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General Purpose vs. Specific Purpose of a Speech

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  • 0:01 The Purpose of your Speech
  • 1:30 General Purpose Versus…
  • 2:57 Creating a Specific…
  • 4:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Cathryn Jackson

Cat has taught a variety of subjects, including communications, mathematics, and technology. Cat has a master's degree in education and is currently working on her Ph.D.

Understanding the general and specific purpose of your speech will help you develop and focus your speech to meet the needs of your delivery and of your audience. This lesson will help you understand the differences and how to create a specific purpose statement.

The Purpose of Your Speech

Professor James has been asked to give a physics lecture to a group of creative writing students. They are doing research for a science fiction piece they are writing in class. As Professor James continues through his speech, he begins to wander off topic, telling stories about when he was in graduate school and pranks he and his friends used to pull on each other. He also begins discussing very complicated physics concepts with uncommon, physics-specific vocabulary words. When leaving the lecture, some of the students are a little confused about why he was asked to speak to them.

Brandy thought his speech was entertaining and thinks their writing professor wants the students to include humor in their writing. Mathew thought his speech was informative, especially with his background in graduate school, and thinks their professor wants the students to include lots of character background in their writing. Ciara thought his speech was persuasive, especially with his descriptions of the importance of physics and Newton's Law. She thinks her writing professor wants her to include physics in her science fiction writing.

Who is right? Brandy, Mathew or Ciara? Which student best understood the purpose of the speech and the reason the creative writing professor asked Professor James to come speak to them today?

In this lesson, we'll learn to distinguish between the general purpose of a speech and the specific purpose. We'll also learn to write a specific purpose statement as a first step in preparing to write your speech.

General Purpose vs. Specific Purpose

The students in the creative writing class would understand Professor James' speech better if he had first decided on the general purpose and the specific purpose of his speech. When answering the question, 'Who is right? Brandy, Mathew or Ciara?', you could say that all of the students were right, or none of the students were right. Without talking specifically to the writing professor or Professor James, the students were not given a very clear understanding of the general or specific purpose of the speech.

The general purpose of a speech is to inform, persuade or entertain an audience. All speeches will fall into one of these three categories. Usually, if you are required to give a speech for a class, your instructor will tell you the general purpose of your speech. It is your responsibility to find the specific purpose of your speech.

The specific purpose of a speech is the idea or statement that gives your speech direction beyond the general purpose. The specific purpose will answer one of the following questions, depending upon your general purpose:

  • What are you informing the audience of?
  • What are you trying to persuade the audience to do?
  • How are you entertaining your audience? What is your focus?

The majority of your speeches will fall under either the inform or persuade general purpose. Even motivational speeches are persuasive, since they are made to persuade the audience to work harder, or try new things or never give up, etc.

Creating a Specific Purpose Statement

A specific purpose statement is one of the first tools you can use to develop your speech. You will develop your specific purpose statement after determining your general purpose and your topic area.

For example, let's say that your general purpose is to inform your audience and your topic area is campus crime. Your specific purpose statement may look like this: 'To inform my audience of the safety measures schools are taking to prevent campus crimes.'

You may want to ask yourself some of the following questions to help develop your specific purpose statement:

  • Why am I here?
  • What can I do to impact my audience?
  • What does my audience not know?
  • What area of my topic do I want to share with my audience?

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