88 Special Occasion Preparation

Learning Objectives

After reading this chapter, the student will be able to

  1. Understand the differences between research-based speeches (informative and persuasive) and special occasions speeches.
  2. Identify the types of special occasion speeches.
  3. Use language to create emotional and evocative phrases.
  4. Understand the proper techniques for delivering a special occasion speech.

Special Occasion Preparation


Special occasion speaking is so firmly rooted in the use of good language that it makes sense to address it here, drawing from concepts in Chapter 10. More than any other category of speech, the special occasion speech is arguably one where the majority of your preparation time will be specifically allocated towards the words you choose. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t have used good language in your informative and persuasive speeches, but that the emphasis shifts slightly in a special occasion speech.

For example, for your informative and persuasive speeches you were required to conduct research and cite your sources in a bibliography, which took you some amount of time to look up and format. In most cases, that probably won’t happen in your special occasion speech. And to be honest, we’re not sure what that would really sound like anyway. For example, you would probably have a tough time “researching” a eulogy on a loved one who has passed away (“According to Uncle Steve’s Facebook post from July 15, Grandpa was a funny guy who said some crazy things.”).

So for special occasion speeches, there is a trade-off. The time you don’t spend doing research is now going to be reallocated towards crafting emotional and evocative phrases that convey the sentiment your speech is meant to impart.

The important thing to remember about using language effectively is that we are not talking about using big words just to sound smart. Do not touch a thesaurus! Good language isn’t about trying to impress us with fancy words. It’s about taking the words you are already comfortable and familiar with and putting them in the best possible order. Consider the following example from the then-president of the Ohio State University, Gordon Gee, giving a commencement address at Florida State University in 1997:

As you look back on your years at Florida State I hope you remember many good things that have happened. These experiences are, for the most part, events of the mind. The memories, ladies and gentlemen, however, are treasures of the heart.

Notice three things about his use of language: first, he doesn’t try to use any fancy words, which he certainly could if he wanted to. Every word in this portion of his speech is one that all of us knew by the time we left elementary school, so again, don’t mistake good language for big words. Using a five-syllable word when a two-syllable word will work just as well often means a speaker is trying too hard to sound smart. And given that the use of those big words often comes off sounding awkward or inappropriate, you’re better off just sticking with what you know.

Second, notice how he uses those basic words to evoke emotion and wonderment. Putting the words you know into the best possible order, when done well, will make your speech sound extremely eloquent and emotional. Third, he uses para-llelism in this brief snippet, one of the rhetorical techniques discussed in Chapter 10. The use of “events of the mind” and “treasures of the heart” to compare what is truly important about the college experience is powerful. Indeed, Gee’s commencement is full of various rhetorical devices, with the twelve-minute speech also containing alliteration, assonance, and antithesis.

nonverbal Delivery

Just as the language for special occasion speaking is slightly different, so too are the ways in which you will want to deliver your speech. First and foremost, since you will be spending so much time crafting the perfect language to use and putting your words in the right order, it is imperative that you say exactly what you have written; otherwise, what was the point? To that end, your delivery for a special occasion speech will skew slightly more in favor of manuscript speaking discussed in Chapter 11. While it is still vital to establish eye contact with your audience and to not sound like you are reading, it is also important to get the words exactly right.

As much as you may not want to hear it, what this means is that you will need to practice your special occasion speech even more now than you did for your informative or persuasive speeches. You need to know what you are going to say and feel comfortable knowing what is coming next. This is not to say you should have your speech memorized, but you need to be able to take your eyes off the page in order to establish and maintain a rapport with your audience, a vital element in special occasion speaking because of the emotional component at the core of these speeches. Knowing your speech will also allow you to counteract the flow of adrenaline into your system, something particularly important given that special occasion speeches tend to be very emotional, not just for the audience, but for you as well.

Basically, knowing your speech well allows you to incor-porate the emotion that a special occasion speech is meant to convey, something that is hard to do when you read the entirety of your speech. In this way your audience will sense the pride you feel for a graduating class during a commencement speech, the sorrow you feel for the deceased during a eulogy, or the gratitude you have when accepting an award.


Special occasion speaking is the most varied type of speaking to cover; however, there are some general rules to keep in mind regardless of what type you are engaged in. Remember that using good, evocative language is key, and that it is important that you deliver your speech in a way that both conveys the proper emotion for the occasion as well as allows you to give the speech exactly as you wrote it.

Sample Outline: Commemorative Speech on Edward Snowden

By Stacy Watts

Specific Purpose: To explain to my classmates why I admire Edward Snowden.

Introduction: I remember being a teenager and having parents who monitored what seemed like all of my actions. Could you imagine as an adult, having that same thing happen? Only this time it’s not your parents, its part of the government: the one thing that is supposed to stand for your freedoms and rights as an American. It’s scary and enraging to think about, and yet that was happening to all of us. One man was so enraged by what was going on, he decided to act. That man is Edward Snowden and I admire him as a fellow American and upstanding human being.

Preview: I have great admiration for Edward Snowden for standing up for his beliefs, risking his life, and exhibiting bravery to face the media.

  1. Edward Snowden is a man who selflessly stands up for what he believes in.
    1. He took documents from the National Security Agency (NSA).
    2. Over time he would make copies of NSA documents.
    3. After setting up his plan, he then took the documents to the press.
    4. Through means of the press Snowden let the world know what the NSA was doing.
      1. He provided proof that citizens of the United States were having their basic right to privacy violated.
      2. In the documents, it was shown that text messages and phone calls were all being monitored by the NSA.

Transition: Like anyone who stands up for themselves or anyone else, Snowden risked it all.

  1. Edward Snowden knew and wasn’t afraid that this meant putting his own life and well-being in danger.
    1. After leaking the documents, Snowden was forced to give up many things.
      1. Working at the NSA meant a very comfortable salary for Snowden.
      2. In order to protect her, he had to leave behind his girlfriend.
      3. He now lives a life in exile.
    2. The government had brought him up on charges, two of which could lead to the death penalty because of the Espionage Act.
      1. Unauthorized communication of national defense information.
      2. Willful communication of classified intelligence with an unauthorized person.

Transition: After risking his life, his fearless demeanor did not stop there.

  1. Snowden shows bravery when he is not afraid to face the media after everything was revealed.
    1. After he leaked the information and was charged by the government Snowden still does interviews with the media.
      1. He did an interview with NBC this year.
      2. Also did an interview on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.
    2. A documentary was released about everything, Citizenfour.
      1. The film shows footage of his meetings with the journalist who helped leak the information.
      2. It shows that he is still in full support of his actions.

Conclusion: In conclusion, when looking at all Edward Snowden stood up for, I can only hope I could be that good of an American. Snowden saw the government invading the privacy of millions and believed it was wrong. He stood up for that belief, faced the risk of death and the loss of everything in America, and still had the courage to speak with the media. Knowing these things makes me want to have the courage to stand up for what I believe in.


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Exploring Communication in the Real World Copyright © 2020 by Chris Miller is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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