Formal Vs Informal Speeches: An A-Z Guide

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Formal Speech VS Informal Speech

A speech is either formal or informal. Meaning, it can either be a formal address delivered to an audience or the daily use of grammar and words to communicate. The only purpose of either of those speeches is to put across a message well enough to invoke the desired response from your audience. Throughout history, humans all across the world cleverly inspired world-wide revolutions solely through the power of speech. Since then, a lot of tools and techniques of speeches have developed to ensure we use this power to its maximum capacity.  

The two broad classifications of events we use speeches are called formal events and informal events. Therefore, depending on the kind of audience, the situation, the message, the tone and the environment, the orator must decide whether they should address a formal speech or an informal speech. Working out where you use what kind of speech is the most important aspect of being a good communicator.

Man delivering a formal speech to a crowd

Formal Speeches

What are Formal Speeches?

Formal Speeches are made when you’re speaking to a sizable audience you don’t personally know. These are professional events where you’re expected to make a good impression on the audience. The nature of these events is often serious and decorous. These events therefore demand a similar respectable tone of language and speech.

For example, while at a job interview, speaking to an individual of authority, delivering a lecture, making a presentation, giving a pitch, motivating the audience, hosting a business event etc., you must ensure you speak formally. 

A formal business meeting

What makes a speech formal?

Formal speeches are also called orations. They are used in situations that are more ‘serious.’ They project a specific tone and specific characteristics. A few basic tools and attributes of formal speeches are:

Politeness

The tone of a formal speech is always polite and respectful. Since formal speeches are mainly used to communicate with people in authority or strangers, it is important to structure your sentences suitably. The use of civilised words, appropriate grammar, complete sentences and enhanced vocabulary maintains the decorum of a formal speech.

Objectiveness

A formal communication style usually takes no stances. The sentence is spoken in a passive voice with a minimum use of personal pronouns. When we avoid using personal pronouns such as ‘I’, ‘We’ and ‘You’, the essence of the point changes from being an opinion to a fact. Therefore, the content of your speech sounds more objective than subjective.

Effectiveness

A formal speech is more effective than an informal speech because it comprises longer sentences and clear, non-colloquial phrases. It is well-spoken and the pronunciations are fathomable and precise. Its adherence to the Standard English language makes it comprehensible for the entire audience, even the non-native English speakers. It therefore proves to be extremely effective, suitable for a workplace or a business environment.

Standard English Language

A formal speech naturally follows the standards and rules formally set by the language. Languages tend to have regional differences and additional local slang to them. Even within England, British English and Scottish English tend to have different dialects and colloquial. For example, maybe phrases like “sure-fire” or “works like a charm” are deemed normal at your workplace but you cannot expect a non-English speaking trader to know them. When we adhere to the Standard English prescribed by Oxford, everybody who has academically learnt the English language is able to understand what one is trying to say.

Clarity

The generous use of long sentences, no contractions, minimum abbreviations, proper grammar, complex sentence structure, clear pronunciation and overall objectiveness of the information brings a lot of clarity to one’s speech. There is seldom any room for doubts or misunderstandings. The extensive use of impersonal and formal language brings out professionalism and makes your information more credible.

Employees listening to a formal speech

What should you NOT include in a Formal Speech

The obvious ways of distinguishing between a formal speech and an informal speech are determined through the process of elimination. The following are a few things that you shouldn’t include in a formal speech:

Casual Greeting

There are a number of ways you can greet a person. Each kind of greeting has formal and informal versions that you can use based on how well you know the person and what degree of professionalism you are required to maintain with that person. For example,

  • Formal: Hello, how do you do?
  • Informal: Hey, how are ya?
  • Formal: Nice to meet you/ Pleased to meet you.
  • Informal: Good to see you.
  • Formal: How have you been?
  • Informal: Long time no see!

Slangs and Colloquialism

Slangs include a language that’s peculiar to a particular group, a regional reference, or even curse words. It’s extremely important to keep slang words at bay when you’re delivering a formal speech. A formal tone prescribes standard, professional English language. For example,

  • Informal: Stats say, stress is the reason why this workplace is always screwing up.
  • Formal: According to statistics, stress is one of the most frequent factors that disrupts efficiency and encourages problems in the workplace.
  • Informal: Know yourself honestly and well enough to find what stresses you out.
  • Formal: Being candid with ourselves is the most effective way to establish the triggers of stress we experience.

Contractions

Contracting words and sentences assert an informal and casual tone. If you are aiming to sound professional and polished, avoiding contractions is recommended. For example,

  • Informal: I’ve had enough, I don’t think I’m gonna let this slide the next time.
  • Formal: Your limit has been surpassed, I do not think this mistake will go unpunished the next time.

Personal Pronouns

The main characteristics of a formal speech are its impersonal nature and the precise, passive and objective delivery of information. While writing a formal speech, avoid using pronouns altogether. However, if required, try using neutral pronouns such as ‘one.’ For example,

  • Informal: I was alarmed when I found out the effects of stress.
  • Formal: The effects of stress were found to be quite alarming.
  • Informal: You shouldn’t stress out about the things you can’t control.
  • Formal: One shouldn’t take stress about the things beyond one’s control.

Poor Vocabulary

Gather your thesaurus before you write your formal speech because the better your vocabulary, more formal the content of your speech sounds. While both your sentences would mean the same thing, the tone in which they are delivered would classify them as informal speeches or formal speeches. For example,

  • Informal: He took the item back to the shop.
  • Formal: He returned the item to the shop.
  • Informal: The CEO of this company gave up his position because his mental health was being affected.
  • Formal: The CEO of this company relinquished his position due to his mental health being compromised.

How should you structure a Formal Speech?

The basic structure of a formal speech is no different than the structure of an essay. Organising your speech not only improves the clarity of thought but also amplifies the effectiveness of your content. A formal speech includes an introduction, a body and a conclusion.

The Introduction

A formal introduction establishes a respectful contact between the speaker and the listener. The introduction should last for one minute at the most. It should sound deferential and strictly adhere to formal English. How should you begin a formal speech?

The Greeting

The introduction of a formal speech can typically begin with a greeting. After wishing ‘good morning’ or ‘good evening’ depending on the time of the day, you may introduce yourself humbly. You can thank the organisers of the event for inviting you to speak or compliment a senior member of the event to pay respect. 

Acknowledging the Audience

It is polite to thank the audience for gathering to hear you out. Greet them with a genuine smile and express what an honour it is to be speaking before them today. After all, they have sacrificed their precious time to be here today.

Placing your Claim

The introduction is the most crucial segment of your speech. The curiosity you are able to pique in this part decides how much audience you will retain throughout your speech. It is extremely important you place your claim in the most catchy manner. Even in a formal speech, you can use quotes, rhetorical devices, imagery, startling elements, stories or even silence. As long as the language used is respectful, professional and follows the formal English, it can be a good opener for a formal speech. 

In case you’re looking for a few creative ways you can open your speech, you can refer to our blogpost for help!

The Body

The body makes up everything you have to say about the claim you placed in the introduction. It can have additional facts, supporting arguments and other temporal modes of organising your information. The temporal modes of organising information can be:

  1. Cause-effect relation in past, present or future tense
  2. Effect-cause relation which is basically inverting it and highlighting the effects before you state how they are achieved.
  3. Compare and contrast your entities.
  4. Narrate your topics as a story by organising the flow of the speech by finding relation and joint-relevance between two topics.
  5. Subdividing a large chunk of information into headings and subheadings is also a good topical way to organise your information formally.

The Conclusion

How do you end a formal speech? The conclusion follows the transition that was laid down by the body. The two main aims of a conclusion are to summarise the ideas of the speech and provide a closure. The conclusion of any formal speech can include:

  1. A summary of the speech.
  2. A ‘Now-What?’ statement elucidating the takeaway of the speech for the audience.
  3. A quote.
  4. A reference back to the introduction of the speech.
  5. An open-ended question to ponder upon.

If the last line of your speech is as important as the introduction segment where you make the claim. The weight and impact of the last sentence decides how memorable your speech would be. If you don’t feel like dropping the mic after the last sentence of your speech, maybe it’s not as mind-blowing and impactful as it ideally should be. 

If you are looking to seek more advice on how you can structure your formal speeches more professionally, be sure to check out our guidelines.

Coworkers informally discussing a project

Informal Speeches

Informal speeches are casual and relaxed. They are made while talking to friends, colleagues or people you personally know. There are no hard and fast rules while making an informal speech other than somehow conveying the message you want to convey. 

What makes a speech informal?

Informal speeches radiate a very comfortable and relaxed energy. They’re friendlier than formal speeches and they often carry the personality of the person addressing them. A few characteristics that can help you identify informal speeches are:

Easygoing

Since casual speeches don’t require a very strict preparation like formal speeches, they are often easygoing. Informal speeches are made sporadically and are mostly off the record. The level of ease informal speeches carry can differ from person to person given how extroverted they are, or how comfortable they are with the audience. 

Colourful

Informal speeches sound colourful. In the sense, the speaker is given the liberty to express themselves as they truly are. They don’t have a monotonous tone like formal speeches. The speaker can add their own slang, phrases they normally use, their personality, their dialects and in general make the speech as entertaining and fun as they please. 

Humourous

Informal speeches give you the artistic and comedic liberty to put forth your message. While formal speeches usually adhere to the strictness of sounding ‘serious’ and ‘professional’, informal speeches are like laid back and pleasurable conversations.

Simple

You do not normally talk in complex sentence structures or dramatically use vocabulary. Likewise, informal speeches are often simple and straightforward. They use short sentences and terms and references from day-to-day life. You may use words and phrases like ‘that’s dope’, ‘don’t be salty’, ‘bruh’, ‘I’m shook’, ‘No cap’ etc. 

Friendly

Informal speech is used in day-to-day life. Unlike other languages, most English speakers tend to speak informally with strangers on the street. While they’re friendly, they might not necessarily be polite if the listener cannot interpret the tone of your speech. 

Since informal speeches are more often used in everyday life, they don’t really have a structure. They do not require an introduction, a body or a conclusion. Apart from the unspoken rules of exchanging pleasantries and courtesy, you do not need to ‘prepare’ anything formal, just have the idea of what you want to say in mind.

A few examples of informal speeches would be:

  • A Best Man’s Speech for his Brother’s Wedding: In this example, the occasion is properly informal. The speaker is amongst friends and family, speaking about his brother and his new wife. It is hilarious and also contains a poem to deliver the message!
  • A Valedictorian Speech for the Class of 2010: In this example, while the occasion is formal, the speaker has very cleverly added a subtle informal tone while still maintaining the collective polite structure. He framed all inside jokes in a way everybody could understand. It was overall confident, humorous, ingenious and a great valedictorian speech.
A man giving a toast on his wedding

What are the Main Differences Between Formal and Informal Speeches?

The following table elucidates the main differences between formal and informal speeches, summarising all its characteristics.

Formal SpeechInformal Speech
Its tone is serious.Its tone is casual.
It sounds polite.It sounds friendly.
When overused, it can come across as cold and distant.When overused, it can come across as brash and rude.
The sentence structures are complex.The sentence structures are simple.
An extensive range of vocabulary is used.Simple words and general vocabulary is used.
Pronouns are either avoided or neutralised. For e.g. ‘one’.Personal pronouns are used expansively.
Slang and colloquial language is not used.Slang and colloquial language can be used.
The content shared is impersonal and objective.The content shared expresses one’s personality and is often subjective.
Abides by the rules of standard English.Need not strictly adhere to the rules of standard English.
Follow an introduction-body-conclusion structure.Need not follow any concrete structure.

Case Study: A Sales Pitch

Let’s study the an applied example of formal and informal speeches. The above video is a sales pitch for electric cars. There are two characters in this video, each used in informal speech and formal speech respectively. Let us analyse both their speeches to understand how you can implement the two styles in your communication. 

Informal Speech

The first man uses an informal style of speech. He begins his speech by saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, electric cars. They’re totally gay.” Naturally, in a work environment where formal tones are expected, the opening statement left all the members of the meeting stupefied. They found his speech disrespectful and all the faces around the room were either shocked, perplexed or disapproving. The casual tone could have easily been found offensive on the pretext of homophobia. He also says things like ‘rock-and-roll-ness’, ‘sexiness of the car’, ‘this model took more virginities than Francis Albert Sinatra’, which can come across as rather controversial in a formal business meeting. Gradually, the informal and blunt approach did work out for the salesperson. However, the chances of it being successful are bleak and you could just be overruled any time. Using a formal tone is therefore a safer option.

Formal Speech

The second man in the film, referred to as Nicholas, takes over and summarises the pitch using formal speech. He uses statements like, ‘We believe we can produce the technology to incorporate an electric motor in your current model.’ He said the exact same thing the first man was trying to communicate but in a far more classy manner. Instead of calling it ‘sexy’ or ‘rock-and-roll’, he refers to its features as ‘exhilarating’ and ‘aggressive’, making the experience ‘visceral’ and retaining a manly retro element of the car than making it look ‘gay’. 

This example distinguishing formal speech with informal speech hopefully gives you a thorough idea of what they are. However, when should you use formal speech? And when should you give an informal speech?

Should you use Formal Speech or Informal Speech?

Knowing what speech is best suited for the given situation always depends on the context. You should be intelligent enough to be able to recognize situations that demand a formal tone and situations that can be handled casually.

Generally, informal speeches are made at weddings while giving a toast or at birthdays to express love etc. Formal speeches are made in professional settings, work places, educational institutes, talking to authorities, job interviews, business meetings, negotiations, elders or people you don’t know.  

However, sometimes in job interviews, the interviewer can be looking for what your personality is like. In situations like this, you need to tone down how formally you talk. Some corporate cultures embrace a casual and informal tone in their business affairs while some companies prefer individuals who can maintain a strong formal and professional persona. 

When you are doubtful about what speech to use, always stick to formal speech. While informal speech is friendly, formal speech is polite. It establishes goodwill and credibility. Although it’s not good to be overly formal either. Saying “Greetings, let me guide you through the floorplans of this building so you can navigate the office easily.” is frankly absurd and foolish. Being too formal can also come across as cold, distant and ironically even impolite. You do not want to be a robot. Sometimes saying, “Good morning, allow me to give you an office tour.” does just the right thing.

To Conclude,

A good communicator can not only convey any kind of message to their audience but also convey their message to any kind of audience. And in order to achieve this, a good communicator is the master of the art of speech as well as the master of knowing the audience and what tone they would appreciate. 

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