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What’s the Point?

Define the purpose of your speech to avoid losing your audience.

By Bill Brown, DTM

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Click play to hear author Bill Brown, DTM, give additional tips on making a point in your presentation.

Have you ever listened to a speech or presentation and wondered, “Where are they going with this? What is the point?” I suspect the speaker didn’t have a clear understanding of their speech purpose. How do you avoid this in your own speeches?

Let’s look at two key questions to ask as you plan your presentation.

The first question is “What do I want my listeners to think, feel, and/or do differently when I am done?” Do you want them to change their position on an issue? Do you want them to get excited about your cause? Do you want them to take some sort of action? Be specific here.

Next, ask yourself, “What is the purpose of my presentation? Given my answer to the first question, what does that mean I have to do in my speech?”

You might say, “That seems like an unnecessary step. I know what I want to do. I just sit down and write my speech.” This reminds me of the stories we hear about people who are trying to navigate through the woods when there is no trail. All too often they end up walking around in circles and get lost.

It is best to pick a direction, and find a landmark you can keep constantly before you. That way you know you are moving toward your goal. That is analogous to defining the purpose of your speech. Your purpose statement is your landmark.

For many presentations, the purpose is to inform. It is not, however, just to inform, but to inform the listeners of specific information. If a fact or story does not connect with that specific information, it is pushing you off your trail, away from your landmark, and should not be included.

Another common purpose is to persuade, but you must decide what you want to persuade your audience to do. Perhaps it is to convince a prospective customer that your company is the best one to provide a service. Ask yourself, “Are my reasons persuasive enough to get the job done? Or do I need to keep working on my argument?”

Pick a direction, and find a landmark you can keep constantly before you.

Two more common possibilities are to inspire and to motivate. One might ask, “Aren’t they the same thing?” In my mind, they are not, but that is a topic for another article. To cover it now would not be in line with my article’s purpose. Do you see how that works?

And, as before, the question is to inspire or motivate to do what?

To entertain is another important purpose. An entertaining speech may contain a lot of jokes, or it may contain none at all. Maybe all you need to do is make the audience smile. Entertainment may be the full purpose of the presentation, like an after-dinner feel-good speech, or it may be a part of a larger purpose.

There are minor purposes as well that may apply to your situation, such as to advocate, to honor, to console, or to thank. There is no fixed list. It is for you to decide what you want to accomplish, and then use your landmark to verify that you stay on your trail.

Can you have more than one purpose in a speech? Absolutely. For example, I am finalizing a presentation on basic speaking skills for a local organization. My purpose statement is as follows:

  • Inform or educate the attendees on effective presentation construction and delivery techniques.
  • Inspire the attendees to want to become better presenters.
  • Make the presentation entertaining enough that the attendees enjoy and remember the material.

As I develop my presentation, I must look at this statement to make sure I am achieving each purpose, and that includes the last one. As an analytical person, it is easy for me to focus on the details and miss the point of making it fun for the audience. I am good at informing, but inspiration and entertainment need to be in the presentation as well. This gives me a landmark to make sure that I cover every purpose.

All too often I hear a speech, presentation, or sermon that seems lost in the woods, meandering around in circles. It is easy to do. A well-thought-out purpose statement can help make sure your focus is on the result rather than on the words. It gives you a landmark to keep you on the path to presentation success.

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