Thursday, June 28, 2007

The classic formula for speechmaking

It goes like this:

• Tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em
• Tell ’em
• Tell ‘em what you told ‘em

The principle is sound. Repeating our main points in the introduction, body and conclusion of our speech can increase retention of the message. However, it can also put the audience to sleep. For example:

Intro: Today I’d like to cover the 3 steps we must take to achieve our objective: First … Second … Third … (Brief label for each point)

Body: Now let’s talk about the first step … Second … Third …. (Facts and other content to support each point)

Conclusion: Today we’ve looked at the 3 steps we must take to achieve our objective: First … Second … Third ….

At this point that background noise we hear isn’t the air-handling system. It’s snoring.

The 3-part structure gives us a good way of organizing our presentation as well as a simplified way of presenting complex material but we have to retain the interest of our audience.

In the example above we might introduce our presentation by summarizing “3 challenges that we face.” In the body we discuss each challenge in turn and present “the step we must take to address it.” In the conclusion we briefly summarize “the 3 steps we must take to address the challenges we face.”

Remember, 3 is the magic number. Resist the urge to cover too much material. Length does not equal substance. If you examine longer “lists,” you’ll often find bullet points that amount to little more than a restatement of something already encompassed in an earlier point.


Speaking of “3’s,” a survey of college students revealed their 3 favorite destinations for Spring Break.

1) Cancun, Mexico
2) Panama City, Florida
3) South Padre Beach, Texas

Remember when these were the top three?

1) The nearest library
2) Your part-time job
3) The old man's overgrown garden!


For more basics, see Writing for the Ear - a Primer in the left-hand column.

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