Whether you’re a student or a seasoned professional, the ability to critically analyze a speech is an essential skill for speakers. Understanding the components of a speech and what makes those components successful can help you deliver a speech that your audience finds engaging and enlightening.
Understanding the Different Types of Speeches
When critiquing a speech, you first need to understand the objective of the speech. There are three primary types of speeches: to inform, to persuade or to entertain. Informative speeches are typically rooted in facts and statistics or focus on “how-to” topics. For instance, many TED Talks are informative speeches.
Persuasive speeches also use facts and statistics but use that information to convince an audience to change their behavior or take a certain action. Finally, speeches that are meant to entertain are often those delivered at weddings or social gatherings. They’re often funny or self-deprecating and are populated with anecdotes.
Know Your Audience
Another critical aspect of speech analysis is understanding the audience. Is this a formal setting where your audience expects a serious, informative tone? Is the audience a group of people who are impassioned about a particular subject and could be hostile if you’re trying to change their minds? Is your audience an informal gathering of people who expect a light-hearted or amusing delivery?
You wouldn’t have a person with no sense of humor host a convention for comedians. Likewise, you wouldn’t have a comedian lead a convention for physicians who are discussing breakthroughs in cancer research. Knowing your audience can mean the difference between a successful speech and one that fails.
Know What You’re Analyzing
Once you know the objective of the speech, you’ll need to know what to analyze. In "Rhetoric," ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote that all great speeches share three pillars of rhetoric: logos, pathos and ethos.
While typically applied to persuasive speeches, these three elements are critical for any speech. Logos is the meaning, the reasoning and the logical evidence the speaker uses. Pathos is the words, phrases and personal stories a speaker uses to elicit emotion, and ethos is the credibility and trustworthiness of the speaker. In other words, does the speaker have expertise in this particular subject?
Evaluating a Speech
Critical speech analysis should revolve around the three pillars. As you analyze, you’ll need to determine whether the speech maker is using enough facts and logical evidence to establish credibility.
For instance, if a speaker is delivering information on protecting the environment, is he using credibly sourced facts to support his statements, or is he speaking in generalities? Is he using words, phrases and personal anecdotes that elicit emotion from the audience, or is he using vague words that have no emotional impact?
Finally, through education or background, is the speaker qualified to be speaking on this particular subject? Is she passionate about the subject, or is she coming across as a boring, monotone speaker? Is she using appropriate gestures and body language? Is her voice clear and loud enough to be heard? Finally, is her tone appropriate for the audience?
Use a Speech Analysis Rubric
A rubric can be an effective tool to help you analyze a speech, as it can help you assign a numeric value to each specific component of a speech. If you’re analyzing a speech for a classroom assignment, you’ll likely be given a rubric from which to work. If not, you can easily find one online by searching for “critical speech analysis rubric.”
Many readily available rubrics focus on aspects of Aristotle’s rhetoric by addressing a speech’s structure, format, research, delivery and style and will help you determine whether the speech was appropriate for its particular audience and met its overarching goals.
How to Write an Analysis of a Speech
If you’re working on the critical analysis of a speech for a class assignment, you’ll likely need to complete a written assignment to accompany your assessment. As with any other essay, a written analysis of a speech should include a strong introduction and clear thesis statement, several body paragraphs with topic sentences and strong transitions that clearly support your analysis and an effective conclusion that summarizes your critique.
Be sure that the essay is free of grammar and spelling mistakes and typos. As with any piece of writing, it’s always helpful to have another person review it before you publish it or submit it for a grade.
Jennifer Brozak earned her state teaching certificate in Secondary English and Communications from St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., and her bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Pittsburgh. A former high school English teacher, Jennifer enjoys writing articles about parenting and education and has contributed to Reader's Digest, Mamapedia, Shmoop and more.