[Quick Public Speaking Tip] Is your audience illiterate? And does it matter?

You must know your audience. As speakers, we must know our audiences.

It’s key to our success – to design our presentations to their needs, their wants, their physical, energetic and mental presence.

audience_illiterateAnd perhaps design for their literacy level.


Well – handouts for a start. There’s no point providing written handouts if your audience is illiterate, is there? So what is your design Plan B for that scenario?

Where else would literacy level matter?

Slides. Of course!

Put words on slides and literacy becomes an issue.

If the audience is illiterate, you will need to read out everything you have written on the slides, won’t you? Otherwise it was a waste of time writing words there, wasn’t it?

Obviously …

But seriously, what about some other, different, aspects of literacy?

What about the fact that your audience can read way faster than you can speak?

If you read out what you have written, they will be way ahead of you visually and then there is that awkward lapse while you are still speaking.

And even if you respect their needs in that department, what about your audience’s ability to read and listen at the same time?

It is extremely difficult for people to take in two different streams of words, one from the slides and one from you.

So perhaps it would seem that you really should care about literacy when you design slides.

So what is the Plan B in this case?

You can stop caring about literacy and it really doesn’t matter if you put a power-packed, insidiously subtle or glaringly obvious graphic there, along with a single word, a short phrase or no text at all, all of which support your content. You have covered all of your bases – all of those three permutations of literacy, haven’t you?

— Text is superfluous, though it can add to your speech and the graphic. So everyone who can’t read it is covered.

— People can certainly look at images and listen at the same time – pretty much from infancy.

— And the only reading they are doing while listening is minimal so you have minimised the distraction factor.

Now … about that Plan B for the handouts ….

[Inspiration] Why aren’t you happy?


What are your “UMS” doing for you?

Once upon a time, in the dark dark past …

– no it wasn’t dark as in scary or bad – I had a fabulous time. I learned and enjoyed and created and learned and enjoyed. I mean dark as in dim in the memory and maybe even “Dark Ages”

… I was a member of a speaking club called Toastmistress.

International, liberating, polishing, encouraging, teaching … and much much more, was Toastmistress.

As members of the organisation, we were discouraged, severely, from using “ums” – or any other filler – for that matter. There was often a “Grunts Mistress” (don’t you dare snicker!!) whose sole job was to count the ums (or grunts) and we were fined for them. It was a fabulous exercise in that it taught me to speak fluently – without fillers. It was a terrible exercise in that it made me hyper-aware of every um any speaker ever uses.

umSo now that um has become a trendy part of so much of our speaking, both on-stage and off-, it is making me really think about its place in speaking. I still think we need to learn to speak fluently without fillers, and that the skill is a powerful contribution to our success as speakers. I also think that it can be a hindrance if the content of a speech is in any way not engaging and if it is repeated way too much.

(And if another sports person begins their answer to an interview question with “Look …”, I will …. do something serious.)

I also still think we need to be aware of just how we are using our ums.

Yes, many of us use them when we are thinking. It signals that we are thinking.

Many of us use them to begin a new point or section of the speech. It signals a change or something new, a new thought.

And now I have just become aware of another use.

It happened to be Brene Brown who made me aware of it. I love her speaking – the content, as well as the authentic delivery style she has. Part of the self-effacement of that style is the use of um following something humorous. So I get the impression that what the um is signalling is “I have just said something that you might think is funny. I’ll wait in case you want to laugh.”

And since noticing this phenomenon in that TED talk, I have seen it several times since – used by comedians as well.

My internal response is to think that yes, it would be so much better if you had just paused.

Pauses are powerful.

… or just used a face/body gesture

…. or a foregrounding tool of some sort.

But the um did the job, in a haphazard kind of way.

Just as we need to be constantly using bits of our brains to watch ourselves as we speak, so we need to be aware of how we are using ums. Run your internal camera or use a piece of video machinery. If you are happy to choose an um to signal that you are thinking, or that you are introducing a new topic, or that you are allowing time for humour to sink in, then make that choice.

But make sure it suits your style, and the image you want to present, and doesn’t detract from your engagement and message.

And make sure you have considered the alternatives that just might be so much more suitable and powerful. I don’t think it’s just my “Dark Ages” training that makes me vote for the latter if it can be achieved at all.

What do you think?

Does the trend to “authenticity”, “rawsomeness” and conversational speaking justify the proliferation of ums?

And I’m sure I’m a latecomer to noticing the use for humour. When did you first notice it?


© Bronwyn Ritchie
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Public speaking rules and advice

[Public speaking quotation] Value in visuals

“Presenters using visuals conduct meetings in 28% less time, increase audience retention as much as five times, and get proposals approved twice as often”

~ Claire Raines and Linda Williamson

[Quick public speaking tip] Movement on the public speaking stage

Pivotal Public Speaking - stage


How you stand and walk has to be congruent with your message

and your image.

If you are a passionate speaker who simply cannot stand still, then hopefully you will use that to support the passion of your message. Try to use standing still to give the same sort of impact that a pause in the middle of rapid speech would give.

If you choose to move or change position just to provide relief because you think your speech is boring; be careful. It may be that your movement will have more impact than your message.

Timing can help so that you change position

with a new idea or

with a new visual support,

or with a change in your story or its dialogue.

Where you are

and how you move between spaces

are as much a part of your presentation as your message and your body language.

Orchestrate them as you will the whole presentation to form one complete impact.

And no, that does not mean being anything other than your authentic self. It means being your authentic self at its speaking best.

[Inspiring quote] Investing in eternity

“Act well at the moment, and you have performed a good action for all eternity.”

Johann Kaspar Lavater