Examples from Student Speeches
These presentations were written and performed by students in classes at the University of Virginia School of Law.
C. Benjamin (Ben) Cooper’s public policy speech argues in favor of same-sex marriage by engaging the emotions effectively, but also supporting his points with logic. The presentation begins with a “you-are-there” scene, drawing the audience into the speech. He uses body language very well, employing gestures and moments of stillness to drive home important points. Notice that he’s actually using notes, but they are resting on a lectern that is off to the side, so that he is able to glance at them quickly and then immediately re-establish eye contact with his audience. Notice also that he makes each transition clear so that you can feel when he has moved from one point to another. Being able to feel the structure of a presentation can help the audience understand it.
John Stephens’ speech about interracial adoption shows how a speaker can incorporate poetry into a public policy speech, combining epideictic and deliberative genres. John switches easily between conversational, familiar words and a more elevated form of writing (from “thirty different fart sounds” to “what joy is this?”). When he hits these moments of poetry, he relishes them in his delivery by accentuating them with repetition, pace, and volume. A speech like this demands that the speaker know it perfectly because it would suffer from being read from a sheaf of notes. John knows this text so well that he is able to play it like a piece of music.
Rebecca Martin’s closing in Flinders v. Mismo (a case from the National Institute of Trial Advocacy) demonstrates strong body language, confident eye contact, and the effective use of pacing and pausing. Notice how she walks as she moves from point to point, but also stands perfectly still at the most dramatic moments. The resting place for her hands is “actor’s neutral” (arms hanging down by sides, hands cupped), but she uses plenty of movement to make points pop. She emphasizes important points by using repetition, triples (“hotter, faster, redder”), and pauses (“someone left a window open”).
Chris Schoen’s opening statement in Flinders v. Mismo is clear, conversational, and persuasive. Notice how he is able to tell the story sequentially as he moves from one character to another so that the jury will be able to understand the significance of the witnesses that they will meet. He uses walking to move cleanly from point to point and to project physical confidence. He has a strong theme that he weaves through the statement without straying into impermissible argument.
We include Chris Martin’s speech (in which the assignment was to speak without using notes) as an example of an effective use of pathos. As he described his interaction with a young boy named Mickey, listeners in the class to which he was speaking became visibly moved. Chris accomplishes this through including rich sensory details that bring the moment to life, and also through taking the moment slowly, so that he himself could feel his emotional connection to the topic.
Jamie Schoen‘s presentation shows how to use a lectern well. Notice that even though she is behind the lectern, she makes and maintains eye contact with her audience, resisting the temptation to stare at her notes. She also uses gestures effectively—instead of hanging onto the lectern or, worse yet, hitting it, she moves her hands to make her points, adjusting them slightly upward so that they can be seen over the lectern. She also keeps her feet solid and still so that she is not swaying (a bad habit that can be emphasized when the lectern is in front of you).
Ben Tracy’s presentation about a significant speech from history or literature demonstrates the power of painting a picture with words, and of incorporating acting techniques to engage the audience. Notice how Ben plays with pauses and pacing to make his delivery pop. He uses eye contact extremely well to demonstrate conviction. He also flips back and forth between formal language (the words of Shakespeare) and his own conversational, everyday voice. He revives flagging attention by incorporating a visual aid (in this case, film clips) into the presentation. He also dwells on his most significant points by explaining a concept and then illustrating it with the visual aid.
David Leahy’s closing argument in Flinders v. Mismo creates a detailed, dramatic scene from the very beginning. He does this by including many sensory details and using the present tense to build immediacy. Notice also how he deals so calmly with a technological blip that might derail many speakers.
Dipti Ramnarain’s opening statement in Flinders v. Mismo shows the power of a strong theme, good sensory details, and a confident delivery. Dipti is confident, conversational, and poised.
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