Zooming With Your Audience

Speaking is now more challenging than ever because we often cannot see our audience and their visual reactions. Since the pandemic limits personal contact, we do much of our work online via Zoom or a Zoom-like platform. Thus speaking in a way that is easily understood is critical to keep your audience attentive.

When delivering a presentation, keep things simple. To help the audience remember what you say, focus on one idea for your listeners to take away. As you prepare your speech, keep in mind the one idea you want the audience to remember, such as your expertise that will help the client’s business. In a presentation I often deliver, “Be Present When You Are Present,” my main idea is to pay attention in a multi-tasking world.

Don’t take too long to get your message across to your audience. History supports the principle that audiences prefer short speeches. One of the greatest speeches of the twentieth century was John F. Kennedy’s 1960 Inaugural Address—only fourteen minutes long. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln’s obligatory two minutes became famous as the Gettysburg Address. Edward Everett, a well-known orator and a former Senator, presented the two-hour keynote address that day at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg.  Everett wrote to President Lincoln after the event, “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes.”

Less is usually more in delivering a presentation. Don’t overload the minds of your listeners with too many pieces of data. The audience won’t remember much, but if they feel you are giving them too much information they will tune you out and remember nothing.

Never use three words when you can say it in two. Leave out clichés, filler words, and hackneyed phrases such as “You know,” “Okay,” and “All right.”  Leave out phrases such as “Let me be honest/blunt/frank.” (Have you not been being honest before that point?) Speak in short sentences, short phrases, and short words. Word choice should be instantly clear to an audience. Make it a goal that every word will have impact in your speech. Use language that triggers specific action. Begin a sentence with “Here is what I want you to do as a result of my presentation…,” or, “Remember this one piece of information….”

Ask the introducer to include your credentials in the link sent to allow participants access to the platform being used. No need to take up virtual time with an introduction.

Finally, don’t tell all you know about the subject. The content of your presentation should be from the overflow of your knowledge. Only say what’s necessary to fulfill your purpose. The content of your presentation should influence the audience to want to come back for more, and you should know more than you’ve given.

As Purdue communication professor and researcher Josh Boyd wrote, “In physics, power is defined as work divided by time. In other words, more work done in less time produces more power. In the same way, a speaker’s message is most powerful when he or she can deliver a lot of good material in a short amount of time.”

In a culture where time is in demand, a speech presented simply enhances the audience’s acceptance of the content. At the least, a simple approach will encourage the audience—on whatever platform—to pay attention to your message.

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 steveboyd111@gmail.com.

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