Speaking Effectively Chapter 4
BEGINNING AND ENDING THE TALK
Once you have organized and supported the body of the talk with appropriate verbal and visual materials, you must decide how to begin and end. For many persons, beginning (or providing an introduction to the body of the talk) and ending (providing a conclusion) is most troublesome. Introductions and conclusions should fit the audience, the speaker, and the type of talk you are giving.
Since briefings are to be brief, lengthy introductions and conclusions are inappropriate.
Your listeners need and want to know about your subject; therefore, you will not need to spend time getting their attention. If, as often happens, another speaker introduces you and your subject, you need only give a quick overview of the subject and proceed immediately to the main points. Your listeners' familiarity with the subject will determine the length of the overview. In most cases simply mentioning the main points is sufficient. If you are not introduced, you might simply say, "Good morning, I'm _______________ briefing on _______________."
This part of a briefing should be short but positive. If your briefing is to stop with a listing of possible solutions or courses of action, a brief listing or summary of your points can give a sense of completion. If your briefing ends with a conclusion, as in a staff study report, you may end with a brief, clear restatement of the possible solution you judge best. No new material or commentary should be presented here. Or you may conclude by making a short statement recommending the action that would put your solution into effect.
Although many briefings are subject to interruption for questions from listeners, many times a good concluding sentence might be: "Ladies and Gentlemen, are there any (further) questions?" If a question period is not to follow, or once the questions have ended, you might simply say, "Ladies and Gentlemen, that concludes my briefing." At other times, the ranking person listening to the briefing may conclude the question period for you by declaring, "We have no further questions."
Introductions and conclusions to teaching lectures are very important. Much care should be given to their development and use.
The introduction to a teaching lecture should serve several purposes: to establish a common ground between the instructor and students, to capture and hold attention, to outline the lecture and relate it to the overall course, to point out benefits to the students, and to lead the students into the lecture content. Although humor may be appropriate, the introduction should be free of irrelevant stories, jokes, or incidents that distract from the lesson objective, and it should not contain long or apologetic remarks that are likely to dampen student interest in the lesson. Educators often speak of three necessary elements in the introduction of a lecture: gain attention, motivate, and provide an overview of material to be covered in the lecture.
Attention. To gain attention, the instructor may tell a story that relates to the subject and provides a background for the lecture. Another approach may be to make an unexpected or surprising statement or ask a question that relates the lecture to group needs. A rhetorical question (Have you ever. . . ? or, Can you imagine . . . ?) might be effective. At other times, nothing more than a clear indication that the lecture has begun is sufficient. In all instances, the primary concern is to focus student attention on the subject. Later in this chapter, general suggestions for getting audience attention are discussed.
Motivation. You should use the introduction to discuss specific reasons why the students need to learn whatever you want them to learn. In this motivational discussion, you should make a personal appeal to students and reinforce their desire to learn. The appeal may relate the learning to career advancement, financial gain, service to the community, use at home, or to some other need, but in every instance, you should cite a specific application for student learning experiences. In many cases, the need for this lecture as a foundation for future lessons is strong motivation. This motivational appeal should continue throughout the lecture. If you briefly mention student needs only in the introduction, you are square-filling, not motivating.
Overview. For most instructional methods, the introduction should provide an overview of what is to be covered during the class period. A clear, concise presentation of the objective and key ideas serves as a road map for the learning route. Effective visual aids can be helpful at this point. A clear overview can contribute greatly to a lecture by removing doubts in the minds of the learners about where the lesson is going and how they are going to get there. Students can be told what will be covered or left out and why. They can be informed about how the ideas have been organized. Research shows that students understand better and retain more when they know what to expect. The purpose of the overview is to prepare students to listen to the body of the lecture.
The conclusion of a lecture may stick with the students longer than anything else said. For this reason you should give much care to its preparation. The conclusion of most lectures should accomplish three things: summarize, remotivate, and provide closure.
Final Summary. Mini- or interim summaries may be appropriate at various places in a lecture—for example, after each main point has been made. But final summaries come after all main points of the lecture have been made. An effective final summary retraces the important elements discussed in the body. As the term suggests, a final summary reviews the main points of the lecture in a concise manner. By reviewing the main points, it can aid students' retention of information and give them a chance to fill in missing information in their notes.
Remotivation. The purpose of the remotivation is to instill in students a desire to retain and use what they have learned. Effective instructors provide motivation throughout the lecture. But the remotivation step is the instructor's last chance to let students know why the information presented in the lecture is so important to the student as an individual. Perhaps it is important because it provides the groundwork for future lessons or because it will help them do their jobs more effectively. But whatever the reasons given, they should be ones that appeal directly to the students and show the importance to them of what was learned.
Closure. For many instructors the closure presents a difficult challenge. The students need to be released from listening. Sometimes instructors at a loss on how to close say, "Well that's about all I have to say," or "I guess I don't have anything else." This type of closure is not very satisfying. There are much more effective ways of closing. Sometimes vocal inflection can signal that the lecture is ending. Quotations, stories, or humorous incidents can also provide effective closure. Sometimes when the lecture is to be followed by other lessons in the same block of instruction, you might say something such as "Next time, then, we will continue with our discussion of _______________ . Between now and then if you have any questions, come to my office and I'll see if I can answer them for you."
All speeches need introductions and conclusions. But the types of introductions and conclusions needed may differ greatly from speech to speech.
For many speeches you will most likely want to use the same three steps of attention, motivation, and overview that you would use for a teaching lecture. There are times, however, when such an introduction might not be appropriate.
At times an attention step may not be needed. A well-known general addressing students at an Air Force school, a war hero talking to a local veterans organization, a prominent family counselor speaking to a group of married couples who chose to attend the talk all have their audiences' attention at the beginning. Still, attention of the audiences is not something that can be taken for granted.
One of America's better known ministers confides that he spends more time on what he refers to as his opening "hook'' than any other part of the talk. He explains that if he can hook the audiences' attention at the beginning, he then only needs to keep their attention. Although keeping attention is not always an easy task, it is not as difficult as initially gaining the attention. This minister will sometimes devote three to five minutes of a twenty-minute talk to his "hook" or attention step. At times he uses humor; at times an engaging human interest story or example, but in all cases he sets the stage for the rest of his talk by using attention-getting material that relates directly to the body of his talk.
If you can't decide whether or not you need an attention step in your speech, then you probably do. Most talks will be improved with the addition of an effective attention step.
Although some sort of attention device is usually needed in a speech, at times a motivation step may be unnecessary. For instance, if your listeners are highly motivated to listen, then a motivation step establishing their need to listen would be out of place or redundant at best.
A short time ago, a world-class runner was conducting a clinic on running. Each participant had paid a substantial fee to attend. This well-known runner did not need to tell the audience why it was important for them to listen. The commitment to listen was already present. The listeners would not have paid their money to listen if they had not believed that this expert had some valuable information for them. Much like the military briefer, the speaker was able to launch immediately into the body of the speech and present hints and techniques helpful to runners.
Every good speaker, of course, attempts to motivate listeners throughout the speech. No matter how much credibility you have on the subject or how willing your audience is to listen to you, you have a responsibility to provide continuing motivation for them to listen throughout the talk.
The overview step needed in most teaching lectures is unnecessary in many speeches. In fact, with speeches to persuade it may be advantageous if you do not preview what is to follow—especially if the audience does not initially share your point of view. If speakers tell their audiences what they want to persuade them to believe or do, they may turn audiences against them before they even begin. Also, the material in some speeches—such as some speeches to entertain—may not lend itself to an overview. Generally, in an informative speech, some type of overview is helpful, even if the overview consists only of mentioning the main points or telling them what you are going to tell them. The best advice is to consider the audience, occasion, and objectives of your speech, then decide if an overview is appropriate.
In some speeches you may choose to use the same three steps of summary, remotivation, and closure appropriate for teaching lectures. As with the introduction, however, the speaking situation will help determine what kind of conclusion is best.
Most speeches will not require an extensive conclusion. With informative speeches you may want to summarize briefly the main points you covered. With persuasive speeches, your conclusion may be a motivating statement of what you want your listeners to believe or how you want them to act. With an entertaining speech there may be little to actually summarize or motivate about.
All kinds of speeches, however, need some type of closure to provide completeness. Most speakers seem to give little thought to how to conclude. You can be assured that the time you spend attending to this detail will be time well spent since it is the last impression that the audience often carries with them when you have finished.
Suggestions for Gaining Attention
Although different types of talks require different kinds of introductions, some general suggestions may be helpful. Many of the following suggestions will be useful for gaining attention in lectures and speeches. Some of them are definitely not appropriate for military briefings. You will have to decide which ones apply to the talk you are giving.
You will want your audience to respond in one of two ways. If you begin with a question—"What has been the most significant event in your life?''—you will not expect an audible answer, for the question is a rhetorical one. But you do expect your audience to think of an answer. The other type of question is one in which you expect an answer. The purpose is to get a unified audience reaction. "Do you want to keep on paying high taxes?" The politician using this question may want the audience to respond in unison, ''No!"
Questions are easy to design. Good questions are a little more difficult. "Have you ever wondered how many people drive Chevrolets?'' is not a good question. Many people in your audience reply mentally, ''No, and I don't care.'' A question such as ''Would you like to earn a million dollars next week?" is also ineffective since it is pretty far from reality. You should also avoid confusing questions: "How much fuel was used by the US Air Force, the air forces of other Western nations, and all commercial airlines from these countries during the past five years?"; and questions that may embarrass: ''How many of you are deeply in debt?'' Good questions are clear and direct and invite involvement from the audience: ''What job do you want in 5 years?'' ''If you had one wish, what would it be?''
Usually without looking too hard, you can find someone both authoritative and popular who is enthusiastic and supports your point of view. Practically every library has a copy of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. Or if you speak often, you may wish to invest in one of the many specialized paperback versions on the market. There are quotation books especially for teachers, salesmen, speakers, ministers, and others. Also, if you keep your eyes open, you will come across quotations in your day-to-day reading that you can use later on. Make it a practice to write them down and file them away for future use. When you do use a quotation to open a talk, remember to keep it brief and understandable. You want to gain the audience's attention, not lose it.
Many speakers would be well advised not to open with a joke. When you buy a joke book from the local bookstore or check one out from the library, you find nothing but old gags about in-laws, drunks, and talking horses. A comedian or skilled raconteur can make the jokes funny with appropriate lead-in lines, timing, and putting the story into a believable context.
If you do wish to use a joke or humorous story, read again the suggestions for using humor given in the previous chapter. Especially attend to the suggestion to tell the story several times before using it in the talk so that you know it well and know the kind of response to expect. Also remember to make sure the story adds rather than detracts from your talk by making certain it is relevant, humorous, and not offensive to your audience. Many speakers have put themselves at serious disadvantage at the beginning of their talk by failing to consider these things.
''Tonight more people will watch a typical situation comedy on TV than have seen all of the stage performances of all of Shakespeare's plays in the last 400 years.'' (This happens to be a true statement.) ''When I was 14 years old I fell in love with a woman 37 feet tall.'' This statement would be a novel way to start a talk about a 37-foot statue in one's hometown. Remember to make your statement not only startling, but relevant.
Novelty openings are distinctive, creative, and usually visual. A CMSgt opened his talk on creative visual aids by quickly drawing an attractive picture on the chalkboard and saying, "When we have completed this two-hour block of instruction, I guarantee that you will be able to draw this well." Then he went on to explain that he had predrawn the picture on the board with a pencil and traced it with chalk, and in fact he was going to show the audience how to use techniques like this to improve their use of visual aids.
Gimmicks such as tearing a five-dollar bill in half, blowing a loud whistle, or taking off one's coat and hurling it across the room may be illegal, dangerous, or simply not relevant. Think through any gimmick that you plan to use. Try it on a few friends first to get their reaction. Then make certain it is legal, safe, and relevant to your talk.
A speaker establishes common ground by mentioning a common interest relevant to the subject at hand. This technique should be distinguished from the ''plain-folks'' appeal mentioned in the previous chapter. Unlike the politician who reminds his audience that he too was born and raised on a farm—a claim that may be true but is probably unrelated to his topic—common ground is established on a point relevant to the talk. And it is sincere. When visiting a university at which he once was a student, a professor might begin: " It is a real pleasure to be in Iowa City, to visit again this university where I received two degrees, and to have the opportunity to renew so many happy and precious friendships. It was here that many of my ideas about communication theory and public speaking were formed.''
Many times you can gain the audience's attention simply by referring to the occasion, significance of the subject, special interest of the audience, or what a previous speaker has said.
Occasion. Several years ago, during our country's bicentennial, a speaker began: ''We are assembled to celebrate the two-hundredth birthday of the United States." A speech commemorating the world's first night flight in Montgomery, Alabama, began: ''Today we are gathered on a very historic spot. It was here at the Wright Flying School that the first successful night flight was completed.''
Subject. The method of referring to the subject is closely related to the earlier comments concerning the motivation step appropriate for the lecture. The method is simple. Develop the attention around the implied theme: My subject is important to you now. In other words, tell the listeners why they should listen to you. This approach is most successful when you do not actually tell the listeners why the subject is important, since actually telling them often results in a colorless, trite statement. You simply think of the two or three reasons why the subject is significant, then state and amplify them until the audience reacts favorably. A slight variation is to start something like this: ''I am not afraid that you will underestimate the importance of what I have to say today, for the subject of _______________ concerns everybody."
Special Interests. A speaker addressing a local Lions Club known for its support of the Blue-Gray football game each year to raise money for the eye bank program might start: ''The Blue-Gray football game is enjoyed annually through nationwide TV. But how many of its viewers know that it is more than a game with some of this country's finest professional prospects? All of us in this room know that this game helps people see."
Previous Speaker. When several speakers appear on one occasion, an alert speaker can often shape an opening based on what someone else has already said. This means is particularly effective since the reference is fresh in the listeners' minds and gives a sense of spontaneity to the talk. If you use this approach you can either explain how your subject fits with the previous talk or show a plausible relation between the two. For example: "Sergeant Henry just told you how important it is to use effective support in your talks. I am going to speak on something even more basic. I want to suggest how important it is to provide a good organizational framework in which to use the kinds of support Sergeant Henry talked about."
Transitions and Interim Summaries
Transitions and interim summaries can be used to help the audience understand the continuity of thought and focus on main ideas.
Transitions are statements used by the speaker to move from the introduction to the body of the talk, between main points, between subpoints within each main point, and from the body to the conclusion of the talk. Transitions signal to the audience that you are progressing to a new point, but they are also important in maintaining the continuity of the information being given. Consider this transition:We have discussed the precedents for a mandatory physical fitness program in the military. Next we will consider the benefits of such a program.
This transition indicates a change in direction, but it does not indicate the reason for or importance of the change.
For transitions to be effective, they should (1) mention the point just discussed, (2) relate that point to the objective of the talk, and (3) introduce the next point. All three steps are incorporated in the following transition:We have discussed the precedents for a mandatory physical fitness program in the military, but these precedents alone will not prove a need for such a program. To more fully understand that need, we must next examine in several practical situations the benefits of mandatory physical fitness.
When planned and used correctly, transitions act as ''mini-summaries'' and contribute substantially to the continuity of the total talk.
Summaries after main points or key ideas are useful tools for maintaining continuity within a talk and for highlighting areas of particular importance. Interim summaries are not always necessary in a talk. In fact, if the point is very clear, a summary may be unnecessarily redundant and boring. You should use them, however, when main points are unusually long or contain complex or unfamiliar information. With interim summaries you repeat information concisely and reinforce audience understanding before new information is presented. Interim summaries should not take the place of transitions; they should provide a means for you to progress logically from one main point, through the transition, and into the next point.
After Preparation, Then What?
The first four chapters of this book have provided suggestions on preparing, organizing, supporting, and finally on beginning and ending the talk. What comes next is the most frightening part for many people—the actual presentation of the talk. The next chapter provides some suggestions for speaking more effectively.