Impact of Our Speeches: Content or Context?

What we say in a presentation is vital, but look at the recent primary campaigns:  emphasis on the context of each speech is presented as a prominent factor in determining the success of a speech. For example, in summarizing candidates’ speeches reporters often compare the sizes of the audiences of the candidates. The reporter seems to imply that the size of the audience equals the effectiveness of the presentation event. Hillary Clinton recently spoke in Cincinnati and the big news appeared to be that there were l500 in attendance; content seemed almost secondary in importance. In addition, reporters apparently use an enthusiasm meter to describe how much energy or excitement an audience has at a candidate’s speaking appearance.

Whether or not these factors in a candidate’s speech are important to voters, at least we can observe that as speakers we should be concerned about the surroundings of our actual presentation. We want to prepare the setting as well as the content of the presentation.

          First, if the room is not full, encourage people to fill seats from front to back so that empty seats are not dotted throughout the room. If you know the number of seats is larger than the number of people attending, you might improve the venue by removing chairs. You can also have people stand at the beginning of your presentation and then ask them to move forward and fill the empty seats. If everyone sits toward the front, then people in the audience will not be reminded that the room is not full. In addition, having people sit together will encourage the audience to respond as a unit.

Second, make sure the room is well-lighted. Many rooms have a variety of lighting configurations. Find the switches and experiment to get the maximum lighting for your presentation. Avoid lighting that creates shadows. If you are using PowerPoint, only turn off the lights above the screen. You do not want to speak in a darkened room.

Third, ensure that the front of the room is not “busy.” Clear out any equipment or chairs that may clutter the speaking area. Erase dry boards and remove posters or any other informational pieces that have nothing to do with your presentation.

Content is always more important than delivery or the surroundings. But paying attention to the environment in which your presentation is delivered can add to the effectiveness of your message.

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University. His humorous keynotes and after-dinner speeches attract people who want to speak and listen more effectively. He can be reached at 800.727.6520, or visit


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

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