Commemorative and After-dinner Speeches Speech Training WTUC March 2007
Commemorative speeches are addresses of praise or celebration (text pages 475-479) .
A. Commemorative speeches pay tribute to a person, a group of people, an institution, or an idea.
1. Eulogies, Fourth of July speeches, testimonial addresses, and dedications are examples of commemorative speeches.
2. The fundamental purpose of a commemorative speech is to inspire the audience—to heighten their admiration for the person, institution, or idea being praised.
B. Although it usually presents information about its subject, a commemorative speech is different from an informative speech.
1. The aim of an informative speech is to communicate information clearly and accurately.
2. The aim of a commemorative speech is to express feelings and arouse sentiments.
Commemorative speeches depend above all on the creative and subtle use of language.
1. Some of the most memorable speeches in history are commemorative addresses that we continue to find meaningful because of their eloquent expression.
2. Two aspects of language use are especially important for commemorative speeches.
a. The first is avoiding clichés and trite sentiments.
b. The second is utilizing stylistic devices such as those discussed in Chapter 11 to enhance the imagery, rhythm, and creativity of the speech.
After-dinner speeches are a kind of speech to entertain (text pages 479-482) .
A. After-dinner speeches are a long and well-established tradition.
1. As a formal genre, they developed in England during the early 1800s.
2. Today “after-dinner” speeches are often given at breakfast or lunch gatherings, as well as in the evening.
B. After-dinner speeches are lighter in tone than other types of speeches.
1. Almost any topic can be appropriate if the speaker approaches it in a lighthearted manner.
2. An after-dinner speech should not be technical or argumentative.
3. Supporting materials should be chosen primarily for their entertainment value rather than for their persuasive strength.
4. Listeners are looking for a good-natured talk that treats the topic imaginatively, even whimsically.
C. Although light in tone, after-dinner speeches require careful preparation.
1. They should be clearly organized around a central theme.
2. They should be adroitly delivered to produce the desired impact on the audience.
D. Humor can be an important part of after-dinner speeches.
1. Many after-dinner speeches are distinguished by their use of humor.
2. It is not necessary, however, to be a stand-up comic to be a successful after-dinner speaker.
a. The purpose of humor in an after-dinner speech is more to provoke smiles or chuckles than to convulse the audience with a string of one-liners.
b. Ideally, humor in an after-dinner speech grows naturally out of the speech materials and provides insight into the topic.
c. Many excellent after-dinner speeches contain no humor.
(1) Speakers who are not comfortable working for a laugh should not try to force humor into their speeches.
(2) If they deal with the topic creatively, select interesting supporting materials, and use language creatively, they will do just fine.
Analyze “The Massachusetts 54th,” textbook pages 478-479, in light of the criteria for commemorative speaking presented in this chapter.
Discussion: An excellent commemorative speech, “The Massachusetts 54th” pays tribute to the first African-American regiment in the U.S. Civil War. In keeping with the goals of a commemorative speech, the speaker provides enough information about the Massachusetts 54th for his listeners to understand its accomplishments, but he focuses above all on engendering admiration and respect for those accomplishments. The speech also shows how students can use the stylistic devices of imagery, parallelism, and repetition to heighten the impact of their ideas. In addition to discussing this speech in class, you may want to show the video of it, which is available as part of the instructional supplement to The Art of Public Speaking . Here is a synopsis of the speech.
Paragraphs 1-2 constitute the speech’s introduction. The speaker gains attention by using vivid language to create an image of the gravedigger played by Morgan Freeman in the film Glory. He then moves quickly to reveal his topic (the Massachusetts 54th) and its significance as the first black regiment of the Civil War. The speaker ends his introduction by previewing the three traits of the Massachusetts 54th that he will concentrate on in the body—bravery, patriotism, and courage. As with the rest of the speech, the language of the introduction is crisp, forceful, and uncluttered.
The body of the speech runs from paragraph 3 through paragraph 7. Paragraph 3 deals with the bravery of the Massachusetts 54th, paragraph 4 with its patriotism, and paragraphs 5-7 with its sacrifice. As the speaker develops each point, he provides concrete examples and other details that allow the audience to visualize the tribulations and triumphs of the 54th. Particularly noteworthy are his description of the substandard equipment issued to the 54th (paragraph 3), his explanation of the lack of desertions from the 54th (paragraph 4), and his account of the assault on Fort Wagner (paragraphs 5-6). Paragraph 7 ends the body by stating that the soldiers of the 54th were buried in a mass grave which has since been covered by the “shifting tides of the Atlantic.” The final sentence (“A small statue stands in Boston—a reminder of their sacrifice”) is especially moving.
Throughout the body of the speech, the speaker uses the resources of language discussed in Chapter 11 to reinforce the impact of his ideas. The imagery at the end of paragraph 3 magnifies the contrast between the anti-black attitudes of most Northerners and the bravery of the Massachusetts 54th. The use of concrete language in paragraphs 5-6 to describe the 54th’s heroism in the attack on Fort Wagner puts the scene vividly before the audience. The use of repetition and parallelism at the start of paragraph 7 is highly effective in reinforcing the speaker’s ideas. So, too, are the transitions in paragraphs 4 and 5, both of which help listeners keep track of the speaker’s main points as he moves through the body of the speech.
The conclusion begins in paragraph 8 by summarizing the three major traits of the Massachusetts 54th celebrated in the body of the speech—bravery, patriotism, and sacrifice—and noting how those traits helped contribute to the end of slavery in the United States. Paragraph 9 unifies the entire speech by returning to the story of the gravedigger played by Morgan Freeman in the movie Glory , while the closing quotation from General Truman Seymour reinforces the central idea and ends the speech on a strong note.
Graded In-class Work
Analyze “The Horror of It All” (pages 481-482 of the textbook) in light of the criteria for after-dinner speaking discussed in this chapter.