If you speak in front of a group of people on a regular basis, you know that most of the time you will need to say more than a few statements. You may have to go into some detail to answer a question, to express an idea effectively, or to make an important comment. In meetings, you may have to speak for a few minutes to provide a coherent, detailed update or effectively convey your thoughts and ideas.
There are three easy steps we can follow to achieve organized, concise speech, which we can apply to any speaking situation where you will be saying more than a few sentences. I call this the “three-step process." Whether you are giving a presentation to an audience, discussing with team members in a meeting, brainstorming ideas, or conversing with friends, you want to make sure your thoughts are organized, your message is clear, and your speech is concise rather than rambling.
Think of talking to others as telling a story. Every story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. As the mad hatter in Alice in Wonderland used to say about how to tell a story, "Start at the beginning, and when you come to the end, STOP!" Now we just need to organize the story in a logical, sequential way.
Step 1: The bottom line always comes first When you start speaking, always give the bottom line first. Think of this as a little summary of what you are going to talk about. Writers often refer to this as the “topic sentence.” This can be the answer to a question, the first thing you say to start a new topic in a conversation, or an introduction to a presentation.
If you are a detail-oriented person, you may find that you tend to give details first, and then the bottom line is usually last. In the business world, providing the bottom line first is a must. In our fast-paced world, everyone is pressed for time and in a hurry to find out everything. No one wants to wait. They might not even be interested in anything except the bottom line!
Let’s take a look at answering a work-related question with a simple bottom line. Question: Who do you think we should target in Campaign X? Bottom line: Our analysis shows that we should target customers in region D for this campaign.
As mentioned earlier, you can use this process in social situations, as well. Question: How was your vacation? Bottom Line: We had the best vacation we've ever had!
Now that you’ve provided your “topic statement” or “bottom line”, it is time to go to step 2.
Step 2: The details provide the bulk of the story Every story has to have details, or what writers often refer to as the “body”. Here we include descriptions, events, etc. that support our opening statement. Your details should be organized and clear.
Let’s look at some examples: Details in work-related topic: We should target region D for the following three reasons. 1) Customers in region D buy 50% more of our products than in any other area 2) Customers in this region have more money to spend, and 3) customers in region D go shopping more often than customers in regions A, B, and C.
Details from a social conversation: We spent a whole week in Hawaii: three days in Oahu and four days in Maui. The weather was great every day, so we went to the beach and then went sight seeing with the kids afterwards. Every day was packed with activities!
In each of the above cases, you can add as many or as few details as you like, as the situation dictates or allows. If you are giving a presentation, you will have obviously have quite a bit more to say. If you are in a informal conversation, you may choose to give an overview, a few details, or go into specific activities.
Here are some guidelines to follow that will help you speak concisely and make it easy for your audience to follow what you say:
Provide details in a logical sequence. As you tell your story, focus on including events in the order in which they occurred. It is very important for your audience to hear a step-by-step account, rather than listening to events out of sequence.
Speak as simply as you can. It isn't necessary to speak in long, complex sentences. As a general rule, the longer and more complex the sentence is, the more confusing it will sound to your audience and the more grammar mistakes you may make.
Pause after you say something important. Providing too much information at once can be difficult to process, so you may want to pause for a second after you make an important point. This gives your audience a little bit of time to process and understand what you said.
Once you have finished giving the details you want, it is time to end your talk or conversation.
Step 3: The summary ends the story You should end every story, presentation, or talk with a conclusion or summary. This lets the audience know that you are finished. Your summary can consist of one sentence or several sentences, depending on how much information we want to give our audiences and in which speaking situation you are speaking.
Let’s take a look at a couple of examples
Ending a work-related talk
Summary: This project is looking good and should be completed by May 1st.
Ending a social conversation
Summary: My vacation went by way too quickly! I wish I could have stayed there at least another week!
Complete the following exercises for practice in using the three-step process. Feel free to send me written information or audios of the completed tasks for feedback.
1. Give an update on a recent project using the three-step process and record what you say. Go back and listen to it. Did you tell the story in a logical sequence? Were your sentences easy to follow and understand?
2. Talk about a recent family gathering, holiday, or trip using the three-step process and record it. Go back and listen to your recording to see if you hear the three parts to your story clearly. How did you end it? Were you happy with how you sounded?