Making Sense Out Of What You Say

by Stephen Boyd | July 31, 2003

One of the first concerns for a speaker during preparation is making sure the content makes sense to the audience. This is called reasoning, which is simply how we put our evidence or support together to develop a point.

In speaking, deductive reasoning is the best way to reason or to make sense to the listeners; this is reasoning from the general to the specific. We want to start out in the body of our presentation with an assertion or a generalization. "It is important to develop our presentation skills in order to develop in our occupations" might be an assertion to start a speech on speaking. What follows naturally would be examples of people who have had occupational success because they improved their speaking skills, which is your evidence. If you start out with success stories in speaking, soon the audience may become restless because they don’t see the point you are making and will stop listening before you make your point.

The deductive method grabs the attention of the audience and motivates the listeners to be alert to evidence that supports the assertion. How much evidence or support you need in this type of reasoning depends on the strength of the assertion. If the point draws on new ideas or material, then the speaker will develop several pieces of evidence. If, however, the point may already be generally accepted or seems to be common sense, a couple of pieces of evidence may be all that is necessary. Spend the most time on points least likely to be accepted or easily understood by the listeners.

Don’t attempt to develop too many points in a speech because the audience will not remember them all. In a thirty-minute speech three or four points are usually enough.

The only exception to the deductive method would be when you have a position which you think is unpopular to the audience. Then you might use the inductive method, which is reasoning from the specific to the general. If you use deductive reasoning and thus give the main point first, and the audience disagrees with it, audience members may shut you out at the outset. If, however, you begin the point by a startling statistic or a particular vivid example, they may not be able to resist staying with you mentally when you do draw your conclusion. You’ve hooked them to your speech by the powerful evidence you provided before asserting your point.

We typically speak in conversation by using the deductive method, such as saying to friends, "It is a beautiful day." You would not greet them with the current temperature and then conclude that it is a beautiful day, which would be the inductive method. Generally conversations are not as structured as presentations, but the deductive method works well in both conversations and in presentations.

So in your next presentation make your point and then give your evidence. Doing so will insure your success in helping an audience understand or be persuaded.

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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