Contrast With Startling Information

by Stephen Boyd | August 31, 2004

Public speeches are always enhanced by starting out with startling facts or statistics. Later in your speech, you can bring the audience's attention back to the speaker by inserting startling information. One way to include startling statements in a speech is the use of contrast. Over the summer in visiting Thailand, Cambodia, and Guam, I found several examples of startling information.

There were 10,000,000 land mines in Cambodia at one time and a million still remain. Tourists are warned not to stray off paths because of the danger of land mines. The longest airline route is 18 hours and 40 minutes from Los Angeles to Singapore. Guam has l63,000 people and l4,000 are government employees, not counting Federal employees. A super typhoon in 2002 in Guam had winds up to 245 miles per hour and caused much destruction. The largest university in the world is Ramkhanhaeng in Bangkok. It has over 300,000 students. Let's look at how we might use some of these items in speeches.

For example, in talking about the danger of not following hiking trails in a given location, you might begin with the million land mines in Cambodia and then say, "We don't have to worry about land mines in the Smoky Mountains, but you can easily get lost or run into a bear if you stray off the designated trails." Or if you were talking about how to handle boredom on cross country flights, you could mention the over l8 hour flight to Singapore and then say, "Fortunately it is only a four-hour flight to Phoenix, but some of these points still apply." If you are discussing the growth of a particular university you could mention the 300,000 statistic and then say, "Northern Kentucky University will never be that size, but growing from 2,200 students in 1972 to well over l6,000 in 2004 says a lot about its impact in the Commonwealth of Kentucky."

Combining contrasts with startling information is a powerful way to help people remember an important point or regain the attention of the audience. In researching for a speech, continually be on the lookout for startling information.

About the Author

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.

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