Be Direct!

by Stephen Boyd | July 9, 2007

Last winter when our family was sightseeing in Italy, our rental car had an installed Global Positioning System. Over a period of three weeks, we commonly referred to the GPS voice as “the lady in the dashboard.”

After about ten days of hearing this reference, our six-year-old granddaughter Kinley asked, “Can the lady in the dashboard see us?” We all had a laugh, but although “the lady in the dashboard” could not see us, she enabled the driver more easily to find the direct way to an unfamiliar location.

Whatever we are dealing with, we want the direct way, and that is especially true in speaking. We want to remember the truth behind the familiar admonition, “Don’t beat around the bush.” In other words, be direct.

Let’s look at some ways we can be direct in delivering presentations. First, develop a thesis statement from your talk. This is simply the essence of your speech in one sentence. The thesis sentence may change completely from the time you start preparing the speech until you actually deliver the presentation. But this sentence provides the self-discipline to be direct and to stay on your limited topic as defined by the thesis. When you finish preparing the speech, compare the content with the thesis. If that one sentence does not apply to the thirty minutes of content, you need to keep working on it until it does. This will insure directness and avoid extraneous material.

A second way to be direct is to use the deductive approach in organizing your thoughts. Going from the general to the specific in developing a point will illustrate directness. Make an assertion and then provide evidence for that point. Don’t begin your point by giving anecdotal material or a case study; this does not let your audience know where you are going with the thought. Give your conclusion first, and then develop your support.

Tell the audience exactly what you want them to do or what you want them to understand. Look directly at your audience and say, “What I want you to do as a result of this presentation is…” or “The action I want you to take as a result of my three reasons is….” Don’t make them draw their own conclusions; draw the conclusion for them. Leave no doubt as to what you want to happen as a result of speaking to them for your allotted time.

If you are delivering an informative presentation and you want the audience to understand a certain concept or how to use a particular product, tell them before you explain and then tell them again when you finish. You might do this early in the presentation by saying, “When I finish you will understand how to use this widget on your car.” Then, in conclusion, say, “As you can see by this explanation, the way to use this widget is to….”

One way to improve any presentation is to apply the principles of directness. You never want an audience to leave wondering what you wanted them to do or understand. They may not agree with what you say, but at least they will understand clearly what your desired response as a result of your presentation.

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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