Chapter 7: Presentations to Inform
Successfully delivering an informative speech requires adopting an audience-centered perspective. Imagine that you are in the audience. What would it take for the speaker to capture and maintain your attention? What would encourage you to listen? In this section we present several techniques for achieving this, including motivating your audience to listen, framing your information in meaningful ways, and designing your presentation to appeal to diverse learning styles.
Motivating the Listener
In an ideal world, every audience member would be interested in your topic. Unfortunately, however, not everyone will be equally interested in your informative speech. So what is a speaker to do in order to motivate the listener?
The perception process involves selection or choice, and you want your audience to choose to listen to you. Begin with your attention statement at the beginning of your speech and make sure it is dynamic and arresting. Remember what active listening involves, and look for opportunities throughout your speech to encourage active listening.
Review and consider using the seven strategies below by posing questions that audience members may think, but not actually say out loud, when deciding whether to listen to your speech. By considering each question, you will take a more audience-centered approach to developing your speech, increasing your effectiveness.
“appX Cambridge 2012 Participants” by bobfamiliar shared under a CC BY license
1. How Is Your Topic Relevant to Me?
A natural question audience members will ask themselves is, what does the topic have to do with me? Why should I care about it? Relevance means that the information applies, relates, or has significance to the listener. Find areas of common ground and build on them in your presentation.
2. What Will I Learn from You?
This question involves several issues. How much does the audience already know about your subject? What areas do you think they might not know? By building on the information the audience knows, briefly reviewing it and then extending it, illustrating it, and demonstrating the impact, you inform them of things they didn’t already know.
3. Why Are You Interested in This Topic?
Your interest in your topic is an excellent way to encourage your audience to listen. You probably selected your topic with your audience in mind, but also considered your interest in the topic. Why did you choose it over other topics? What about your topic aroused your attention? Did it stimulate your curiosity? Did it make you excited about researching and preparing a speech on it? These questions will help you clarify your interest, and by sharing the answers with your listeners, you will stimulate excitement on their part.
4. How Can I Use the Knowledge or Skills You Present to Me?
In an informative speech you are not asking your listeners to go out and vote, or to quit smoking tomorrow, as you would in a persuasive speech. Nevertheless, you need to consider how they will apply their new understanding. Application involves the individual’s capacity for practical use of the information, skill, or knowledge. As a result of your speech, will your listeners be able to do something new or understand a topic better?
5. What Is New about What You Propose to Present?
People are naturally attracted to something new, unusual or unfamiliar–but we also like predictability. As a speaker, how do you meet the two contrasting needs for familiarity and something new?
Address both. You may want to start by forming a clear foundation on what you have in common with the audience. Present the known elements of your topic and then extend into areas where less is known, increasing the new information as you progress. People will feel comfortable with the familiar, and be intrigued by the unfamiliar.
6. Are You Going to Bore Me?
You have probably sat through your fair share of boring lectures where the speaker, teacher, or professor talks at length in a relatively monotone voice, fails to alternate his or her pace, incorporates few visual aids or just reads from a PowerPoint show for an hour in a dimly lighted room. Recall how you felt. Trapped? Tired? Did you wonder why you had to be there? Then you know what you need to avoid.
Being bored means the speaker failed to stimulate you as the listener, probably increased your resistance to listening or participating, and became tiresome. To avoid boring your audience, speak with enthusiasm, and consider ways to gain, and keep gaining, their attention. You don’t have to be a standup comedian, however, to avoid being a boring speaker.
Consider the question, “What’s in it for me?” from the audience’s perspective and plan to answer it specifically with vivid examples. If your presentation meets their expectations and meets their needs, listeners are more likely to give you their attention.
You may also give some thought and consideration to the organizational principle and choose a strategy that promises success. By organizing the information in interesting ways within the time frame, you can increase your effectiveness.
7. Is This Topic Really as Important as You Say It Is?
No one wants to feel like his or her time is being wasted. What is important to you and what is important to your audience may be two different things. Take time and plan to reinforce in your speech how the topic is important to your audience. Importance involves perceptions of worth, value, and usefulness.
The presentation of information shapes attitudes and behavior. This is done through framing and content. Framing involves placing an imaginary set of boundaries, much like a frame around a picture or a window, around a story, of what is included and omitted, influencing the story itself. What lies within the frame that we can see? What lies outside the frame that we cannot see?
Setting the agenda, just like the agenda of a meeting, means selecting what the audience will see and hear and in what order. In giving a speech, you select the information and set the agenda. You may choose to inform the audience on a topic that gets little press coverage, or use a popular story widely covered in a new way, with a case example and local statistics.
Another aspect of framing your message is culture. Themes of independence, overcoming challenging circumstances, and hard-fought victories may represent aspects of certain cultures in the world. If appropriate for your topic, consider localizing your presentation to incorporate cultural values in the region or nation of your audience.
Additional Tips for Success
Andrews, Andrews, and Williams (1999) offer eight ways to help listeners learn. These are adapted and augmented here.
1. Limit the Number of Details
While it may be tempting to include many of the facts you’ve found in your research, choose only those that clearly inform your audience. You don’t want the audience focusing on a long list of facts and details only to miss your main points.
2. Focus on Clear Main Points
Your audience should be able to discern your main points clearly the first time. You’ll outline them in your introduction and they will listen for them as you proceed. Connect supporting information to your clear main points to reinforce them, and provide verbal cues of points covered and points to come.
3. Pace Yourself
Talking too fast is a common expression of speech anxiety. One way to reduce your anxiety level is to practice and know your information well. When you deliver your speech, knowing you have time, are well-prepared, and are familiar with your speech patterns will help you to pace yourself more effectively.
4. Speak with Concern for Clarity
Not everyone speaks English as their first language, and even among English speakers, there is a wide discrepancy in speaking style and language use. When you choose your language, consider challenging terms define them accordingly. As your rate of speech picks up, you may tend to slur words together and drop or de-emphasize consonants, especially at the ends of words. Doing this will make your speech harder to understand and will discourage listening.
5. Use Restatement and Repetition
There is nothing wrong with restating main points or repeating key phrases.
6. Provide Visual Reinforcement
As a speaker giving a prepared presentation, you have the luxury of preparing your visual aids with your audience in mind. Take advantage of the known time frame before your speech to prepare effective visual aids and your speech will be more effective.
7. Include Time for Questions
You can’t possibly cover all the information about a topic that every audience member would want to know in the normal five to seven minutes of a speech. In some situations, the speaker will accept and answer questions during the body of the presentations, but it is more typical to ask listeners to hold their questions until the end.
8. Look for Ways to Involve Listeners Actively
Instead of letting your audience sit passively, motivate them to get involved in your presentation. You might ask for a show of hands as you raise a question like, “How many of you have wondered about…?” You might point out the window, encouraging your audience to notice a weather pattern or an example of air pollution. Even stepping away from the podium for a moment can provide variety and increase active listening.
To present a successful informative speech, motivate your audience by making your material relevant and useful, finding interesting ways to frame your topic, and emphasizing new aspects if the topic is a familiar one.