In public speaking …. Is bigger really better?

Does size matter in public speaking

It’s an age-old argument … that bigger is better.

And without getting into too much anatomical detail or economic theory, sometimes it is.

Does that mean more is better too?

Well when it comes to speaking, the belief that more is better has been many a speaker’s downfall … including my own!

For me, I think it comes from the old school idea that more information means a higher mark, and possibly the old-school culture of an information age where information was king and prized above rubies.

It also comes, I think, from a need to come from a place of power as a speaker – a place of asserting authority on a subject, of being seen as the expert.

There’s an old speaking proverb that says “When you squeeze your information in, you squeeze your audience out.”

In order to create power for ourselves, we inadvertently take away power from the audience.

Some of the best speaking engagements I have had, have been where I was able to ask the audience questions – and get answers. Sometimes the groups were small enough to have an actual conversation, sometimes there were large so that I had to have show of hands or some other type of response. But I sensed the feeling of validation in the people who responded and in those around them. And we learnt from each other, sometimes far more than they simply would have learned from me.

There is value in giving power to our audiences.

There is value in not squeezing them out with an overload of information, too.

We want to be remembered. What is it that we want to be remembered for?

We want an outcome, a next step, for our audiences to take. What is that one step?

How many things do you remember from the last presentation you attended? One? Maybe three?

How many next steps can we realistically expect an audience to take when we finish speaking, or in the days, weeks, months afterwards? One? Any more than one?

So there is value then, in giving only the information that will contribute to that single powerful memory or that single next step. Give too much information , more than anyone could be expected to remember, or act upon, and we give nothing more than confusion, a garbled message. The result – forgettable and ineffective.

In this age driven by quick visuals and 140-character messages, there is enormous power is presenting a very focused, very memorable single message or two. You will be invited back, and/or you will have built a bridge to further communication and then can share more.

We can still be seen to be giving valuable loads of information, but remember at the same time that one single focus, that one memorable message.

Can you, as Carmine Gallo has challenged his students, write your message in 140 characters?

Bigger is not always better.

More is not always better.

And for speakers, less is definitely more.

I have a dream

If you live in America, today is the anniversary of that speech.

On 28th August, 1963, Martin Luther King spoke to over 250,000 civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.


I have a dream.

He had not intended to use that line – “I have a dream”. Along with the marchers, he had been singing gospel songs among other things as they marched. A powerful gospel singer and civil rights support, Mahalia Jackson had called to him “Tell them about the dream, Martin.”

And he told them about his dream – impromptu.

In 1999 this speech was ranked the top American speech of the 20th century, and at least part of it was impromptu!!

He had used the dream before in several speeches, so it wasn’t entirely impromptu, but chosen from his repertoire of “things that work”. Do you have a repertoire of “things that work”?

There had been several versions of the speech prepared beforehand, but none of them was used in its entirety.

The structure of the speech is graceful and powerful. I love Nancy Duarte‘s study of it.

He used the gospel connection well. He used geographical reference well. He used the American iconic moments of history well.

The clever rhetoric and speech structure are obvious.

The two moments that stand out for me are two examples of rhetoric. He resonated with lists and particularly anaphora, I think. The first was when he used “now is the time …” Suddenly what was merely a speech, now had passion. There was genuine feeling in his voice. The second was just before he introduced “I have a dream”. He had listed all the parts of the country his audience would return to, and it was as if he suddenly really connected with his audience. He left the script with his eyes and they continued to scan the audience. Suddenly the whole rhythm and pitch and pace of his speech changed. It returned but his face had changed. He felt somehow free.

What makes you feel free to connect with your audience – that you have the power to move them? We all have it.


Three vital elements of story for speakers

5 Easy ways to find “catchy content” that will have you remembered, repeated and getting results.


So you have a subject for your speech. One word, maybe. What now?

You know what you want to achieve with this presentation but you’re stuck, trying to find powerful ideas and material that will give your subject life. Yes?

Where will you find the stimulus to develop your ideas?

The answers could just be right under your nose, right there in your daily life.

Here are five ordinary places that will yield up gems to make you and your presentation remembered, repeated and getting results. That’s why I used the word “easy” in the title of this article – the material is all around you.

Things that you do and see and say and think every day will provide that material. It’s just a case of articulating what you want to achieve and then of deliberately looking in these places with that aim in mind.

The thing that makes this not so easy is knowing what to look for.

The first is the information. This involves ideas, stories, facts, case studies, statistics – all of the items you will use to present the main parts of your speech.

The second is themes within those facts and ideas – commonalities, recurring nuggets of information that fit into a theme. These themes may be the main pints of your presentation, or one of them may be the source of your single message.

The third is opinions. And it may be, with this in mind, that you find the things that will give your speech something extra special, that will make it “catchy” – remembered, repeated and getting results.

They may provide humor.

They may help you articulate your passionate view point on the topic.

They may give you something that will stir up opinions or discussion in your audience.

They may also uncover trends in your subject area – places where people are fighting the status quo.

Keep these three areas – information, themes and opinions – in the back of your mind as you open that mind to what is going on around you.

1. On the internet. Obviously! Enjoy your surfing, but let it wander along the lines of the main aim of your speech. You may, in fact, be taken into different directions, to discover even better ideas and themes. Follow links that look interesting or promising. Use search engines, and include databases and blogs in your searches and surfing. Search TED talks and YouTube. These will give you the themes and information you need. They will also give you opinions and ideas about trends, and the links will lead you to other opinions, and sources of support material.

2. In Books. You are reading already. Just look at the books in the light of your speech. Think about books you have read in the past, and how they might relate to your themes and points. Allow yourself to be drawn to the books on your subject. Search online suppliers like Amazon. Scour the local library – reference books, fiction and non-fiction. When you are browsing the bookshops and second-hand book suppliers, again, keep you speech ideas in the front of your mind and books will leap out of the piles to lead you to things you can use.

3. In Magazines. Again, you are reading these already. Look at them from the slant of your speech. And look with new eyes at the racks in the newsagents, the library and the train stations. If you are speaking regularly, you will develop the habit of collecting material on your subject areas – articles from magazines or the internet, quotes, sayings and anecdotes. Keep a paper file of notes and save useful websites in your favourites file, Evernote or a tagging system like

4. From People. Talk with them about the subject of your speech in your ordinary conversation and you will get all sorts of opinions and information. You cannot interview a website or book for clarification or for a quirky perspective that just might give you the winning angle on a topic.

5. From Your own experiences. Using your own life and its stories is one of the most powerful tools of public speaking. Use humorous or poignant anecdotes. Find experiences that have affected you or your friends to support points in your presentation. Again, you can look back to the past for examples. But looking at your life and the lives of the people you know and see and interact with through the lens of your speech will bring out all sorts of relevant and thought-provoking material.

There are so many places that will yield up brilliant ideas for a speech. It’s just a case of looking – while you are surfing the net, while you are in the library or reading magazines, while you are chatting, and at life in general, and being open to ideas and themes and opinions on the subject. Create a strong picture of where you might go with the speech and let it lead you on. You natural creativity will use all of these sources to put together a great presentation.

Looking for a winning formula for your speech – use your eyes

You have ideas for your speech. You know what you want to achieve with your presentation, but you’re stuck, trying to find a powerful slant … and material that will give your points life? Where will you find the stimulus to develop your ideas?

Look …

Magazines. Again, you are reading these already. Look at them from the slant of your speech. And look with new eyes at the racks in the newsagents, the library and the train stations.

Look at Facebook. Go beyond the ordinary and let your mind and the ideas you have already interact with what you see.

Look at Pinterest. Why did the person upload these pictures and/or text? How would you have dealt with that material?

Slide your eyes around your world. Catch the corners and edges of life and look at what happens, why it happens and what might have happened instead, all with your particular speech topic in mind.

Somewhere, a idea will develop, a crystallisation of your thoughts and attitudes, something that will hook your audience with its simplicity, its originality and its relevance to their worlds.

Research more than the content when you prepare your speech

When you start building a speech or presentation, the first thing you think of is the content. What will you say? How will you say it? What message do you want to communicate? And what do you want your audience to say or think or do differently? So you start researching that content – on the internet, at the library, with your friends and from the experts.

Content, however, is not the only thing you need to research if your speech or presentation is to be a success. If you want your audience to say or think or do something differently, you will need to know how to “pitch” your content to this particular audience.

Everything that you say or do in your presentation has to be geared to that audience… what they will be receptive to, what their triggers are, the language that they will respond to.

So in researching that presentation to write it, or prepare it, you will also need to research the audience.

Find out as much as you can – their age range, gender, income levels, dreams, needs, wants, culture. What are their likes and dislikes? What will excite them, offend them, unnerve them? What do they wear? What keeps them awake in the middle of the night?

You can gain much from a registration form, especially if you can design it yourself, or have a hand in designing it.

You can ask the event manager, or the person who hired you. You can research their company or organisation, talk to them and their friends and colleagues.

In your preparation routine, you can mingle with audience members before your speech.

Then you can use the information you have gained in constructing and presenting your speech. Use your knowledge of their interests and dreams, to choose your most persuasive stories, points and suggestions.
You will choose language that they understand, and that is not irritating or offensive to them, and subject matter to suit that audience – themes, supports, anecdotes all will be tailored to them.

One of the strongest engagement techniques in presentations is WIIFM (What’s in it for me?) and you need to be reminding your audience regularly of why they should keep listening to your presentation, and of just what they would gain from your suggestions (or lose by not following them).

I’m not sure whether researching the audience is more important than researching content. What do you think?

I do know that for the content to be effective, the research you do on your audience will be vital.

©2012 Bronwyn Ritchie
Please feel free to reproduce this article, but please ensure it is accompanied by this resource box.

Bronwyn Ritchie has 30 years’ experience speaking to audiences and training in public speaking – from those too nervous to say their own name in front of an audience to community groups to corporate executives. To take your public speaking to the next level, get free tips, articles, quotations and resources, at

Make sure your audience follows you by giving them signposts

People will hear and understand what they expect from a presentation.

If they do not hear what they were expecting then they will be confused and tune out.
If they do not understand the point of the presentation they will tune out.

It is important from the start of the presentation to cue the audience into who you are, what your credentials are and what you are going to do with them.

This does not have to be spelt out in words. There are all sorts of ways using references, body language and stories, for example, to set the scene and cue into what to expect from the presentation.

And this needs to continue throughout the presentation. Bridging between points should be seamless, but needs to, nevertheless, give those same cues as to what is happening and what to listen for.

One of the most powerful cues is the cue for a conclusion. This can wake people up. They are always ready for the wrap-up, and obviously the final point is one thing that they will remember (if you make it memorable) along with the opening.

So if you want people to give you attention and engage with your material throughout the speech give them the signposts they need so that they know what to listen for.


© Bronwyn Ritchie If you want to include this article in your publication, please do, but please include the following information with it:
Bronwyn Ritchie is a professional librarian, writer, award-winning speaker and trainer. She is a certified corporate trainer and speech contest judge with POWERtalk, a certified World Class Speaking coach, and has had 30 years’ experience speaking to audiences and training in public speaking. This has been tip number 10 in the 30 speaking tips. In just 6 months time, you could be well on the way to being admired, rehired as a speaker, with the 30 speaking tips. Click here for 30 speaking tips for FREE. Join now or go to

Quick public speaking tip – the words you use

Consider your audience when you are choosing the words that you use –the vocabulary. Speak to them in a language they understand. Look at your technical terms, and any jargon that they may not understand. Use examples, stories, quotes and other support material that has relevance to their lives and their interests. You will keep their attention and their interest.

Quick public speaking tip – choose your attention-getting introduction

How will you hook your audience – get their attention – make them focus on you and your speech? Anecdote? Dramatic statement? Question? Personal experience? Make your choice on the basis of: the composition of your audience, the theme of your presentation, and its length, and what you hope to achieve with it, and then apply all of your confidence and practice to making it effective.

Quick public speaking tip … Coping with short attention spans

We all have short attention spans. This is exacerbated in these days of communication delivered in truncated, rapid-fire bytes.

So you have to set up your presentations so that you do something frequently to keep attention.

Change your delivery style.

Support your words with a new visual.

Challenge with an activity for audience involvement.

Tell a story. Whatever techniques you use, introduce them often and vary them.

Each will have its own impact, but make sure that impact supports your chosen image and message.