Part 5: Preparing Your Message
The majority of speeches that corporate spokespersons are called upon to deliver, are speeches intended to be either informative or persuasive. In this chapter we’ll work through two basic outlines you can follow in organizing either a speech to inform or to persuade.
It is always important to have a clear understanding of precisely what you hope to achieve with your speech. Inexperienced speakers frequently try to achieve far too much in a single speech. It’s better to achieve just one well-identified goal in a speech, than to fall short of reaching any.
If your primary goal is to give the audience an understanding of your subject, then you should design a speech to inform. The speech to inform consists of the following five basic components:
The beginning of your speech should accomplish three objectives. First, you want to get the audience’s attention. Second, you want to establish rapport – to get the audience to like you. Third, you want to introduce your subject.
A typical opening might include one or more of the following:
In deciding what you will use in your opening, keep in mind the three objectives noted above. Don’t forget that the first words out of your mouth will probably acknowledge the introduction you just received. Failure to thank whoever introduced you will probably create a negative impression – hardly a way to begin a speech.
Never begin a speech with an apology. Speakers who kick off their speeches by degrading their speaking abilities, or by apologizing for their lack of preparation, are really telling the audience not to bother listening. Be positive; be energetic; be friendly – and the audience will listen.
When you’ve established rapport and announced your topic, the next step is to let the audience understand why they need the information you are about to present. One of the most common errors committed by speakers is failing to motivate the audience to listen by establishing the audience’s need for this information. Give the audience a compelling reason to listen to you. This concept is the same one the teacher uses when he/she tells students that “the following information will be on the next test.” They will listen and take copious notes.
In most cases, the “need” step will consist of only a few short sentences. However, the lengths to which you’ll have to go to establish your need will depend on just how resistant you expect the audience to be to your information. The more resistant they are, the more compelling the motivation you will have to offer.
This is a critical step in designing an effective speech. If you can’t verbalize a reason why your audience needs the information you want to present, then you ought to reconsider both your objective and the subject matter you’ve selected.
This is the body, the largest portion of your speech. Now that you have created a need for your audience to listen to the information, you need to satisfy that need by designing a speech that delivers what you promised.
It is important that you organize your information in an easy-to-understand format. Many organization options exist, among them:
The causal organization is the most often used and by far least effective method. Your audience can only absorb new information when they can relate it to existing information – information they already know.
After you have presented all the information that you created a need for, it’s important to point out to the audience exactly what all this means to them. How are they personally affected? How are their business or working lives changed? Are they better off now that they have the information? The more you are able to relate your presentation to your audience, the more effective your speech will be.
A good conclusion will summarize the key points you made in the presentation, and particularly emphasize your bottom-line message. Many of the techniques described above for introductions are also effective as conclusions. Your conclusion should be crisp and specific. Don’t just fade away and die with a statement like, “Well, that’s about all the time I have.”
Audiences will remember the last words you speak to them. Leave them with something worth remembering. Most standing ovations are triggered in the last few minutes of the speech, during the conclusion. A strong conclusion can salvage an otherwise mediocre speech.
If your primary goal is to get your audience to take an action, then you will be designing a speech to persuade. The speech to persuade consists of following five basic components:
The same objectives and the same techniques discussed for the informative speech apply to the persuasive speech as well.
The persuasive speech will follow a problem-solution format. First you need to describe what you say is the problem. The key is to make what you consider the problem, the audience’s problem. The following sequence of steps will help you communicate the problem to the audience:
The amount of time you elect to spend explaining the problem will depend on how willing your audience is to recognize the significance you perceive in the situation. Even when you expect the audience to already have a solid appreciation or understanding of the problem, steps “1” and “4” should be included. How well you explain the problem and relate it to your audience will, to a large extent, determine how closely they listen to your presentation.
This is an optional step; use of it depends on how supportive you think your audience will be to your solution. An audience that is totally supportive of your position doesn’t want to waste time talking about alternative solutions that they have discarded even before you begin to speak. With this audience you can proceed directly to explaining your solution. However, if your audience is either neutral or skeptical, you lose credibility when you ignore alternative solutions.
In offering alternative solutions, you should first discuss the positive aspects of each one you mention. Then you begin to systematically eliminate each alternative – by discussing the negative aspects. The negative evidence you choose should be so compelling that it can completely eliminate each alternative. One of the most persuasive types of evidence you can offer is case histories of how others have failed with similar solutions. If you can do so, demonstrate how these solutions have been tried and abandoned.
This step should comprise a large time segment of your speech. It’s here that you attempt to sell your solution – a solution that will require some specific type of action from your audience.
As with the alternative solutions you considered, discuss the negative and the positive aspects of your solution. This time, however, begin by describing the negative. Then break into a discussion of the positive aspects – which should overwhelmingly offset the negative aspects you mentioned.
Be sure to offer case histories, if any exist, of how similar problems have been resolved with your or similar solutions.
The various types of concluding statements mentioned for the informative speech are appropriate also for the persuasive presentation. In the conclusion you should summarize key points and really drive home your bottom-line message. Importantly, though, the persuasive speech conclusion must also include two additional components not usually found in the informative speech.
First, you should personally endorse the solution or action you advocate. If you have done a good job of building rapport with the audience, establishing your credentials, and gathering respect – then your personal endorsement is valuable. Giving your personal support is far more compelling to the listener than if all he/she hears is company policy or official corporate positions.
The second (and most overlooked) component is the call-to-action. You have been successful in persuading the audience to take a particular course of action; you should give them specific instructions on what to do next. You must ask for the order. The more immediate the action you’re asking for, the better the response you’ll get.
Try to have a specific, immediate action to be taken. Signing petitions, giving donations, and picking up brochures are all typical calls-to-action. You now know how to establish your objective, how to gather your raw data, and how to design outlines for your informative and persuasive speeches. Now is the time to begin writing.