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When less is more in Public Speaking


In a variety of communication situations, less is better.


For example, if you are using a PowerPoint presentation, don’t put 50 words on a slide. A PowerPoint slide is not the place to include the script of your message. Instead, create bulleted slides. A good reminder is the 6 by 6 rule: no more than six words in a line and six lines on a slide. That will ensure that you give more information than the audience will see on the slide. You remain necessary. Otherwise, your PowerPoint gives the whole message in a boring and tedious manner.

Its either “Yes” or “No”

Don’t give a lengthy answer to a “yes” or “no” question. When a person asks you a “yes” or “no” question, a “yes” or “no” is all the person is asking for. You can give a 30- second message when a question begins with “What do you think…”, “How do you feel…” or “How do you…?”

What about Impromptu Public Speaking?

If you are speaking impromptu, don’t say too much. A couple of minutes are enough to relate your opinion or directions that you have not thought through before beginning to speak. The longer you speak the more likely you are to make a statement that you’ll regret. In addition, the longer you speak impromptu the more likely you are to start to ramble.

Running out of time…?

When you are near the end of a 20-minute presentation and you realise you have another five minutes of excellent material, don’t keep talking. Go to your conclusion and sit down. The audience will never know what excellent material you had yet to cover and will think you are a well-organised and effective speaker because you finished on time.

Keep the introduction short and sweet!

When introducing a speaker, keep your thoughts under two minutes. Remember that you are not the headliner; the audience came to hear the person you are introducing, not you. This is not the place for a joke or what happened to you on the way to the auditorium. Tell the subject of the presentation, why the audience should listen, and what qualifies the speaker on that particular topic for that audience. Finally, give the speaker’s name with enthusiasm and sit down.

Make it count!

Make every word count. Speak your message in as few words as possible. This will encourage you to concentrate on the message. We live in a society of words—too many words and often words that do not count. “You know” “and everything”, “stuff”, and “let me be frank”, are typical, and as a result you get lazy with your thought process and struggle to focus. Before you speak, think how to say your message as concisely as possible.

“If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out”

George Orwell (1903-1950) British author

One of the reasons we remember the words spoken when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon is because they were brief and succinct. You can probably still quote them. “Houston, Tranquillity Base. The eagle has landed.” And then, “One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.” There were no unnecessary words.

[Former US President] Calvin Coolidge was a man of few words. A young woman sitting next to Coolidge at a dinner party confided to him she had bet she could get at least three words of conversation from him. Without looking at her he quietly responded, “You lose.” Often it is not the length, but the conciseness with which you speak that makes the message have meaning.

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is a professor of speech communication at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, Kentucky.