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Study Materials

This section features guidelines for the oral presentation and for writing essays (see Rhetoric).

Oral Presentations

To Prepare for your speech

  • Make an outline of the main points you wish to make (never more than 2-4 main points and then examples or evidence or reasons to support them).
  • Practice the speech at least 4 times all the way through: 2-3 times by yourself (practicing gestures as well as the phrasings), and at least once in front of someone (e.g., a Writing Center Consultant, a friend). The more you practice, the less nervous you will feel and the better your performance will be.
  • Time your speech when you practice - never run over the allotted time!

Giving a Speech

  • Use an outline, preferably on note cards (they are less distracting than a sheet of paper) - the outline is your safety net.
  • Act like a professional speaking to other professionals.
  • Use an "enlarged conversational quality" (speak with the same naturalness you would use with a friend, but enlarged a bit for a whole audience).
  • Use gestures to emphasize points, but don't randomly gesture.
  • Make eye contact with members of the audience so they feel involved (this also helps you see if some point didn't get across to them).
  • Use facial expressions to convey your feelings - but subtly.
  • Average speaking rate is 110-130 words/minute. Don't speed up.
  • Enunciate and pronounce words clearly.
  • Vary your rate of speech, the pitch of your voice (don't speak in a monotone), and volume (don't shout and then whisper, but some variation is good).

The Structure of Any Speech

The overall structure of any speech (or essay, for that matter) is straightforward: Introduction, Body, and Conclusion.

  • Introduction - The first few seconds of any speech establish its rhythm and mood. The Intro should be 10-15% of your speech (an 8-minute speech has 480 seconds, so 48-72 seconds for your Intro; a 10-minute speech has 600 seconds, so that means 60-90 seconds for the Intro). A common mistake is to give too much information in your introduction.
    • Never start off with "My name is" or "My topic is" or "Ah…er…gosh."
    • The first words out of your mouth should be your attention getter-a question or a startling statistic or a thought-provoking quotation (e.g., "Without question, the most important class we can take at MIT is not an engineering course or a math course or a science course-the most important class we can take here is 'Rhetoric,' 21W.747".
    • Avoid starting with a joke.
    • A forecast of your main points should end your Introduction. This is a one-sentence thesis statement that includes the names of the 2 - 4 main points you will present (e.g., "What other class can help us make our writing persuasive and, more importantly, improve our thought processes?") - i.e., a forecast.

  • Body - The Body of the speech develops the main points of your talk. No speech, no matter how long, should have more than 2-4 main points. Longer speeches simply develop those 2-4 main points in greater depth, using more examples and more evidence. The Body constitutes 75-85% of your speech (for an 8-minute speech, that's about 6-7 minutes; for a 10-minute speech, that's 7.5-8.5 minutes).
    • The Body of your speech may follow any of the typical essay ordering schemes, including (but not limited to) the following:
      • 2 reasons for buying supplies at the campus bookstore
      • Chronological Order ("3 steps for Writing a Good Essay")
      • Advantage-disadvantage Order ("The Advantages and Disadvantages of taking Rhetoric")
      • Problem-solution ("Grades Cause Anxiety, So We Should Abolish Grades")

  • Conclusion - This section is as crucial as your Introduction since it is the last thing listeners will hear and hence the thing they will remember the longest. For an 8-minute speech, the conclusion should be 48-72 seconds; for a 10-minute speech, 60-90 seconds.
    • Never end by saying something like "Well, I guess that's about it…"
    • Begin your conclusion by summarizing your main points in one sentence.
    • Then end with a final thought (something for your listeners to remember)-a short quotation, a brief anecdote that illustrates your final opinion of the article you've analyzed, a call to action.
    • You can lead into your final thought with words that indicate the speech is ending-e.g., "Finally," or "I'd like to leave you with this final thought…"

Sample Note-card

Introduction: Without question, the most important class we can take at MIT is not an engineering course or a math course or a science course - the most important class we can take here is "Rhetoric," 21W.747. What other class can help make our writing persuasive and, more importantly, improve our thought processes?

  1. Persuasive Writing
    • Rhetoric is all about Persuasion
    • Ancient Rhetoric
    • Modern Rhetoric

  2. Our Thought Processes
    • Thinking Outside the Box
    • Anticipating Others' Arguments

Conclusion: I have been arguing today that, even though we are at a technical institute, the most important course we can take is a humanities course called "Rhetoric" because it makes us more persuasive arguers and more careful readers. Let me leave you with this final thought: No matter how good our plans or discoveries are as engineers and scientists, if we cannot communicate them in a persuasive manner, we will not succeed. So sign up for Rhetoric as soon as you can. Thank you.



The essay must have an effective, clear, and logical structure. It must use transitional words, phrases, and devices to make explicit connections between ideas and between paragraphs. The organization exists to present your ideas in the most effective manner possible to your readers.

  • All academic essays have a beginning, middle, and end - but that fact is not particularly useful in helping us organize our ideas.
  • It helps if we think in terms of sections.
  • In ancient rhetorical terms, your essay should have the following sections (in specific cases, some might be omitted or combined, depending upon your topic and audience). Unless you have a good reason for altering the order, however, you should probably follow this basic rhetorical structure developed by Cicero and Quintilian:
    • Exordium (Introduction): The exordium is intended to make the audience willing to listen. Modern rhetorical theory says that, if possible, the introduction should do several things:
      • It should establish some connection between audience and rhetor (i.e., it should predispose" audience to listen via ethos).
      • It establishes a sense of kairos for the readers (urgency).
      • It should hook the readers' attention.
      • It should announce your topic (the question your essay will answer or the issue that it will explore).
      • It should reveal what your approach to the topic will be.
      • It should establish what your primary tone will be.
      • It should usually start very close to your thesis (never start with "Since the beginning of recorded history....").
      • It often establishes the nature of the larger issue (your topic is an example of this larger issue-- e.g., the larger issue for the topic of abortion might "What are the limits of government intervention in our private decisions?" or it might be "How do we decide whose rights are more important when there is a conflict between the rights of different individuals?" or it might be "Do the ends always justify the means?"). When you establish this in the introduction, you will return to this larger issue in your conclusion.
      • It often forecasts what the organization of the essay will be.

    • Narratio (Background of the Issue) - this section:
      • It gives your readers the relevant background information that they will need in order to understand the issue before you start the argument.
      • It includes up-to-date information about the current situation (e.g., pending legislation, proposed solutions).
      • It defines key terms that you will use and that readers might not know.
      • It explains why this situation/issue is a problem and for whom, explains any key concepts that are needed to understand the complexity of the issue, and it defines any key terms your readers might not know.
      • It states your position (thesis/claim).

    • Confirmatio (Proof) - This section gives evidence to prove the claims made in the narratio:
      • It states your reasons for supporting your position.
      • It gives your evidence for each reason.
      • It anticipates your opponents' objections to your reasons and responds to those objections.