You Don’t Say

As presenters, we are concerned with saying the right words, but what we choose not to say can be just as important. What we decide to exclude will help determine what to include in a speech. Here are some suggestions to help you cut out material to strengthen your presentation.

First, leave out material the audience already knows. This requires knowing your audience well. For example, if I am training a group of experienced speakers, I may leave out material on how to cope with stage fright; they already know how to do that. Ask yourself, What does my audience already know about my topic?  An easy way to lose your audience quickly is to share information they already possess.

Second, leave out information that is not based on your personal experience, experiences of others, or specific research you have conducted. Before delivering your message, look for content that has no specific referent. Cut it out; it is unnecessary and irrelevant. People respond negatively to “they say” references.

Third, leave out extraneous material. Everything you include should relate either to the point just made or to the key idea of the presentation. Whether it’s a manuscript speech or an extemporaneous one, outline it and make sure everything fits in the outline. If it doesn’t fit into a section of the skeleton outline, then eliminate it. Making an outline for each presentation will, in addition, help you tighten the structure and make it easier for the audience to follow you. Even if you write the outline after you’ve written the speech, the process will be helpful for your final product.

Excuses for your lack of preparation for the presentation are good examples of extraneous material. No one wants to waste valuable time listening to your excuses!  Just give them your best effort and leave out excuses you might be tempted to include.

Fourth, leave out offensive material. Read through your script or outline of the speech and look for any material that might be considered sexist, biased, racist, patronizing, prejudiced, insulting, or profane and leave it out. No matter how similar your audience may look to you, it is still diverse. You want to make sure that material offensive to any segment is omitted. If you are unsure about material, leave it out.

Finally, leave out complicated sentences and words. Oral speech is different from written speech. In oral speech you speak for the ear and that is best served by short, active, alive, and instantly clear language.  As William Norwood Brigance said, “A speech is not an essay on hind legs.”

A speaker has many techniques to insure great content in a speech; in addition, use these tips on how to omit material to make a more powerful presentation. What remains should then be relevant, informative, and well-adapted to a particular audience. Remember, it is not just what you say that counts, but also what you don’t say.

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

1 Comment

  1. Tom Hailey says:

    Thank you for this great advice.

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