Answer the central dramatic question for guaranteed success

Updated: Nov 1, 2018

Have you ever listened to a speech and wondered, ‘Why did that person give that speech?’ Most likely, they presented the audience with a central dramatic question – and then didn’t answer it.

What is the central dramatic question?

The central dramatic question is the problem or issue that we present to the audience. You can think of it as the central issue of the speech. After the audience leaves the building, they will be thinking, this is what the speech was about.

It might be in the first few lines. It could be the first few paragraphs. Whichever it is, it needs to be near the beginning of our speech.

If the speech is about ourselves, it will be a problem that we have faced. If it’s about someone or something else, then it will be about them.

The speech types

In entertaining speeches, the speaker may begin by talking about their childhood. The speech therefore will be about what the speaker’s life was like growing up, and how it affected them as an adult.

In a persuasive speech, the speaker may begin by talking about the issue of domestic violence. The promise of the speaker is that the speech will provide some kind of answer to this issue.

In an inspirational speech, the speaker may talk about achieving goals. The promise is that a method of doing this will be provided.

In an informative speech, the speaker may begin by talking about plastic pollution. The promise is that a solution to the issue will be provided.

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What does the unanswered question look like?

What does a speech look like when the speaker doesn’t fulfill the opening promise of their speech? Here’s some wrong answers using the above examples:

Question: Childhood is an important part of everyone’s life, don’t you think?

Answer: Airplanes are the best way to travel.

Question: Domestic violence is a terrible problem.

Answer: The Dewey system is an excellent way to categorize books.

Question: We all need goals. Without them, our lives have no order.

Answer: Dogs are great.

Question: Plastic pollution is one of the biggest problems facing the world today.

Answer: …and so that’s how you cook lasagna.

I know these seem like ridiculous examples – but I’ve seen people do this! People start on one subject and their speech meanders all over the place! The central dramatic question must be answered by the end. It must be resolved. Your audience will feel cheated if you don’t do this. Novels make this promise all the time. So do speeches.

Questions and answers

Here are some examples of central dramatic questions and their resolutions:

Question: I didn’t learn how to read when I was a child. I was illiterate.

Answer: I met someone when I turned 21 who helped me to read. I’m now a professor at a university.

Question: I could never meet the right man. They always turned out to be nasty or abusive.

Answer: I changed my thinking, and finally met a guy who changed my life forever.

Question: The ground in one of our local fields had become contaminated by waste over the years. Nothing would grow there.

Answer: Years of careful rejuvenation eventually turned the field into a parkland that is enjoyed by all.

Question: No one had ever traveled to the moon. It was considered impossible.

Answer: Man finally landed on the moon in 1969. Centuries of dreaming had finally become reality.

Remember, this is the promise made to your audience. If you present the problem, you must present the solution.

If you keep your promise, your audience will love you.

Likable links: Screenwriting Iowa & Narrative First


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