Need To Know Versus Nice To Know

by Stephen Boyd | December 31, 2004

One of the most challenging parts of preparing a speech is deciding what to include. You are an expert on the topic and thus you want to tell the audience everything you know, but you only have 20 minutes in which to speak! One way of limiting your topic is to consider what would be nice for the audience to know as opposed to what the audience needs to know on your subject.

A history of your topic would be nice to know but is probably not needed. Some history may be necessary for clarity, but you probably don't need to go back to the very beginning. Perhaps what has happened in the past year or last two seasons is enough to give the audience the context.

Slides about your topic or slides which show what you are talking about in picture or graph form are nice but rarely necessary to get your point across in a 20-minute speech. Slides add entertainment and attention value, but may not be necessary when you have strong evidence and illustrative material to make your point.

Talking about the weather, current events, or people in the audience may be rapport-building, but many times it is not necessary. There are certain elements, however, that are needed.

What is needed is a clear point or two that offer new or relevant information for the audience to take away. People can't remember much, so what is needed is a principle or two that will add to the information the audience members may already have on the topic. For example, in delivering a presentation on stage fright for a group of novice speakers, the principle I might want them to take with them is this: learn to control stage fright, not eliminate it. Perhaps a second might be that preparation is a key to controlling stage fright.

As the speaker, you also need adequate support for the principles you want the audience to remember. A research study showing the relationship between preparation and stage fright would supply strong support for my stage fright topic.

A third element that comes from these two points is the structure of the presentation. You need to have clear organization; thus a principle or point plus support is necessary.

Certainly there are other factors in determining what to include in a speech, but answering the question "What is needed in contrast to what is nice?" is a good way to utilize time well for an effective 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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