsible for all assignments given or due on a day you are absent. If you miss class, contact your instructor or a classmate as soon as possible to find out what you have missed. Any absences that are excused by the University (for example, religious holidays or varsity sports events) must be reported to your instructor in writing during the first two weeks of class in order to be recognized as excused.
Your instructor may provide additional information about attendance requirements.
Academic Misconduct and Plagiarism
Plagiarism is a grave offense with serious consequences. Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary defines “plagiarize” as to steal and pass off as one's own the ideas or words of another or to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.
The following are some of the scenarios in which a student might be charged with academic misconduct in Communication Arts 100:
- Delivering all or a portion of another student's speech as if it were your own.
- Failing to cite sources of ideas, paraphrases, or quotations on your speech outline or during your oral presentation.
- Working with someone else in the course to produce one speech that is delivered by both you and that other person in different sections.
- Providing another student with a copy of a speech to deliver.
Students found guilty of academic misconduct will receive an “F” on the assignment and a letter concerning the affair will be forwarded to the Dean of Students for placement in the student's University file. More than one episode of academic misconduct during a student’s career can result in expulsion from the University.
If academic misconduct in Communication Arts 100 is discovered after a student has completed the course, the penalties may be levied retroactively, in which case the reason for the penalty will become part of the student’s permanent transcript.