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Public Speaking: Nature of Propositions

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  • Type: Video Tutorial
  • Length: 7:22
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  • Posted: 07/01/2009

This lesson was selected from a broader, comprehensive course, Public Speaking. This course and others are available from Thinkwell, Inc. The full course can be found at http://www.thinkwell.com/student/product/publicspeaking. The full course covers getting started, preparing a speech, presenting the speech, audience considerations, types of speeches, small group communication, and more. The course features three renowned professors: Jess K. Alberts of Arizona State University, Brenda J. Allen of the University of Colorado at Denver, and Dan West of Ohio State University.

Jess K. Alberts is a professor of communication at the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication at Arizona State University, where she was Director from 1995 until 2004. She currently serves as Director of the Conflict Transformation Project and is an associate with Project for Wellness and Work-life. Her research appears regularly in academic journals, and she recently co-authored “Human Communication in Society”. Undergraduates at Arizona State honored her classroom teaching skills with a "Last Lecture Award," and she has twice been a finalist for Professor of the Year at ASU. A nationally known speaker on interpersonal communication, Professor Alberts has given numerous presentations across the country on humor, conflict, and developing and maintaining a passionate life.

Brenda J. Allen is departmental chair and a professor of communication at the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center, where she teaches organizational communication. She has published numerous articles and book chapters on organizational communication and diversity and she serves on the editorial boards of several communication journals. In 2004, she authored the book “Difference Matters: Communicating Social Identity”. While at the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center, she has been recognized with the First Annual Award for Outstanding Achievement for Commitment to Diversity and she received the Francine Meritt Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Lives of Women in Communication from the Women’s Caucus of the National Communication Association. Professor Allen is frequently invited to speak at community and professional events.

Dan West is the John A. Cassese Director of Forensics at Ohio University. Previously, he was a distinguished lecturer at Rice University, where he also acted as Director of Forensics. Under his direction, the team consistently placed in the top ten at national debate tournaments. While at Rice, Prof. West won the Outstanding Faculty Associate for Brown College (1999) and the award for Outstanding Teaching in the Humanities and Social Sciences (four times). He is well known for using his engaging speaking style in a variety of settings; his annual presentation of the Rice University Alcohol Policy to the freshman class was always a hit.

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I have a proposition for you. What would you think if someone said that to you? You probably would think, "Well, they're getting ready to ask me for something," and you probably would be right. Propositions are a pivotal part of persuasive speeches. Let's look a little bit at some characteristics of propositions and some types of propositions. First though, let's define proposition. A proposition, very simply, is a central idea of your persuasive speech. It's the main assertion. The proposition expresses the conclusion, in essence, that you want the audience to come to. It's very similar to a thesis statement. The purpose, then, of the proposition is to focus your persuasive speech. A proposition defines and limits the issues of your speech.
For example, the federal government should provide heath care for all citizens. Now, if you look at that, you see it's defining the issues. Federal government, health care, all citizens. It's also limiting the issues. It's talking specifically about the federal government, it's talking about health care, and for all citizens. It could have limited it even further in terms of talking about for the elderly. In addition, the proposition implies the relevant arguments for and against. So with that proposition it's implying a "for," that you are for the government providing health care.
Characteristics of a proposition include the following. The proposition should be clear. It should focus explicitly on the issue you're going to cover. The proposition should be controversial and challenging. It should state a position that's not currently accepted or adhered to by your target audience. It should confront existing values, beliefs, or behaviors. And so what your persuasive speech will do is validate your position.
Now, when I said "controversial," that may have seemed a negative term for you, but it's not. By controversy, I mean striking a healthy debate about an issue. For example, the proposition that you should go out of town on spring break is not necessarily controversial or challenging. Or the proposition that doing good things for people is a good thing is not really controversial. People--probably most people, I hope--would agree with that. But if you take the same ideas that underpin those two and make them more specific; for instance, you should work for Habitat for Humanity while you're away on spring break--that is, construct homes as a charitable gesture. That's very different. Or taking the one "doing good things for good people." You could have that same proposition in terms of working for Habitat for Humanity.
A proposition also should be balanced. It should not imply negative or positive connotations or prejudices; for instance, "The government should spend money that it wastes on defense on health care for all citizens." Those then are some characteristics of a proposition. Clear, controversial, and balanced.
There are three types of propositions that you can develop. The first type has to do with issues related to facts, and these are facts that are inconclusive, debatable, or murky. And what you're saying if it is true or it is false. For instance, life exists on Mars, or the stock market will crash in two years. How about media violence causes real-world violence? So then your proposition is about that.
A proposition also could be about value. What value does is deal with issues related to rightness (as in right or wrong), morality (as in moral or immoral), worth or merit (as in better or worse) of the idea or action that you are proposing. For instance: "Capital punishment is just" or "Incarceration without rehabilitation is unethical" "It's wrong to ban smoking in bars."
A third type of proposition that you can develop is a proposition related to policy, and policy is going to dictate a course of action or a change in behavior. The outcomes are two--two possible outcomes of a policy proposition. First could be you want them to passively agree with whatever you are saying. You want to affect the audience's thinking, their attitude, such that they find what you're saying desirable, necessary, practical. How about this one: "Company X should grant non-Christian workers two days of spiritual leave a year." Or, "Residents of halfway houses should not be given random drug tests." So there you want your audience just to agree after you present your evidence: "Okay, I can believe that."
Another proposition of policy would be one that asks the audience to take personal action. You want them to do something specific. You want to motivate them to take immediate action. For example: "Audience members should volunteer two hours per week at a local nursing home" "Audience members should invest 25 percent of their income" "Audience members should stop patronizing a local cafeteria."
Those then are types of propositions that you might develop. As you develop them, though, you want to keep your audience in mind. You will have conducted an audience analysis, and we have some information that will help you craft your proposition. For example, let's say your topic is volunteerism, and you found out through your audience analysis that most of them like the idea of volunteerism; they just haven't done anything. So then you would develop a proposition of policy in which you actually get them to sign up to go to a local nursing home. In fact, you could even bring them the information, the contact information, the form that they might want to fill out, and so forth.
However, if your audience analysis reveals that this audience is kind of neutral about volunteering and maybe even negative in the sense of, you know, "I have to spend my time doing some other things," then your proposition of policy might just be, "Okay, I'm going to try to get them to agree that this is a good idea."
So there you have it. The proposition is a clear, controversial, and balanced statement of the purpose of your persuasive speech.
Types of Speeches ! Principles of Persuasion [page 3 of 3]
Nature of Propositions
www.thinkwell.com info@thinkwell.com
Copyright © 2001, Thinkwell Corp. All Rights Reserved. 83004/8/02
Types of Speeches ! Principles of Persuasion [page 1 of 3]
Nature of Propositions
www.thinkwell.com info@thinkwell.com
Copyright © 2001, Thinkwell Corp. All Rights Reserved. 83004/8/02

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