From Topic to Purpose

Choosing a Topic:

Your topic must be personal to you and something that you are passionate about. If you’re not informed and passionate about your topic, your listeners will not be either.

Determining Your Purpose:

Most speeches and presentation fail not because they have too little content. Rather, they fail because they have too much content or are organized poorly. Some speakers, attempting to be clever, try to connect short, pithy statements that are not connected to each other or to a major theme. These statements, although perhaps amusing or profound, tend to confuse and could bore the listener. The listener may leave a speech like that saying, “I heard some great stories, but I didn’t get the point.”

Your listener wants to hear a simple, strategic, and informative speech on a topic.

One of the most important things you can do is to narrow down your speech to a simple, declarative sentence. Just about every speaking book and speaking class teaches this basic principle. The reason is because it is vital to the cohesiveness of your speech.

Your purpose statement will serve to accomplish two major tasks:

  1. Serve as a guide for your content. Everything in your speech will connect to this statement.  
  2. Tell your listeners what they should listen for. There is no guesswork. You will tell your listener what they should get out of your speech.

Most speeches are “informative” which means they are designed to inform your listener on a topic. You want them to learn “more” about a certain topic. Here’s a simple plan for writing an informative purpose statement.

For the sake of simplicity, your informative purpose statement will include 5 things:

  1. It will start with the same 11 words, “at the end of my speech, I want my audience to…” (you counted them didn’t you?)
  2. An informative verb
  3. A number (between 2 and 6—these will become your main points and are generally developed after your research)
  4. An abstract noun
  5. A topic (and connective word)

Purpose Statement Exercise

What is your topic? ____________________________

Informative verb: I want my audience to ________________(choose informative verb from List 1 below)

Include a number ________ (2-6–these will be your major points)

Choose abstract noun (from List 2 below) ____________________

Use a connective word and your topic ________________________

List 1: Informative verbs

Know, find, consider, notice, learn, see, realize, appreciate, discern, grasp, understand, perceive, be aware of, recognize, evaluate, etc.

List 2: Abstract nouns

Ways, reasons, joys, kinds, things, types, situations, truths, benefits, resources, challenges, differences, similarities, changes, goals, blessings, movements, time periods, places, etc.

Sample Purpose Statements

Below are some excellent specific purpose statements.

At the end of my speech, I want my audience to….

  • Know 3 reasons why I volunteer at the pet shelter
  • Learn 3 reasons why we’re expanding our marketing team
  • Recognize 3 of the greatest challenges facing our world today
  • Know 3 of my favorite works of Beethoven

Again, this statement will emerge out of your heart or out of your research (or both). After you develop this statement, place it at the top of your paper. Your 3 reasons, or things, or ways, will become your major points. They will all connect to the purpose statement.

For additional help, see the page on developing an outline.

Best wishes!

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