The Epideictic or Ceremonial Speech

Contents of this Section

Public Speaking Home Page

The Basic Course

The Epideictic or Ceremonial Speech: An Overview

An epideictic or ceremonial speech is a speech of praise or blame, celebration or thanksgiving, condemnation or mourning. Ceremonial speaking stresses that sharing of identities and values that unites people into communities (Osborn and Osborn, p. 426). Eulogies, Fourth of July orations, speeches of condemnation or commendation, farewell addresses, etc. are instances of epideictic discourse. Ceremonial speeches often serve to establish standards for action or provide the ethical and moral basis for future arguments.

You should use language that is clear, vivid, inspiring and arousing. Your style will be critical in the delivery of the epideictic speech; style is your word preference and syntax (i.e., the structure of your sentences). Two major techniques of ceremonial speaking are identification and magnification.

Identification creates the feeling of closeness, familiarity, universality.

Magnification expounds overcoming obstacles, exceeding the boundaries, shifting paradigms, achieving the unparalleled, benefiting humankind.

The language you choose will influence how your audience will envision the subject. Words express an attitude toward the object, the idea, the event, or the person. Your words will convey a perspective or a reality.

Five basic guidelines for the epideictic speech (Cohn, 1992):

Speeches of Introduction

The speech of introduction welcomes the speaker, establishes his or her ethos, and tunes the audience for the message to follow. The introduction should place the speaker within the context of the topic to be presented, the occasion, or the context that has special meaning for the audience (Osborn and Osborn, p. 441). Make certain you:

  1. ... know how to pronounce the speaker's name.
  2. ... ask the speaker what s/he would like you to emphasize
  3. ... make the speaker feel welcome
  4. ... foucs on the relevant areas of the speaker's background (i.e., relevant to the topic, audience, and/or occassion)
  5. ... spotlight the topic or title of the speech; introduce the speaker, do not present the speech.
  6. ... be brief, warm, and gracius.

Presenting Awards or Honors

There are four basic guidelines (ref. Sprague and Stuart, 1996) you should follow when presenting an award or honor:

Accepting An Award or Tribute

After receiving an award or honor, you may be expected to respond with a speech of acceptance. Your speech should express gratitude, an acknowldegement of the group presenting you with the award, and recognition of the underlying principles and values the award or tribute represents. We suggest you follow these guidelines when accepting an award or tribute:

The Group Presentation:

Panels, Forums, and Symposiums

There are many styles and formats for this type of presentation. One critical consideration for any participant is to know the other presenter(s). As part of your preparation, try to contact the other presenter(s) or read abstracts of their work or on the topic to be discussed. Other elements you should consider are:

Presenting A Memorial or Eulogy

There are six basic guidelines (ref. Sprague and Stuart, 1996) when delivering a eulogy or memorial address:

Public Prayer

Here are three guidelines for presenting a public prayer:

Verbal Style

Finally, we would like to leave you with a menu of stylistic devices ranging from the use of repetition to expansion/contraction and contrasts. The following snippets were taken from Public Speaking, by Ellen R. Cohn (University of Pittsburgh, External Studies Program; Study Guide, Ceremonial Speaking, 5.1-5.18)

Devices That Argue Through Repetition
Alliterations: repetitions of identical sounds in success words (e.g., "Shall we sit in complacency, lulled by creative comforts until we are engulfed in chaos?")
Antimetaboles: repetitions of words in successive clauses, but in reversed order (e.g., "Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country")
Climaxes: place items in series according to rising importance or emotional, connotation; evoke mounting feelings (e.g., "Hope has returned ...and with that hope burns a flame of anger ... and still more fiercely burn the fires of hatred...")
Polysyndetons/asyndetons: insertions of definite articles or conjunctions where they would not ordinarily be expected; argues by jarring expectations (e.g., "But the faces of truth and love and courage and honesty and generosity and sympathy" .. or .. "Well, there you have it: melody, rhythm, tone, color, form, harmony").

Devices That Argue By Comparison
Analogy: by putting potentially comparable statements next to one another, analogy argues for similarity between ideas.
Metaphor: application of a term or phrase to something to which it is not literally applicable; the metaphor can enhance, denigrate, or embellish.
Allegory: Events, characters, or objects are given metaphorical meanings; argues to transferring feelings associated with the allegorical object to whatever the object is compared to (e.g., Roosevelt used "man with a muck-rake" to claim that journalists are as disagreeably interested in attacking others as the man with the rake was in dirt on the floor").
Onomatopoeia: using a word that imitates in sound something associated with the thing names (e.g., Spiro Agnew suggested commentators "gaggle like geese" and implied that they had similar wisdom).
Synecdoche: identifying something by naming part of it or identifying a part by naming the whole (e.g., "All Germany is the Nazi mind").

Devices That Enlarge or Expand
Allusions: terms which, by being mentioned, are alleged to be related to what one is otherwise saying; argues certain items are relevant (e.g., "Freedom of speech exists in America? What about Bobby and Martin?" Bobby and Martin refer to Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King).
Cumulation: compiling related items, sometimes incorporating climax; argues by adding weight to ideas (e.g., "What about social welfare programs, social security system, and unemployment?").
Oxymoron: a seemingly contradiction (e.g., referring to "business ethics" ... or ... "military intelligence").

Devices That Direct or Constrain Meaning
Quantifying terms: assign some specified degree of fullness or emptiness; directs, and limits the listeners' thoughts (e.g., "There are only one or two ways to solve this problem").
Definitions: formal statements that denote meaning (i.e., what is from what is not).
Retraction: verbally canceling out something already said; signal the speaker is retracing her steps and thereby becomes proof of the importance of the idea.

Devices That Contrast
Antithesis: juxtaposition of terms, phrases, clauses, or statements (e.g., "Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.").
Hyperbole: exaggerate; evoke emotions that will color the realities (e.g., "The chair of that committee is a child.").
Irony: a statement that allows the real meaning to be recognizably opposite of the literal meaning (e.g., "Nixon's fib was exaggerated.").
Understatement: saying less than what is actually meant.

Here are a few speeches you may want to take a look at !

Brigham Young University--Jeffery Holland

Brigham Young University--Hugh Nibley

Other speeches found in

Public Speaking, 3rd edition by Michael Osborn and Susan Osborn (1994):

Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech
by Elie Wiesel

The Trials of Malcolm X
by Ronnie Davis

University of South Carolina Commencement Address
by Bill Cosby

Public Speaking Home Page

The Basic Course

Readings and References

Cohn, E.R. (1992) Public Speaking. University of Pittsburgh, External Studies Program; Study Guide, Ceremonial Speaking, 5.1-5.18.

Osborn, M. and Osborn, S. (1994). Public Speaking. 3rd edition. Houghton Mifflin Co: Boston.

Sprague, J. and Stuart, D. (1996). The Speaker's Handbook. 4th ed. Harcourt Brace College Publishers: Orlando.