Persuading a Hostile Audience

This activity was submitted by Ronald Lee at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


1) Prepare a 5 to 9 minute extemporaneous speech.

2) The speaker must choose a hostile audience topic. The speech may persuade the audience about a controversial issue of fact, value, or policy.

3) The speaker should employ appropriate strategies for addressing hostile audiences. These strategies may include:

a) Using the strategy of implicit rather than explicit conclusion-drawing.

b) Using the strategy known as the method of residues.

c) Dealing with counterarguments and especially the employment of a two-sided message.

d) Building on acceptable premises.

e) Establishing the acceptance of principles before advocating specific proposals.

f) Employing evidence strategies. Rely more heavily on empirical supporting materials (examples and statistics). Increase the amount of supporting material. Look for reluctant testimony. Spend more time explaining the qualifications of sources. Avoid sources that will appear biased to the audience.

g) Avoid intense emotional language, over generalizing, language that polarizes, or the attribution of motives to the other side.

4) The speech should utilize Monroe’s Motivated Sequence. The steps include: Attention, Need, Satisfaction, Visualization, and Action. In a hostile audience speech, the action may be something less than complete acceptance (taking direct action) of the speaker’s proposal. Instead, it may encourage a new way of thinking or an open-mindedness to continue to investigate a new possibility.

5) Delivery: In a speech of this type the quality of oral delivery is very important. The careful selection of language will effectively convey complicated information. Effective style only comes with sufficient rehearsal. More specifically:

a) The speech should be delivered in a conversational style. The speaker's voice should project sufficiently to be heard comfortably by those in the far reaches of the room.

b) The speaker should maintain good eye contact. More particularly, the speaker should cover the whole audience, look directly into the eyes of audience members, and use notes in a manner that does not compromise eye contact.

c) The speaker may use only two 4 X 6 note cards. These notes should consist of a key word outline and short reminders of particular striking phrases or pieces of evidence.

d) The speaker should avoid trapping hands. The speaker should gesture from the waist up.

e) The speaker should keep weight balanced. The speaker should strike a confident, aggressive posture by squaring up to the audience and moving with purpose.

6) Beginnings, endings, and connectives:

a) The introduction should begin with an effective attention getting device, introduce the purpose of the speech, establish the speaker's credibility with the audience, and preview the major dimensions of the speech.

b) The conclusion should reiterate the major points of the presentation and crystallize the major idea of the presentation.

c) Connectives (internal previews and summaries, transitions, and signposts) should work to reinforce main ideas and smoothly move the speaker from one part of the speech to the next.

7) Audience adaptation:

a) The speech should adopt appeals appropriate to the knowledge and interests of the audience.

b) The speaker should consider the initial predisposition of the audience in making decisions about language intensity and evidence use.

8) A carefully typed and edited speech outline must be handed in on the day you speak:

a) Include the title of the speech and a carefully worded speech purpose. Your purpose should be worded in terms of desired audience response.

b) Write out your introduction and conclusion.

c) Outline the body of the speech. Use complete sentences in your outline.

d) Include brief internal summaries and transitions between main ideas.

e) Bracket [ ] underneath the relevant subpoint the type (examples, statistics, testimony, comparisons) and source (citation) of supporting materials.

f) Include a bibliography typed according to a standard style sheet (MLA or APA).

g) In the left margin of the outline label the steps in Monroe’s Motivated Sequence.

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