The Relationship of Empathy to Effective Speaking: Critical and Creative Thinking in the Speech Process

Date of Completion


Document Type

Open Access Capstone

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

Delores B. Gallo


Many factors influence the success of a speaker in speaking effectively before an audience. In teaching speech communication to students, I have focused on factors over which the students have some control in preparing and presenting speeches for an audience. Particularly, I have encouraged the development of critical and creative thinking skills and dispositions as the students focus on engaging closely with their topics, in preparing messages for their audiences, and in selecting styles of delivery. This study investigates the influence of activities which elicit empathy in helping students to think in this way. Nineteen high school sophomores were encouraged to think critically and creatively in preparing and presenting seven speeches of increasing challenge to earn speech communication skills and dispositions in a nine week term. Empathy is defined here as an intrapersonal communication process composed of cognitive and affective components. Student work was measured by an empathy continuum scale created for the complex aspects of the speech preparation process, attending to the degree of empathy I observed in the students for their topics and their audiences. This study presents a qualitative analysis of the work of six students selected on the basis of their task commitment and speech aptitude as revealed in the first speech task. These case studies are supported with quantitative analyses of data I collected from the students, including student rankings for themselves and their eighteen peers for: empathy for the topic and audience, best speaking in the term, best delivery skills, most improvement in the term, and task commitment. The written and oral empathy activities facilitated the students' engagement with their topics and audiences even when the students lacked a positive disposition towards the speech domain. Given satisfactory task commitment, the students who emphasized to some degree with their topics and their audiences were positively influenced in the growth of speech skills and dispositions.


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