"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.
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.
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
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.
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 "...you 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.
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.
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.
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:
Facts. A fact is simply a statement that can be verified, either by referring to a third source or by direct observation. Facts give your opinions weight and add objectivity to your pronouncements. Without facts, you have no credibility. The key is not to bore your audience with too many of them.
Figures and Statistics. Succinct and unblinking, numbers can provide startling punctuation to any presentation and are mandatory in many technical ones. But numbers cannot communicate on their own. Some numbers are so vast they require further illustration, such as the national deficit. A good speaker will "translate" this huge sum into a stack of $100 bills and tell the audience how tall that stack is.
Definitions. They allow you to inquire into the nature of something, usually by identifying it with a general class and then specifying its particular qualities. For example, a man (the word to be defined) is a type of mammal (general class) that walks upright (particular quality).
Using the dictionary is always a good source, though definitions can vary. Select the definition that suits you. For instance, if you want to call attention to marketing's sheer scope, you can define it as "the coordination of all activities - including planning, research, and selling - necessary to get a product or service from a seller to a buyer."
Definitions don't have to be serious; many speakers use pithy, witty quotations to zero in on a point they want to cover. Here's how Ambrose Bierce defined egotist: "A person more interested in himself than in me." Sometimes it's fun (and memorable) to make up your own definitions.
Examples. Usually brief, examples are incidents or objects that prove or clarify a generalization you're making. As support, examples are everywhere and often serve to introduce compelling facts and statistics. A manager trying to prove it's possible to cut costs in his division without cutting personnel will persuade his audience with examples (that is, the actual dollar savings attached to various changes in procedure).
While you will usually want to use examples to prove or elaborate on your point, you can also use them to form a positive point of view. For example, as XYZ Manufacturing Company has shown, if you don't cut personnel, here's what will result: Morale will rise, employees will work harder, and profits will increase.
Illustrations. These are more detailed than examples, often offering point-by-point clarification.
To illustrate the above stance on not cutting personnel, you could go step by step and show how the company was still able to cut costs through a better hiring process, and then take your listeners through that process.
Anecdotes and Personal Stories. These are stories or experiences used to illuminate but not necessarily to prove a point. Many speakers use anecdotes and personal stories - often about themselves - to establish rapport, break the ice, or subtly reinforce the point they are making. Anecdotes tend to be human-interest stories and can have real staying power with an audience.
Authority. Cite an authority when you use a reliable, recognized source to support your point.
Quotations. A favorite of many speakers, quotations allow you to bring in an authority, an example, and often some humor - all at once. And because many quotations that have survived through the ages tend to be pithy and profound, speakers instantly inject both qualities into their speech. A favorite of mine is John Kenneth Galbraith's quote that modesty is a much overrated virtue. The quote (or the person quoted) doesn't have to be well known to be effective, it just has to be relevant and help you make your point.
Testimony. Usually more directly relevant to the speaker's points than a quotation, testimony is corroborating evidence - proof in someone else's words that supports your view. In my talk "The Power of Questions: How to Use Questions to Lead, Succeed, and Activate Change," I quote Michael Bloomberg as sharing that there is an indivisible bond between the people who have the right information and the people who succeed. I got this quote from him several years ago, but now that he is the mayor of New York City, it makes my information even more credible.
Analogies. A set of parallel conditions that throw light on what is being discussed by their similarity and familiarity, analogies are very useful in technical presentations. Use a "domestic" analogy, one that defines the esoteric in terms that are close to home. Best-selling author Dr. Richard Seizer makes medicine seem immediate when he writes phrases such as, "a surgeon, who palms the human heart as though it were some captured bird." The best analogies have a little bit of surprise - the surprise that leads to retention.
Restatements. Because it is the business of a good speaker to condense and edit, restatements help you find and present the essence in a long-winded point you need to include. By putting things into your own words, which is why you were asked to speak in the first place, restatements let you speak with the authority of the facts behind the statement without losing your own talent.
Historical Background. Most presentations need some sort of context to be persuasive. Be sure your audience has the background necessary to understand the implications of your presentation. Don't make the mistake of assuming the topic you're talking about is common knowledge. Astute speakers will present their background material in such a way that it also supports their contentions.
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.
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.
Start a file for quotations, stories, and all kinds of supporting materials.
Recreate a story about your first date or your most embarrassing moment.
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.
Commit to telling an interesting story at the next party you go to.
Read the Obituaries. I found a wonderful story about Tom Landry, the former coach of the Dallas Cowboys while reading his obituary.