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What are you talking about?

WHAT are you talking about?

Focus! The one ingredient missing from most speeches and presentations. Too many presentations begin with a boring, "Good morning, thanks for being here." The speaker then launches right into his or her presentation with nary a thought about whether audience members know why they are there or why they should care about what the speaker is about to say. More importantly, speakers launch into their material without asking themselves, "Will my audience be able to follow or understand my presentation?"

As a speaker, you know what ground you'll be covering, what information you plan to convey. You know where you are going; your audience doesn't. In fact, most of the people facing you in the audience are not waiting expectantly for your pearls of wisdom to pour forth. Instead, they are mentally sifting through their own problems ... unfinished work on their desks, family problems, finances. If your presentation is to be effective, it's up to you to separate the audience from its preoccupations and turn its attention toward you and your material.

Frames Add Context

Frames help put a presentation into perspective, help make it easier for your audience to follow your thinking and perhaps align themselves with your ideas.

What are frames? Simply, frames are structures in which to put your ideas. They provide context. For example, a company embarking on a new business strategy might want to apply the frame of "perspective," in which the spokesperson leads listeners - employees, shareholders, the media - through a discussion of:

Where we were.

Where we are.

Where we're going.

We taught the frame of perspective to the former chairman of a major chemical company, who used it with great success while appearing on US television to respond to charges that his company had stopped making napalm because of pressure from anti-war activists during the Vietnam War. His response:

"No, we stopped making napalm because we lost the contract on a government bid. (Where we were.)

"We'd still be willing to make it again if we were asked to, because although we don't like war, as long as we're sending our troops out to fight, we believe they ought to be protected. (Where we are.)

"But we don't make napalm anymore. I'd rather talk about things we do make. For example, we're in the life sciences business, exploring vaccines for measles and cures for leukemia." (Where we're going.)

The success of this executive's frames was illustrated by the anchorman's response: "I never thought of your company as a pharmaceutical company, but I suppose pharmaceuticals are chemicals, aren't they."

Or, there's the frame of "definition," in which the presenter, perhaps introducing to his audience a new product or service, makes certain the audience understands:

What it is.

How it works.

Who it helps.

Why the audience

should care.

A major consumer products company is currently embroiled in a dispute with environmentalists regarding the proposed installation of a new incinerator to be used for disposal of hazardous wastes. We are working with this organization to develop frames of definition to help educate the local community, lawmakers and the media about the new technology used to build the incinerator, the extensive testing prior to installation and continued monitoring of emissions once the unit is up and running. This communication technique is helping the public understand what the company is trying to do, why it wants to do it and the ways in which the community will benefit.

An alternative, but similar form of the "definition" frame is the frame of "explanation." Our work with a foreign government illustrates the application of the frame of explanation. This government has been accused of effectively closing its domestic markets to foreign businesses while exploiting the open trade borders of other countries. As a result, the government is facing trade barriers in the form of protectionist legislation from its trading partners. To combat the rising tide of negative attitudes, its trade ministers are now explaining to the public:

What we're doing.

Why we're doing it.

How we're doing it.

Who we're doing

it for.

Why you should care.

Another easily applicable frame is the frame of "clarity," in which the speaker suggests there are several myths or misunderstandings which need to be corrected.

For example, another US chemical products company is currently concerned about a ban in several states on one of its key products, an ingredient used by leading soap and detergent manufacturers. Vocal activists are telling the public that this ingredient, a naturally occurring mineral, is doing irreversible damage to flora and fauna in lakes, rivers and tidal areas.

Research showed that legislators, the media and the public are remarkably ignorant about the facts surrounding this mineral. To educate them and correct misconceptions, we are counseling the company's executives to present their side of the story in a "myth-fact" format. The spokesperson recites a misconception about his topic, and then refutes it with the actual facts surrounding the issue.

For example, "Myth: Banning this mineral will prevent the death of countless fish and other marine life in local waterways. Fact: In states where this mineral has been banned, there is no evidence of improved water quality."

The Frame of Dos and Don'ts

A similar frame, called the frame of "dos and don'ts," is most effectively applied for internal presentations during times of crisis. A New Jersey-based company used this frame to help its top executives cope with media inquiries following the alleged release of noxious chemicals into the atmosphere. Local farmers told the media these chemicals had ruined their lettuce crops. Network television crews camped at the company gates awaiting a reply to the farmers' charges.

Fortunately, we had prepared the company for this type of eventuality, arming its spokespeople with a list of response methods organized into "do" frames and "don't do" frames. For instance, some of the "dos":

*DO make yourselves available to the media.

*DO admit network camera crews to the plant.

*DO openly and candidly discuss what we make at this plant.

*DO tell the truth regarding the situation.

Some of the "don't" frames:

*DON'T reply to questions with "no comment."

*DON'T antagonize reporters by refusing to admit them to the premises or by obfuscating the facts.

*DON'T blame the farmers for their ignorance.

*DON'T lie to the farmers or the media.

Although the dos and don'ts were somewhat difficult for the company to follow, it gritted its teeth and followed its own rules. Each of the three major networks investigated the story. Two deemed it a "non-story." The third gave it a balanced and objective half-minute on the evening news, and featured a company spokesperson discussing what happened. The segment showed the farmers' fears to be groundless. More importantly, it showed the company to be an available and honest commentator on the event.

Reveal Frames Early

When a speaker has three or more points which need to be covered within one of these frames, it's a good idea to put all of them on the table at the outset of the speech. In other words, begin your presentation by putting the information you plan to convey into frames the audience can easily absorb and follow. Say, "Today I'm going to discuss what we're doing, why we're doing it, how we're going about it and what this all means to you. First, what are we doing?" Let them know what to expect from your presentation. Then, as you begin the actual presentation, review for your audience each frame, one by one, just as you laid it out in the beginning. A simple transition statement such as, "So much for what we're doing. Let's now move on to how we're doing it," will accomplish this move from topic to topic. This technique lets listeners know exactly what you plan to cover. They can adjust their minds as you move through each of the key points within each frame.

Using these frames should simplify and clarify any presentation and make you a better public speaker. Interestingly enough, they also make your audience better and more responsive.

Michael Klepper is chairman, Michael Klepper Associates, Inc., a marketing communication agency in New York City.
COPYRIGHT 1990 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:public speaking techniques
Author:Klepper, Michael
Publication:Communication World
Date:Oct 1, 1990
Words:1361
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