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  • Talon Stradley

S1E4 - How To Write A Speech

Talon: Hi, my name is Talon Stradley and this is Soapboxers, a fly-on-the-wall podcast about speech and debate. I used to competed on the Orange Coast College team and now I’m back after two years to document the speech and debate experience and bring it to you. Today, we’re taking a look at the traditional public speaking events and learning how we can become better researchers and more informed citizens. This is Soapboxers.

Shauhin: Is there anybody whose name I did not call?

Talon: Welcome to the third team meeting of the OCC speech and debate team! The students have had their first sessions with the coaches, they’re starting to find their events, and the team has elected their club officers!


Shauhin: Thank you so much for the people who ran for office. We appreciate you.

Talon: The class then settles down for their next big deep dive into an event. But first, they’re gonna get to the bottom of a question most people have when they join speech and debate. If you’ve been paying close attention, you may have noticed the word forensics thrown around a lot.

Shauhin: Orange Coast College forensics year.

Shauhin: I am the Director of Forensics for Orange Coast College.

Sean: When many of you signed up for this class, you signed up for a class called Forensics Workshop. Did that seem weird to anyone?

Talon: Yeah, it certainly felt weird to me when I first joined. This is a speech and debate team, not a crime scene unit. To guide us through it is coach Sean Connor.

Sean: So then what does criminology and the dissecting of bodies and crime scenes and all that kind of stuff have to do with Speech and Debate?


Sean: A what?

Student: A conviction.

Sean: A conviction! Or before that, an accusation. Right? I want to accuse someone of a crime. I have evidence to prove it. Here’s all the evidence. I’m accusing this person. Now that I have done that, I’m going to make an argument or make a case that says yes this person is guilty so that we can convict. Right? The better you do that the more likely you are to accomplish your goal which is to get a conviction. Similar idea that we are doing here in speech and debate. Right? We’re gathering evidence to support a claim. You can debate, you can gather evidence and debate with each other. When you’re doing Oral Interpretation are you still making a claim?

Talon: Yeah, you are! Remember the intro we talked about last week, where you drop character and explain why you picked that piece. That’s essentially your claim. And what is the evidence?

Student: The presentation.

Sean: The presentation! It was the performance, right? Any time you watch— I mean, if you watch a movie, or a documentary, or whatever they are gathering evidence to support the claim of whatever is they are trying to do. Doing so in a much more creative way but the same sort of principles apply.

Talon: So, there are more indirect or abstract ways to gather evidence to support a claim, such as a creative work, but there are also very, very direct ways to do this. One of the most direct is our next category, the topic of today’s episode, platform speaking. Platform is what you would learn in a public speaking class. It’s delivering a speech that you wrote about a topic. It’s simple enough, but just like Oral Interpretation, there are numerous sub-categories of platform speaking.

Sean: When we’re talking about what I’m coaching, we’re talking about speech, there’s a lot of things included with that. We have informative speaking, we have persuasive speaking, we have speech to entertain, we have communication analysis. So when I’m talking about speech today, I’m really going to be focusing today on informative speaking and persuasive speaking.

Talon: Speech to Entertain and Communication Analysis use similar concepts to Informative or Persuasive, but they have a little more nuance.

Sean: They require, I think, a little more experience in the activity. Once you gather kind of the major principles of informing and persuading, you can apply those to a Speech to Entertain and a Communication Analysis So, when I’m talking about speech today, I’m really going to be focusing on informative speaking and persuasive speaking.

Talon: These two categories are fairly easy to wrap your head around. Both are ten minute speeches written by the performer.

Sean: If you’re doing an informative speech, typically you want a speech where you don’t really take a perspective on. It’s just, hey, this is an interesting kind of new take on something that I’m informing my audience about. If you want a persuasive topic, it should be something you’re advocating for. Something you want to change. Some sort of difference you want to make in the world.

Talon: For example, a persuasive speech about the environmental impact of Amazon’s two-day shipping might ask the audience to just wait a couple more days for their package and choose other options.

It might all seem simple enough, but how do you… start?

Sean: What I kind of want to talk about today is starting from nothing and then ending up with something.

Talon: To do that, Sean broke down the process into 4 main steps.

Sean: Step number one: Find a topic. That seems easy to do, right?

Talon: Well if you remember last episode, something as simple as picking a topic can have a lot of impact on your tournament results. You can be the most amazing speaker in the world, but if you’re talking about something everyone already knows about, you’re not going to get too far.

Sean: What are some of the things that you did in that process. Finding a topic. What were some questions you may have asked yourself, some things that you thought about when it came to finding a topic.

Talon: One student answered “What am I an expert in?

Sean: Ok, that’s a great place to start! Think about yourself first. What do I feel comfortable and confident talking about.

Talon: Another says, “What motivates you or makes you angry.”

Sean: Yeah, what frustrates you about the world. What thing is like “I really want to change this!” or “I can’t believe people don’t think blank.”

Talon: And finally, one mentioned that it should be applicable to the times.

Sean: Ok, I mean, the time you’re talking about it is important. So let’s break that down into two big categories. The topic should be interesting and it should be relevant.

Talon: One thing that I’ve really learned about Sean through making this podcast is that Sean loves to define words.

Sean: When we think of the word interesting, what interests you? How do you know something is interesting?

Talon: Eventually they break it down to two characteristics.

Sean: So, in your notes I want you to write the word new or unique.

Talon: You don’t have to take notes. Unless you want to. Just like in interp, you want to pick something that is new to the judges, but for a bit of a different reason. If someone is a good actor performing a piece you’ve seen before, you might dock them for originality, but you’ll still probably going to enjoy the performance. However, watching someone speak on a topic you’ve heard heard about is something worse than un-original. It’s boring.

Sean: Have any of you ever taken a class, and then failed that class, and then had to take that class again? How’d you feel about sitting through it the second time?


Sean: Oh my gosh, I know this already. Just get to the thing. The class is suddenly less interesting because you’ve already done the thing. So things that are interesting are new. They’re unique. People haven’t heard them before. So a better topic is going to be one that your audience hasn’t heard before.

Talon: That’s one of the roles of the coaches. All of them have been around the block and so they have a good understanding of what has and hasn’t been talked about in the community. So, our topic is interesting, but it also has to be relevant and current.

Sean: And not just current but also important. Right? So it’s currently happening but it is also significant to talk about. It effects a lot of people.

Talon: Some informative topics the team has run in the past include Universal Basic Income, well before it was the political platform of Andrew Yang, Zoopharmacognosy, which looks at how animals medicate themselves in the wild, and, of all things, termites.

Shauhin: Yeah, well we did one on termites and basically the idea that there are now buildings that are developed in areas where energy consumption is really expensive that are developed without AC systems — Which would kind of be nice for ours — where the building is kept incredibly cool, just by the design of the building in respect for the wind. The stole all that from termites.

Sean: Termites are so smart.

Shauhin: They are so much smarter than ants. Like, fuck ants. Ants don’t do shit. They get all the attention and it’s bullshit.

Sean: If you’ve learned anything about today, it’s fuck ants.

Talon: Ok, the point is you want to find something interesting. After you find the interesting thing, it’s time to research! After the break, Sean is going to teach us how to properly research topics using the, uh, well…

Sean: I’m gonna walk through the S.M.E.L.L. test.

Talon: That’s coming up next on Soapboxers.




Talon: Welcome back. Today, we’re looking at what it takes to construct a platform speech. We just spent sometime learning about what makes a good platform topic. Now, it’s time for step two.

Sean: Once you have kind of figured out the topic area in which you want to investigate, you need to do some research!

Talon: Lucky for you, Sean has a system to help you verify sources. He calls it the S.M.E.L.L. test.

Sean: I’m gonna walk through the S.M.E.L.L. test with you. I don’t know if any of you have heard this, if you took me for public speaking, you’ve heard this before. So the word smell here is obviously an acronym.

Talon: First, S stands for source.

Sean: So when you’re doing research you want to make sure the source that you’re using is good. How do you know the source is good? You’re gonna apply a different acronym, just to complicate things.

Talon: OK, nested acronyms. That’s ok, we’ve all seen Inception. We can handle this.

Sean: It’s the only other acronym I promise.

Talon: This acronym is P.I.E.

Sean: The P stands for proximity. How close to the information are you? Is it first hand research? Is it second hand research? Is it research of research?

Talon: Places like the Pew Research Center or Brookings Institution run their own research so they are great sources as opposed to something like Good Morning America.

Sean: Which is like a tertiary source, right? They’re reporting on news organizations that are reporting on research.

Talon: Next up is I for Independence.

Sean: You want to make sure the source you are using is an independent source. They’re not super close to the… money trail. The classic example is the tobacco industry paid a bunch of researchers to say that smoking doesn’t cause cancer and they’re like “See all these researchers that doesn’t cause cancer.” Well they obviously aren’t independent because they got paid by the tobacco industry, right?

Talon: The last part of PIE is E, expertise.

Sean: Usually a degree tends to indicate more of an expertise than not.Though, not always. You know, you can get degrees in lots of different things. And making sure that the degree to which you are citing is supportive of the claim that they are making. In other words, there’s lots of experts out there that have options on things about which they are not experts.

Talon: Ok, we made it through the nested acronym, congratulations. Just to recap, we’re using SMELL to analyze research. The first part of SMELL is Source. Want to find a good source? Look at their Proximity, Independence, and Expertise. Next up is M, motivation. Why are they writing this? Sean: There’s really two, technically three, reasons major reasons why any piece of media is written. To inform, to persuade, and technically to entertain.

Talon: Hey, those categories sound familiar. A good way to tell if a source is trying to persuade as opposed to inform is to look for a call to action.

Sean: So it’s not just ‘here’s the information’, it’s ‘here’s the information and this is what you should do with the information’.

Talon: Another identifier is emotion.

Sean: If you’re finding a lot of emotional charged language in the source, tends to be a little bit more persuasive.

Talon: You can use both persuasive and informative research.

Sean: It’s ok if the research is meant to persuade you. It’s ok if the research is meant to inform you. Your goal is to understand which is which and which makes the most sense for the speech that I’m trying to do. If you’re doing a persuasive speech, does it make sense to use a persuasive source? One hundred percent! Absolutely it does.

Talon: S-M-E, Evidence.

Sean: What evidence do they provide to support their claims? Do they provide enough evidence? Do they provide accurate evidence? Are they presenting the evidence in good, effective, ethical ways or are they making outlandish claims without any evidence?

Talon: If you’ve experienced 2020, you know know how important good evidence is. The first L of SMELL stands for Logic.

Sean: Does the evidence they provide logically compel the conclusions that they’re drawing or again, are they being a little disingenuous.

Talon: A good example of this is the constant claims made by morning shows that chocolate or wine can help you lose weight. Logically speaking, this doesn’t make sense or we probably would’ve been seeing this all throughout human history. If something doesn’t logically make sense, it’s a good indicator that you should do some extra verification.

The last L of SMELL stands for What’s Left Out, which feels like a bit of a cheat but we’ve already had a nested acronym so we’re well past that. So, what does left out mean?

Sean: A couple years ago, actually pretty recently too, I’ve seen bunch of articles that were like “Crime is increasing in the U.S.. Like statistically crime is on the increase. “ What’s being left out in a lot of those discussions?

Student: What crimes?

Sean: Number one, what crimes. Number two, what were we all doing a year ago? Fucking nothing. Not committing anything because we’re all stuck inside, right? And so of course crime is on the increase. Now people are going out into the world, and experiencing each other, and committing crimes against each other I guess. What is also left out? The fact that over the last thirty years, crime has been on a progressive downtrend.

Talon: You can see where leaving stuff out starts to cause a lot of issues. By the way, if you’re interested in that claim about crime going down in America, you can check out this article by the Pew Research Center analyzing crime statistics from the FBI and Bureau of Justice Statistics. There’s a link in the show notes.

So, that’s SMELL. Source, Motivation, Evidence, Logic, and What’s Left Out.

Sean: I know I threw a lot out at you but I want you to understand that when we ask you to do research, we want that research to be good, quality, verifiable research. Applying the SMELL test to each of the sources that you find is gonna just make you a more competent, a more credible being.

Talon: All of that, the SMELL test, PIE, that’s all under step two, research. Step three is outlining your speech. And don’t worry, we’re not spending as much time on this step.

Sean: I’m gonna remain very basic on this because the way that you outline an informative is going to be very different than how you outline a persuasive. And how you outline this informative might be very different than how you outline that informative. It really depends on the topic you’re doing and again, that’s a reason that you want to work closely with your coaches is to talk about how do you want to structure this speech.

Talon: If you’ve ever written a school essay, you’re probably already familiar with with this structure.

Sean: The major things that I want to cover that are true of pretty much every speech you’re going to be doing is intro, body, and conclusion.

Talon: Simple enough, but there is one trick here for starting your speech.

Sean: And so I want to encourage you when you’re writing your speech, when you first start writing, do not worry about your intro. It’s on the back burner, don’t care about it. Seventy percent of your speech is in the body, devote all of your attention upfront to writing a good quality body to the speech.

Talon: This is a tip that I think more people need to follow in general. I use it all the time when writing speeches, fictional stories, or even this podcast. Right now, as I type this script, I have no idea what the teaser for the episode is. I have no idea what I’m gonna say during the theme music or right after it. I started with my body. After that’s done, it gets a lot easier to set the episode up.

Sean: Typically, you’re gonna have three main points. Again, what those three points are kind of depends on the topic, it depends not he speech you’re doing, it’s something you’re gonna want to work with a coach.

Talon: Alright, our steps so far.

Sean: You found your topic, you did good research, you’ve organized your ideas.

Talon: What’s next?

Sean: The last thing that you’re gonna do is revise and edit. And that is what takes the vast majority of your time doing the speeches, or writing the speeches. Revise and edit. Revise and Edit.

Talon: This process takes place over the entire tournament season. Competitors don’t bring a new speech to every tournament. Most of the time, they are working with the same speech for the whole year. Between the first tournament in October and the National Championship in the Spring, the competitors are constantly editing, refining, and updating their pieces. By the time nationals comes around, these students have spent nearly a year perfecting this single 10 minute speech.

Sean: You may have to write it and be like “That’s good enough for now. Let’s move on to another thing. That’s ok. And then later on you realize “You know what, I don’t like the way that sounds anymore” let’s edit and revise.

Talon: And that, editing and revising, is the last step!

Sean: Those are kind of the major takeaways, major principles of writing an effective informative or persuasive speech. Again, lot’s of nuance, lot’s of difference in all of that, but those are the major guiding principles. If you can get through all four of those steps and you feel comfortable and confident with it, you probably have a good quality speech.

Talon: Congratulations! You made it through four steps, the SMELL Test, Nested Acronyms, and termites and now you know how to make a good speech! Now this might seem like a lot of work, and it definitely is. It is hard to research, write, edit, and construct well thought and interesting presentations. But it’s also really important. Knowing this process, whether you're a forensics competitor or someone listening to the radio, is important. It helps us to be well informed and critical members of society. Sometimes, it can even prepare us for something we never considered before.

Shauhin: But he did a speech on the likelihood of the next pandemic. One of his was things was one of the ways we can prevent the next pandemic is to wash your hands. I don’t know if you remember, but at the very beginning off the pandemic there was this big push to wash your hands for thirty seconds, do this, and do this other thing—

Sean: Don’t forget your thumbs!

Shauhin: Yeah, don’t forget your thumbs and all this other bullshit. I remember when we ran the speech there were people that were like “this is bullshit, this will never be a thing” and blah, blah, blah.

Sean: This is so not important.

Shauhin: And one of the judges actually came up to Jimmy after maybe a year.

Jimmy: After a year, but a year before the pandemic, which is the craziest part.

Shauhin: Yeah, so it’s 2018, he goes up tp Jimmy and what did he say?

Jimmy: Man, I’ll never forget. I remember thinking how silly because in persuasion you have solutions, it’s a big part of persuasion, and the solution of the speech was just wash your hands. At the time the judge said “what a silly solution. We should be doing something more impactful in persuasion.”

Sean: Like writing your senator.

Jimmy: And then a year later he told me, verbatim, “I regret telling the student to do something more impactful because since I saw that speech, I have not thought about anything else since I wash my hands and I currently wash my hands like a G, right? Because of what I learned in that speech.”

Like, fully walked back his ballot a year later.

Talon: And that, that moment right there, is really what speech and debate is about. Even though that judge gave the speech a low grade, it impacted them, informed their behaviors, and changed how they look at the world around them. If you ask any of the coaches, they would way rather have a speech do that than win a gold medal.

Sean: It’s almost like, my job here is done. You’ve clearly figured this out, I have led you to your A-ha moment, and now you can go on living your best life.

Talon: Next time on Soapboxers. We’re talking about my favorite category, limited prep! Events where you write a speech, from scratch, in as little as two minutes. Plus, I dust off my note cards to deliver my first impromptu speech in over two years.

Hannah: I’m very excited to have Talon do an example impromptu for all of us. So go ahead and give Talon a big round of applause!


Talon: That’s next time on Soapboxers.

Talon: Soapboxers is produced by myself, Talon Stradley, and mixed by Chris Moore. Our Executive Producer is Shauhin Davari. Our theme music was created by the Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder and our podcast art was designed by the delightful, Rhiannon White. Other music in the episode was provided by Special thanks to our sponsors, Hired Judge and the Professional Speech and Debate Association. An extra special thanks to Clark Moore, John Farkas, Fuzzy, Ben Steidl, Aaron McGuire, Ali Beheshti, John Lewellen, and of course, my mom, for their support on Kickstarter. If you want to join these saints in the fiscal support of the show, you can visit us at where we have recurring and one time donation options. Check it out to get ad-free episodes, buttons, and shout-outs.

If you want to stay up to date on the show you can follow us on Instagram at SoapboxersPod. We’re also on Twitter and TikTok.

Soapboxers is a production of Newtons Dark Room, a podcast studio set to explore imagination through antiquated audio dramas and non-fiction expeditions. For more information visit

Sean: I went to a bar with my Grandma, like you do, and there was a live band. She was like “Wow, this band is really loud!” Grandma, you can’t say that kind of stuff. And she’s like “It’s ok.” And she turned down her hearing aid. That, I wish I could do that. Just like I don’t want to listen to you. Doot! Turn down my hearing aid.

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