Presenting In Tough Times

by Stephen Boyd | April 30, 2003

As a speaker, keeping the attention of an audience in any situation is challenging, but in time of war it is especially difficult. The minds of audience members are on family and friends, our fighting men and women, and they have an overall concern about security either in our community or in the world. What can we do as speakers to keep the attention of the audience on our topic and yet show respect for events far more important than any specific speech we may be delivering?

First, acknowledge but don't dwell on the war. Bring up the subject as it might relate in some way to your speech. If you are discussing leadership, you might mention the crucial role leadership plays in organizing troops in a foreign country. Making specific references requires your willingness to keep up with current events before you speak.

Second, make the reference early versus late in your speech. If you mention it early, the audience can mentally make note that you realize there are other events going on that we have our minds on. They are more likely to relax and give you full attention for the rest of the speech.

Third, don't get politically involved in your comments. Stay with the facts of the battles and events and avoid making political statements about the conduct of the war. This will show your respect for everyone's point of view and help maintain your credibility as a speaker.

In a keynote speech, be especially careful that the humor you use relates directly to the point of the speech. In serious times humor is still important, but the speaker must not be flippant or irreverent about the situation in which we are living. People like to laugh and relevant humor will be seen as a tool just as a visual aid or notes. But be careful about making people laugh simply for the sake of laughing unless your speech is billed as a humorous after-dinner speech.

Don't dwell on challenging times, but refer to them objectively and then move ahead with your speech.

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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