The elements of an effective speech include the themes, structure, and rhetorical and literary devices that the writer (who may not be the same person as the speaker) employ. Each speech is intended for a specific audience, which affects the choice of elements.
In June 1998, president Bill Clinton presented a speech on unity and diversity as the commencement address at Portland State University. His audience was the university’s graduating class and community, including faculty, staff, and the students’ families. Part of the president’s purpose was to share his administration immigration policy. He framed this subject within the larger theme of America’s strength through diversity.
A speech modeled on President Clinton’s themes would likewise center on what he identifies as potentially the most important subject of all: how we can strengthen the bonds of our national community as we grow more racially and ethnically diverse.
The president explores both the persistent problems and the limitless possibilities of American diversity. He focuses on immigration as a source of diversity. While concentrating on contemporary issues of increased immigration, Clinton also presents numerous historical aspects of immigration. Overall, as President Clinton emphasizes strength and unity as positive American values, a speech modeled after this one would also emphasize positive aspects of the themes presented.
In regard to structure, it will be useful to review the entire speech, which is several thousand words long. Examine the sequence of elements to see which ones he presents first, the extent to which he repeats key elements, and where and how he introduces different types of information. For example, the first few paragraphs consist of general statements that indicate his overall goals and the general tone of the speech and emphasize his connection to his audience and to all Americans. He then shifts abruptly to a historical example, reminding the audience that immigration and discrimination are not new issues.
So great was the hatred of Irish immigrants 150 years ago that they were greeted with signs that read, "No Dogs or Irish."
After next introducing the Constitution as an important document, the president makes his most emphatic statement of position:
Let me state my view unequivocally. I believe new immigrants are good for America.
In crafting a similarly structured speech, one can examine the remainder of the president’s address to see how he supports that position.
Rhetorical devices used in a speech such as this one, which is primarily persuasive, are likely to appeal to ethos, logos, and pathos. Notice how the president repeatedly refers to the audience as Americans and “us,” emphasizing that what is “ours” as a people is strengthened by unity in diversity.
Another device he employs effectively is anaphora, which is the repetition of initial words in several sentences. In the paragraph about his view, he lays out why immigrants are “good for America,” with four sentences employing the same structure; in the next paragraph, he uses a different sentence structure but also repeats it. This has the combined effects of emphasizing the points that he is making and retaining the audience’s attention by helping them anticipate what he will say next.
“They are revitalizing our cities,” he states, then uses additional sentences beginning, “They are” followed by positive action verbs: building, strengthening, energizing, renewing—as well as repeating what “they” do for “our things.” That paragraph ends with “reminding us all of what it truly means to be an American,” a phrase that forms the core of his repeated statements in the next paragraph: “It means working hard, like a teenager from Vietnam.” The other sentences beginning with “It means” are similarly followed by “making a better life” and, finally, “dreaming a big dream.”
The last phrase uses the literary device of allusion, as the president echoes one of America’s most famous speeches: Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. President Clinton thus connects his speech to that of other persuasive orators and to the values and achievements of the civil rights movement.