Speeches and Rhetoric

Spotlight on Obama (Commentary)

Speeches have long been used as a persuasive text. A speaker with an understanding of rhetoric, the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the use of figures of speech and other compositional techniques, is often better able to persuade their audience and consequently, has resulted in some of the more memorable speeches.

A good speech relies on a couple of key features. Developing your understanding of appeal and rhetorical devices will help you identify good speech technique. Use the handout to learn more about these key features.


Appeal simply refers to the manner in which he speaker attempts to persuade the audience. A speech may incorporate all three types of appeal though often one is clearly evident.

Ethos is appeal based on the character of the speaker. An ethos-driven document relies on the reputation of the author.

Logos is appeal based on logic or reason. Documents distributed by companies or corporations are logos-driven. Scholarly documents are also often logos-driven.

Pathos is appeal based on emotion.

Example 1

Example 2
Example 3
TASK: As a further example, look for appeal in Ho Chi Minh’s 1945 declaration of independence speech. Look for examples of the rhetorical devices as you are going. 
TASK: Find a speech of your choosing. Develop a short presentation that evaluates the effectiveness of the speaker. Some options might include:
  • Ghandi’s Quit India speech
  • Mbeki’s I am African speech
  • Mandela’s Arrest and Release speeches
  • Severn Suziki’s appeal to the UN

Your presentation should include:

  • some brief context about the speech (why was the speech being made?)
  • Reference to appeal
  • Reference to rhetorical devices
  • Concluding statement about the effectiveness of the speech.

TOK Connection

Language and literature are never simply transparent. They also encode values and beliefs. To what extent should this be considered when responding to texts? (Language A: Language and Literature Subject Guide, 7)
Political speeches are obviously encoded with values and beliefs. But what about speeches that aren’t overtly political?

Assessment Task

TASK: Analyse Hitler’s Appeal (1933) and evaluate its effectiveness based on the use of appeal and rhetorical devices.

We will keep this short and sweet: one lesson annotating and collecting your thoughts. Then a double writing. We’ll negotiate a deadline together so you can tidy it up.

We’ll use the IB commentary criteria, though we will only use criteria B, C, D.

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