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Chapter 7: Fault #4: Not Enough Support for Your Ideas, Concepts, and Information


"I'm glad I attended your lecture on insomnia, doctor."

"Good. Did you find it interesting?"

"Not especially, but it did cure me of my insomnia!"

- Old joke from a humor anthology

The job of a speaker is to romance information. Emily Dickinson once said, describing another writer of her day, "She has the facts, but not the phosphorescence." That phosphorescence, that inner light that shines through a powerful presenter onto his or her listeners, only comes when you appeal to an audience's emotions - not just its intellect. Any speaker would like his or her speech to be described as interesting, memorable, powerful, and never boring. And the surest route to that kind of speaking success is using support - examples, anecdotes, and other devices - throughout your talk. Without support for your facts, audiences lose involvement in what you are saying. Many speakers work to make their introduction and conclusions memorable but neglect doing the same for the body of the speech. That's understandable: It's hard to sustain an audience's involvement as you make every point. Although it may be hard, it's also essential for powerful talks. Using examples to make your talk lively is the best way to maintain that involvement. Examples with vivid language, colorful stories, and famous sources wake up the audience and earn its attention.

PEP: The Formula for Success

Here is an important piece of information that will really aid you in speaking powerfully. And it's so simple to use. For all your major points, do this: Make your point, give a descriptive example, and then remake the point as creatively as possible. That's PEP - Point, Example, Point. The PEP formula is designed to let you weave in examples and illustrations. Every major point you make needs to be supported to be memorable. You're taking advantage of how people learn (through repetition and illustration). Retention is the key to a powerful speech.

My training programs recognize the importance of retention, and I turn lessons into games and role-playing - vivid, real-life examples of principles that participants will remember far more readily than a dry synopsis. The same principle is at work in a speech; because people remember vivid stories and examples, use them to increase the level of what people remember when they listen to you.

After you have applied the PEP formula and have sorted out the various support materials, you may have material left over. If your leftovers won't group around your main points, they are probably irrelevant. Throw them out. Even if they do apply, set them aside, for they will probably make the speech too long. Make it a cardinal rule to stick to your main ideas, and get rid of the clutter. Sometimes these leftovers are handy if you ever need a longer version of your talk. I give 15-minute and 45-minute talks on the same subject and find the leftovers invaluable. But only if there's a proper place for them.

It's also possible you'll wind up with some important information that doesn't seem to fit under your main points. In this case your main points may not be broad enough. Go back to square one and restate them in a larger framework.

Give Their Brains a Right Brain Break

Why does the PEP formula work? Because it appeals to both sides of the brain, the left and the right. Different sides of the brain control different styles of thinking. The chart on page 71 lists what each side of the brain governs.

Although no one is all left-brained or right-brained, most people have a distinct preference for one style of thinking over the other; some people are more "whole-brained" and use both sides equally. Left-brain subjects focus on logical thinking, analysis, and accuracy. Right-brain subjects focus on aesthetics, feeling, and creativity. If you want to inspire, you must connect to the right brain, the emotions.

You never know how many people in your audience are left-brained, and how many are right-brained. Therefore, your presentations must always appeal to both sides of the brain. If you appeal solely to the left-brain (just the facts, ma'am), even the most left-brained members of your audience will get bored and restless, and their attention will begin to drift. Every few minutes, regain their attention and wake them up with a right-brain break by including examples, stories, and creative imagery.

Left Brain Thinking  

Right Brain Thinking  











The 3 Magical Phrases

One effective way to introduce a right-brain break is to use one of what I call "the three magical phrases." When I'm giving a presentation and tell people there are three magical phrases, they immediately get out their pads to make notes - no matter how many credentials they have or how experienced they are as speakers. That's because everyone wants an easy fix to be a better speaker. This is, in fact, one easy fix. And these magical phrases are: "It's like...," "For example...," "Just imagine...."

Those three phrases are perfect to get your audience's attention and lead them along the path you want them to follow. Suppose you're making a presentation trying to get your colleague to participate in a blood drive. You could make the presentation by stating all the facts about how many people need blood donations every day and how depleted the blood supply is. But think about how much more effective you could make your appeal by adding: "Just imagine that your loved one is in trouble and in need of blood, and there is not enough to go around." That right-brain example is more likely to lead to action than just the facts alone. (By the way, I used the right-brain trick by starting the sentence before last with "But think about....")

Here's a good use of the phrase "it's like." I once read an article in the New York Times about a probe flying to Jupiter at 106,000 miles per hour. That speed was beyond my comprehension; it did not spur my imagination at all - until the next sentence, when the author wrote that it was like going from New York to San Francisco in a minute and a half. Then I was able to picture myself sitting down in a plane, taking a deep breath, and winding up in San Francisco. The simple phrase "it's like" is a powerful example of the effect your choice of words can have on a presentation.

Examples also add power to presentations. Use them whenever you can. Suppose you wanted to tell your audience that we all have a huge amount of potential inside us; we just have to let it out. You could then add: "For example, Michelangelo claimed that he didn't create his statutes, but rather released them. Find a slab of marble, he told his younger artists, then take away everything that isn't the statue." Every time you say "for example" in a presentation, the audience's interest perks up. They know you're going to explain your idea in a different way, or a better way, or make clear something they didn't understand the first time around.

If you use the phrase "just imagine," use it only once or twice, because it stands out and people will notice if you repeat it too often. You can use "it's like" or "for example" more frequently without it becoming obvious.

Choose Your Stories With Care to Engage and Inspire

A compelling story beats a mountain of facts every time. Stories don't have to be amazing, incredible tales - often family mishaps and personal insights are very moving. Author Sue Miller stated in a 1999 New York Times article that " can make a story out of anything, anything at all. What's hard - and what's interesting - about a story is not so much the thing that's in it, but what's made of that thing."

Like any powerful tool, however, support can be overused and misused. The PEP formula ensures that your speech doesn't become a string of stories; support devices should bolster your main points, not vice versa.

Make sure your supporting examples and quotes are well rehearsed, accurate, and tie into your purpose. It's tempting to plunge ahead with a lively story or fact without checking it thoroughly; after all, no one is going to write down every word you say, and you are just trying to keep people interested. But in any field or endeavor, mistakes can come back to haunt you. The best speakers use accurate data, accepted definitions, and good sources. Finding authorities on your subject may take a little extra research, but it's worth it.

Selling Through Stories

Speakers are in the selling business, and they sell facts by using examples the audience is far more likely to retain than straight facts. Use your support to focus: All of your stories, jokes, analogies, and quotations must be related to your subject.

It's very important to get into the habit of looking for good stories that will make your speeches interesting. Audiences love people stories. During one program, I asked people to tell a story about their first driving test, first day at college, or first date - in 25 words or less. I got a wonderful variety of interesting stories, and afterward people said that was the best part of the program, because it made them realize - vividly - the importance of stories.

Technical speakers must make sure they present a vivid illustration or demonstration of their process, procedure, or discovery. By doing so, they "translate" the esoteric into the relevant. Developing this kind of support isn't just more fun for your audience; it's more fun for you too. It also shows the audience that you are comfortable with your topic and your expertise and that you care about giving the audience an enjoyable speech.

Support Is Everywhere

The best way to use support is to mix humor, quotations, analogies, and other elements - offer your audience a rich brew of stories. Mix human-interest stories with factual details and vice versa. Your sources? Try newspapers, quotation collections, industry research, memories of childhood, friends' experiences, world history, and so on. Your sources are endless. And never underestimate the power of the past. I often use a quotation from Confucius to open sessions where I'm speaking on effective management. The quotation never fails to bring nods of recognition, and looks of surprise, when people hear that Confucius came up with this wisdom around 500 B.C.! Reminding people that there's nothing new under the sun and giving your presentation a historical context are good ways to make your speech something people can relate to and remember.

Tried-and-True Sources of Support

Whether you're facing a skeptical audience, have a difficult idea to communicate, or just need support to make your topic clear and engaging, here are some of the most reliable ways to give your speech staying power. You'll keep your audience involved and its interest level high if every three or four minutes during your presentation, you tell a story, ask a question, or use a combination of the support devices that follow:

Keep Your Flourishes Coming

Speakers also get support from devices such as humor, rhetorical questions, and compliments or challenges directed toward the audience. Whether used separately or as part of an example, an analogy, or another element, these attention-getters serve to startle. They make the audience sit up and take notice, and they allow you to observe the cardinal rule of speaking: Never be boring.

A good speaker will insert some lively support every three to four minutes to keep audience involvement high and to recapture attention. A speech should be made up of a series of peaks and valleys: The peaks are the places where the speaker inserts supporting material; the valleys are the natural lows between new bits of material that make the peaks possible.

Most speakers start strong, and then plummet as they move toward the conclusion, where the excitement builds and the final point is made. But chances are that what came in the middle will be lost.

The most effective speech travels an interesting path, guiding the audience along through each section with introductions, transitions, and conclusions. Supporting material will be frequent but not so overpacked that it slows down the journey. Momentum is steady and sure, climbing up to a memorable conclusion.

The world is filled with support for your presentations. Look around, keep lists of things that strike you as appropriate, and remember to use examples to make your points effectively. Carry around a little black book to jot down support as it occurs to you. Make it an ongoing quest; you should always be looking for examples.

When we tell stories, our voices naturally become animated. Once you have amassed your support, the next step is to really use your voice, raising and lowering it for variety. Your voice is an instrument that can be used to keep your audience interested, an advantage the next chapter covers in detail.

Professional Projects: Build Interest and Involvement
  1. You have been asked to deliver an orientation address to 20 new employees. In your opening, include at least one analogy and one personal story.

  2. Start a file for quotations, stories, and all kinds of supporting materials.

  3. Recreate a story about your first date or your most embarrassing moment.

  4. For a week, read through the newspaper (USA Today is a source of good material) and come up with an anecdote that could be useful in your presentations or conversation.

  5. Commit to telling an interesting story at the next party you go to.

  6. Read the Obituaries. I found a wonderful story about Tom Landry, the former coach of the Dallas Cowboys while reading his obituary.

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