Department of Communication



Critically Analyzing a Speech:

The Classical System

Four elements of a speech need to be considered in order to objectively analyze the performance. How the elements interact with each other is sometimes vital to the success or failure of the speech, itself.

The Personal Characteristics of the Speaker. The personality of the individual can impact the overall performance. Charismatic qualities; reputation for honesty (or not); overall credibility and sense of trustworthiness; a true sense of identification with the audience.

The Audience who Attends the Speech. What those in attendance expect from the speaker, what they already know about the topic, or the situation that has given rise to the speech. Potential exists for the audience and speaker to feed off and enhance the other.

The Speaker's Message or Text. Whether written by the speaker or not, the content is the presenter's responsibility and the need to be factually accurate is vital. The reality is that what is said, is often viewed differently by different audiences. In short we often see and hear what we want to see/hear and disregard the rest.

The Occasion for the speech. Often will influence the content (text) and how the audience perceives it along with the speakers themselves.

These four elements interact in a dynamic or fluid manner. And that interaction determines the success or failure of the speech.


The Classical Criticism system examines speeches from a variety of parts: Invention (Chapter 11), Arrangement (Chapter 12), Style (Chapter 13), Delivery (Chapter 15) , and Memory.

Invention: This refers to how speakers use the resources that are available for them. And can include such items as ethos, logos, pathos, and mythos. Typically meshing these proofs together to craft an argument. What a speaker selects and how these proofs are organized says much about the long term effect of the speech on the audience. And this is a key indicator of the speaker's character (good or bad), objectives, and overall attitude toward the audience.

Arrangement: This refers to how speakers organize their material; the order in which their points or arguments are made. The most basic organization pattern is introduction, body, and conclusion, and with connecting transitions. Persuasive presentations take on a more complex arrangement of ideas; often based on the likely psychological effects on the audience. How well a speech is organized or arranged will directly impact how easily the audience can follow the flow of the speaker's ideas. Most important points are clearly noted and sub-points reflect a lesser importance. While all speeches must have an introduction, body, and closing, many have other sections designed to elicit a certain response from the audience. Effective rhetoricians put great thought into how to arrange their ideas.

Style: This refers to how we use language to craft our message and ultimately shape our personality. This is intricately tied to delivery, itself, but style pertains more to pure word choice and other stylistic devices like similes, metaphors, alliterations, etc. Our style needs to vary depending on the purpose of the speech. The plain style is intended for simple or straightforward instruction; such as giving directions. The middle style is intended to please or delight an audience; perhaps to entertain or amuse. And the grand style is one designed to persuade audiences and must reflect vigorous, descriptive, emotive language to touch emotions as well as stimulate thought. Our personal style is demonstrated through our word choice and our sentence structure.

Delivery: This refers to our physical action and vocal use to deliver our message to the audience. The physical aspect of delivery includes our use of gestures, our use of movement, our posture or body position, and our eye contact with the audience. The vocal elements of delivery include such things as our speaker rate, our volume, our articulation, our accent/dialect, and our pitch (or lack thereof).

Memory: This is part of classic speech criticism but not as relevant today. Speakers no longer have to memorize their speeches for delivery. Now there are other options available, such as Teleprompters for formal presentations, manuscripts, and basic note cards. Certainly not a meaningful part of our set of criteria for speeches today as it was once

Certain themes or topics should be addressed depending on the genre or type of speech delivered. For example, speeches designed to celebrate tend to focus on issues of honor and praise. Political speeches are more apt to focus on policies choices to motivate a audience. Seldom will a speech be purely one issue but rather a tendency to focus on an issue while combing other themes.