In a time where loyalties were divided, and the colonists were unsure if war with England was the answer, those who believed in the idea of freedom from tyranny had to speak out and plead their case. This was done in popular pamphlets such as Common Sense, by Thomas Paine, and by delivering public speeches, such as Patrick Henry did to the Virginia Provincial Convention in 1775. While many were arguing for a compromise with the British King, Patrick Henry and Thomas Paine were arguing for a complete break - not only with the king, but with history.
Henry’s speech is one of the most famous of the time, as it ends with one of the most famous ultimatums ever delivered: “Give me liberty, or give me death.” Important themes visited in this speech include the nature of true patriotism, the necessity of courage, the importance of sacrifice, and the ironic choice between freedom and slavery. These messages resonated with the colonists, and ultimately this speech was one of the most influential factors in the colonists’ final decision to declare their independence from England.
Speeches have defined and changed the course of history. No doubt, students will be familiar with one of the most powerful orators in history: Adolf Hitler. Hitler’s ability to sway an audience with his tone, his gestures, his facial expressions, and his presence was the result of hours’ of practice, analysis, and critique. Ultimately, we know his speeches were successful, as he dragged millions of people into his madness. There have been other powerful speeches throughout history as well that have had incredible impacts on the people who heard them.
Have students examine some of the important speeches that have shaped history, including:
Every speech writer must first think of SPAM: Situation, Purpose, Audience, and Method. Have students review the following SPAM model of public speaking:
What is the occasion? Where? What time? What opportunities can be used from the situation to make the speech stronger?
What is the speaker’s goal in making the speech? How does the situation define the speech’s purpose? What’s the point?
What are the demographics of the audience? (i.e., gender, age, race, income, profession, etc.) The audience is part of the occasion. The purpose needs to affect this specific audience.
What methods will best accomplish the purpose, or goal, of the speech? Which method will best appeal to a particular audience, and occasion? Methods can include deciding to use formal language, what kinds of rhetorical persuasion will work best, or even what tone will be most effective.
Check out our History lesson plans for more information and activities about the American Revolution!