Informing through Definition
Informing through definition entails defining concepts clearly and concisely and is an important skill for informative speaking. There are several ways a speaker can inform through definition: synonyms and antonyms, use or function, example, and etymology.Rudolph Verderber, Essentials of Informative Speaking: Theory and Contexts (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1991), 53–55. Defining a concept using a synonym or an antonym is a short and effective way to convey meaning. Synonyms are words that have the same or similar meanings, and antonyms are words that have opposite meanings. In a speech about how to effectively inform an audience, I would claim that using concrete words helps keep an audience engaged. I could enhance your understanding of what concrete means by defining it with synonyms like tangible and relatable. Or I could define concrete using antonyms like abstract andtheoretical.
Identifying the use or function of an object, item, or idea is also a short way of defining. We may think we already know the use and function of most of the things we interact with regularly. This is true in obvious cases like cars, elevators, and smartphones. But there are many objects and ideas that we may rely on and interact with but not know the use or function. For example, QR codes (or quick response codes) are popping up in magazines, at airports, and even on t-shirts.Andy Vuong, “Wanna Read That QR Code? Get the Smartphone App,” The Denver Post, April 18, 2011, accessed March 6, 2012,http://www.denverpost.com/business/ci_17868932. Many people may notice them but not know what they do. As a speaker, you could define QR codes by their function by informing the audience that QR codes allow businesses, organizations, and individuals to get information to consumers/receivers through a barcode-like format that can be easily scanned by most smartphones.
A speaker can also define a topic using examples, which are cited cases that are representative of a larger concept. In an informative speech about anachronisms in movies and literature, a speaker might provide the following examples: the film Titanic shows people on lifeboats using flashlights to look for survivors from the sunken ship (such flashlights weren’t invented until two years later);The Past in Pictures, “Teaching Using Movies: Anachronisms!” accessed March 6, 2012,http://www.thepastinthepictures.wildelearning.co.uk/Introductoryunit!.htm. Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar includes a reference to a clock, even though no mechanical clocks existed during Caesar’s time.Scholasticus K, “Anachronism Examples in Literature,” February 2, 2012, accessed March 6, 2012,http://www.buzzle.com/articles/anachronism-examples-in-literature.html. Examples are a good way to repackage information that’s already been presented to help an audience retain and understand the content of a speech. Later we’ll learn more about how repackaging information enhances informative speaking.
Etymology refers to the history of a word. Defining by etymology entails providing an overview of how a word came to its current meaning. The Oxford English Dictionary is the best source for finding etymology and often contains interesting facts that can be presented as novel information to better engage your audience. For example, the word assassin, which refers to a person who intentionally murders another, literally means “hashish-eater” and comes from the Arabic word hashshashin. The current meaning emerged during the Crusades as a result of the practices of a sect of Muslims who would get high on hashish before killing Christian leaders—in essence, assassinating them.Oxford English Dictionary Online, accessed March 6, 2012, http://www.oed.com.