Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Usually, speakers spend little time being concerned about introductions or conclusions. Most of the time is spent on the body of the speech. Their concern is for the main content of the speech and not for those who are expected to listen, or even how the listeners might use the content.

Clearly, if the audience doesn’t listen in the first place, they are not going to recall what you said. But, once you have established a plan for getting and holding their attention with a well planned introduction you need to provide them with an effective way to recall what you’ve said.

There are several things that you can do. A list of ideas, concepts and/or actions will help your listeners recall what you have said. Even a day or so later should someone ask what your speech was about, thanks to the plan you developed they are able to recall all or most of what you said. Sometimes a word can be a useful tool.

For example, you are speaking on the responsibilities of piloting an airplane and you know that there are many things to recall. You want your audience to get a glimpse of the challenge facing pilots. In order to help the audience retain what you have said you list things to be checked. Then you explain during your speech that these things must be remembered to assure a safe flight. These are the things you must check:


In order to recall all of the items to be checked you create a mnemonic device: a word easily recalled that represents every item on the safety checklist. How ‘bout CIGARS? That should do the trick. Now you can explain to your audience the importance of pre-flight checks and have them remember what you said.

A little thought in advance may make a huge difference to the listener.


The introduction to a speech usually does not receive the attention it deserves. The reason is likely that we spend most of our time on the body of the speech, which is the reason we are speaking in the first place. The body gets all the attention and the introduction and conclusion get nearly nothing.

The fact is that the introduction deserves considerable attention. In fact, it deserves a plan. The listener wants to know why they should bother to spend the time and energy necessary to focus on what you’re going to say. If it can be avoided, they will wander off in their thoughts to anything more pleasant and less energy consuming. Remember, focus requires that the individual listen, interpret, sort, store and recall what is being said. That can be very tiring. If the listener is going to spend the energy what’s in it for them?

Consider the audience: what are they willing to spend their energy on? Can you tie your topic to anything that most of the audience would consider to be of importance? They will likely consider such things as social success, money, security, etc. Once you have that in mind, tie your topic to one of those interests. Now they have a reason to listen.

For example: I can enjoy watching a golf tournament on TV. I can talk about the things I have seen during the tournament and my wife will not understand or care. For her watching a golf tournament is like watching grass grow. If I hope to involve her in a conversation about golf, I need to give her a pretty good reason why it is important to her. If I fail to do that, I have failed to gain and hold her attention. That means, I can talk all day long with the best possible delivery about golf and she won’t listen and she won’t care. Without having the audience share your interest in your topic you are just flapping your gums. Tie the subject to you audience and do it with a plan.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Organization Is Important

“Well, why didn’t you say that in the first place?” That’s an expression many of us have heard often over the years. Why would anybody say such a thing? Simple: had they understood your starting point clearly they would have had a better chance to understand everything else you have said.

Organization is important and should never be ignored. Just because something is clear in your mind doesn’t mean that it will be clear to others. If they had the same understanding you do of the subject, then you might be able to assume that whatever is clear to you should be clear to them. But their understanding is bound to be different. The world that they have created in their mind is different from the world you’ve created in yours. That means that you are going to have to proceed with caution, step by step, using examples, definitions, illustrations, stories, statistics and other materials to build your idea in their mind.

The more time you spend building an organization that will make clear what you’re thinking the more likely those you are talking to will understand what you are trying to communicate. In part, our impatience with organization comes from the belief that “all reasonable people are pretty much like I am.” Even if that were true in general it isn’t true in particular. You have built your world one experience at a time over several months or years. Now you have to provide the equivalent information in the proper order to empower them to understand what you are saying.

Organization is key. The better you are at the following thought processes the more likely that you will be effective at speaking.
1. Focus on your knowledge base. What do I know about my chosen topic? What is the goal of my communication?
2. Focus on the audience—what do they know about my topic? What will they need to know to understand what I’m talking about?
3. What do I want them to think, or be able to do? Can I state it in a simple declarative sentence and does it cover basically one topic?
4. How can I arrange my materials to produce the outcome I want/need? What do they need to know in general and in what order for them to understand?
5. Can I say it in such a way that they will see that it is important to them, easy to understand and memorable? Will they be able to explain to another person later what you have said?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Speech Writers: Good or Bad?

Presidents of the United States have used speech writers for years. From one point of view, that may mean that we never know how our president really feels about the issues. The speech writers interpret what the power structure behind the president wants communicated and gives it to the president to read. With the issues so very complicated and important why not have the added protection of a literate group providing the president and through his/her voice give us insight into what should be done?

In fact, as we watch our presidents age visibly while they are in office and we recognize how enormously complicated the issues facing us are why should we expect them to completely understand all the issues. Many of the issues our nation faces are bound to impact the entire globe. Folk who are experts must advise the president at all levels, at all times about all things and that probably should include speech writing.

On the other hand, we all remember campaign promises that never seem to be priorities after the election has been won. We wonder what ever happened to those promises. It makes each of us a little more cynical than we were the year before. Circumstances change constantly and alter the actions necessary. "What ever happened to the person I voted for?" That's a question we've all asked at some point. The fact is, what ever happened to us that we have made so many changes and adaptations to fit our new positions in life. Change happens. We adjust and we understand that from our point of view. It is much harder to understand how our issues can be so easily abandoned by our president and congress.

So are speech writers a really good idea? Can you imagine presidents you don't like writing their own speeches? Can you imagine any of us actually saying what we think without some sort of filter? Speech writers are good to have if you hope to have a smooth running organization. Simple words poorly chosen can cause huge furors over things on which we don't really want to spend time and resources. The question isn't really are speech writers ethical to use, but instead are the folk who use them ethical.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

How To Handle Fear

Fear of "performing" in public seems to be natural to almost everyone. And there are some good reasons why: the feeling that you're going to make a fool of yourself, the feeling that people will lose respect for you are a couple of examples.

Two keys to success.

1. Focus on your audience and their needs. It is true that you need to have some concerns about yourself in this process, but at the center of your thoughts is a concern for the audience and their needs. Through the entire process of preparation your focus must be on your audience: why should they care about this topic, what do they already know, what do they need to know, what form of presentation will aid them the most in understanding and retaining what you have to say, and what kinds of materials, examples, illustrations, graphics, statistics and other supporting materials will aid them.

It is only natural to be concerned about your personal needs. Will I make mistakes? Of course, but that isn't a problem, you even know what kinds of mistakes you are prone to make. Acknowledge that fact and prepare something that can be said when you make the mistake. Practice saying what you have to say to individuals and small groups so that you and your brain get used to talking about this topic. Know what you're going to wear and then before you stand up to speak, check everything out to be certain that everything that can be done about your appearance has been done and then put yourself out of your mind. Focus on the audience.

2. Focus on your message. Ask yourself why your audience needs to know what you're going to talk to them about. Think of a method that will create interest and a needy feeling for the information you are going to share. Tell them a short story or give them a short example and then move into the main reason you are speaking to them. Be certain that the elements that will be necessary for them to understand and retain are clearly stated and in some memorable form. That would mean you had thought about the best overall way to talk about your topic and noted that in an organizational plan that you can recall and will guide their thinking.

Feel like a missionary. Feel like they will be better off after having heard you than they were before and that they will realize it. Relax, have an enlarged conversation with the individual members of the audience about the topic. Don't be concerned about being perfect in your presentation, instead worry about them taking with them the important message you have for them.

These two items, focus on your audience and focus on your message for them, will carry you a long way toward a successful presentation.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Gather and Use Information Effectively

When most of us were in school we tended to look at the process of gathering information as the fulfillment of an assignment. Assignments are not necessarily things that we enjoy and they require us to do things and use time in ways that we would rather not.

But in fact, that isn't entirely true. We should look at the other side of information gathering. If snowboarding is your thing, then the more you can learn from nearly any source the more likely you will enjoy your experiences and the better you will look to your peers. It really isn't work and it doesn't mean we're forced to do things we don't enjoy.

That is one of the reasons why we should follow our interests: that almost never is something we want to avoid and it makes learning much easier. Oddly enough if we can make a good living from doing the things that interest us work will not be nearly so difficult. Instead, we will look forward to doing what we enjoy. Further, if we are working for a busy person, then sooner or later we will be asked to speak on their behalf. We may not look forward to the speaking itself, but we will be confident that we know what we're talking about and that we can tell people what they need to know. The "research" of the project is something that we would do not matter what our role in life might be.

Explaining things to people about subjects you enjoy will be made easier because you enjoy talking about those things. The real trick is to find a way to get paid to do what you most enjoy doing. Just to prepare yourself to do a job that pays well without regard to your interest is asking to really hate your job.

I'm equally certain that choosing someone to live with is much better when you choose someone that you really want to be with as much as possible. When you select someone that you think everybody else wants to live with you're headed for trouble.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Growing Together

There are many problems in communication and we should avoid all of them. Unfortunately, we don't even recognize all of them and many we see looking back at what we should have done. One of the problems that we must be aware of is the maintenance of relationships.

We seem to be able to get ourselves into relationships fairly easily. Some relationships we wish had never happened. Then we have a huge set of problems that we must solve. But, on the positive side, how do we maintain the relationships with which we are delighted.

1. Relationships are not static. They cannot be successfully put aside and then taken up again later as if nothing happened. Relationships are like us: an ongoing process which is never finished. When we attempt to set them aside they immediately begin to deteriorate and fall apart. If we wish to maintain the relationship over time we must work at the relationship actively. A relationship is either growing or dying: there is no middle ground.

2. Gather and share knowledge. Since within interpersonal relationships things are constantly changing you must find a way to keep up with the changes. A huge amount of information is gathered by what we see, smell, feel, hear and lift. That is the non-verbal content that is so important to all communication. If you aren't there to gather that non-verbal data it will probably be missed. The verbal side is critical because it helps us to define the non-verbal information we gather. If we are short on data from these two sources you can count on the fact that the relationship is at risk.

Put another way, if your life style requires that you be absent for large portions of your life, even if you get together at least at home, then you don't know what is going on. If you don't know then you don't know what to say or do. If that is true the only thing that is holding you together in a relationship is convenience/habit. You can't be aware of what is happening inside another individual unless you are around them and able to observe as well as talk about what you think you're seeing.

To gather and share mutual knowledge requires the careful use of time. Our society wants you and your time and will if given the opportunity dominate your time and energy. If you don't set aside the time and energy your relationship is doomed. The high rate of divorce in the United States is an example of this outcome. Try to view your partner in this relationship in as many contexts as possible. That we give you and them the opportunity to see what is going on as well as hear about the details.

3. Avoid the illusion of having "many friends." There isn't enough time or energy on the planet to have many close friends since the communications necessary are so time and energy hungry.

4. Never stop the sharing and pursuit of more information. You may think that you now have established a stable and permanent relationship only to discover that you were wrong. I've heard it said many times that there is no such thing as "too much money." That's probably not true. It is true that you probably cannot have or share too much knowledge/information about your most prized interpersonal relationship. The faster the growth and change in the two of you the more likely that you're going to need to work at keeping up with the change.

To maintain a worthwhile relationship you must plan and execute a system that will enable you to spend time experiencing and talking with your significant other or you can count on nagging problems, some of which may involve things like divorce.