Making Ideas Clear

by Stephen Boyd | May 31, 2005

Unlike reading, where you can go back over the material as many times as you need to, speech content has to be instantly clear. Your audience member does not have a chance to go back over the material in order to absorb the information. So how does the speaker compensate for this problem? The answer is the topic of this article.

Say the idea or word distinctly and with enthusiasm. This insures that the listener hears and is likely to be paying attention. Don’t mumble when clarity is critical to understanding. Pause and then give a definition or explanation.

Finish the information with an example. When I’m talking about serendipity, I might say, "I’m sure we have all experienced serendipity. We have enjoyed the pleasant feeling resulting when good things happen by accident. Just this week, I went to pick up my reserved, mid-sized car at the National Rental Car booth in Toronto. The lady said all they had available at that time was a specialty car—the PT Cruiser. She said I had the option of waiting a few minutes to get the normal midsized car. I had never driven the PT Cruiser and had wondered how they would drive. So I said I’d take it, and the next day I tooled around in a purple PT Cruiser! I experienced serendipity at the National Rental Car booth."

Notice that I began with the definition of serendipity. Then I gave my example. After I finished the example, I said the term again to remind the audience of the concept.

Thus you are giving the listener a minimum of three times to assimilate the information in a comfortable and interesting manner. Repetition is vital to learning, but this approach is less tedious than simply repeating the information several times. You are reinforcing the information but in an interesting and thought-provoking way.

The key, of course, is to know your audience well enough to determine when you need to use this system to help the audience listen and understand new information. If you go through this elaborate explanation about a term the group already understands, your credibility suffers. You may even offend by assuming they are uninformed when that is not the case.

Making sure audiences understand is one of the challenges of any speaker. This system of careful enunciation, explanation, and example is one way of insuring the audience’s assimilation of new material.

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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