The Power Of Contrast In Your Next Speech

To capture your audience's imagination, you need to change things up
To capture your audience’s imagination, you need to change things up
Image Credit: ImagineCup

One of my favorite experts in the world of making presentations is lady named Nancy Duarte. She runs a company called Duarte Inc which specializes in helping presenters get their message across using great visuals and she really understands the importance of public speaking. The company’s biggest claim to fame so far is that they created the slides that Al Gore used during his famous “An Inconvenient Truth” speeches. Nancy knows how to grab and hold an audience’s attention and she’s not shy about telling us how to do it.

Know Your Audience

How do you go about preparing a speech that you are going to be giving to an audience? If you are like most of us, you run off to your hole (house, apartment, room, computer, etc.) and just start pounding out what you think will be a great speech. As you can see by some of the less than spectacular results that you’ve probably gotten, this is not the best way to capture your audience’s attention. Instead, what you need to do is to find a way to crawl inside of your audience’s head and see the world the way that they do.

What we’re going to want to discover is how the people who will be in our audience like to process the information that they are being given. They process it in multiple ways including both intellectually and emotionally. What we have to be very careful to avoid is showing up with our speech in our hand and then proceeding to make a pronouncement of our fantastic wisdom to our audience. They won’t care what we have to say if we do this.

One other key piece of information that we’re going to have to uncover before we give our next speech is almost the opposite of what we spend our time normally trying to discover. What we need to know is what ideas that we might present to our audience will cause them to push back, to resist? Which of the ideas that we’ve worked into our speech will end up getting thrown back into our face? We really can’t stop this from happening; however, if we can anticipate the reaction of our audience, then we can prepare for it and have an appropriate response ready.

Maximize The Contrast

One of the things that I love the most about Nancy Duarte is the time and effort that she puts into studying speech that work. She wants to know what the presenter is dong that is connecting with the audience. Her ultimate goal here is to try to capture that “thing” that good presenters do and then make it available to the rest of us so that we can present like the best. She’s taken the time to study Dr. Martin Luther King, Steve Jobs, etc. She discovered what made their speeches so great.

What Nancy uncovered is that the best presenters use a common form for their best speeches. This form maximizes the contrast between how things are and how things can be. Contrast can take on many different forms during our presentations: content, delivery, and emotion. What we are going to want to be doing is creating and resolving tension through contrast. We’ll want to present our idea, and then we’ll want to present whatever the opposite of our idea is. During our presentation we’ll want to move between these two ideas and show our audience why our idea is so much better than the alternative.

What All Of This Means For You

Nancy Duarte is the owner of a company that specializes in creating visuals that help tell stories and get messages across to audiences. She really knows her stuff. She has been taking the time to study the really good speakers in order to determine why they are such good speakers. She thinks that she has discovered their secret that we can use to make sure that our next audience gets the benefits of public speaking,.

If we want to have any hope of connecting with your next audience, then you are going to have to make sure that you don’t show up expecting them to just absorb and agree with what you have to say. Instead, you’ll have to take the time to crawl into their heads and understand how they want to receive your information. You’ll also have to understand which of your ideas are going to generate the most push back. Nancy has studied the speaking styles of the most successful speakers and she has learned that they do an excellent job of using contrast to capture their audience’s attention.

The way that we can become better speakers is by taking the time to study how the really good speakers do their stuff. Since none of us have the time to sit down and do a good job of this, people like Nancy Duarte are especially important to us. If we listen to what she has to say about understanding our audience and adding contrast to our speeches, then the next speech that we give just might be our best!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills™

Question For You: How quickly do you think that you should switch between the two contrasts in your speech?

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Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

In order for the effort that we put into creating and delivering a speech to all be worth it, we need to get something out of the presentation. Yes, if you are being paid to speak, then you are getting something, but even then we speakers want more. What we want is for our audience to be moved to action by what we have told them. How to make this happen during your next speech is what we all want to know how to do.