Presentation Skills Training: Speech Goals

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Principle: Effective speaking and presenting begins with a specific speech goal adapted to the audience and/or occasion.

Every speaker or presenter should have a speech goal. So, once you have identified or been informed of the subject/topic — you are now ready to begin the process of writing a goal-oriented speech and/or developing the presentation. It should go without saying that to be an effective presenter you must understand the nuances of speech goals. In this regard you must think in terms of (1) the general goal and (2) the specific goal.

Speech Goals: The General Goal

speech goals

General speech goals can be seen from a number of perspectives depending on the occasion. One general goal may be to be entertaining or humorous. Another may be to change the attitude of the audience or listeners. Another may be to lead the group to take a certain action.

Speeches and presentations oftentimes are delivered in complex or challenging situations. Therefore, the effective presenter will seek to understand the dynamics of the situation and the people connected to that situation as much as possible. Obviously if you are employed at the firm where you will be making the presentation then you have a significant advantage. You should know the topics of conversation and the things that encourage fellow employees. You will be familiar with company successes and the not-so-positive aspects as well. These insights will help you to be appropriate in tone, humility, humor, and opening comments.

If you are not employed at the particular firm or organization having as much pre-program information as possible is essential. This will allow you to understand the context and prepare for the most appropriate opening dialogue.

Acquiring as much “before presentation” information as possible is not optional. By so-doing the speaker/presenter can develop the appropriate “lead in” information to share with the audience members. The general goal can be to simply break the ice, lighten the mood, change perceptions, or demonstrate respect. It can also be something far more serious. The situation or occasion will dictate how deep or penetrating the general goal should be. But, without the accomplishment of the general goal the likelihood of an effective presentation diminishes.

Strive to set the most appropriate general goals for your next speech or presentation.

Speech Goals: The Specific Goal

The specific speech goal is a statement of what you want the audience to do as a result of listening to your speech or presentation. Writing the sentence with an “I want them to …” approach can get your creative juices flowing and help you to be specific in what you bring to the presentation. Too often presenters bring unrelated information into the speech. This may be because he or she found the information personally meaningful or humorous. But you must always remember that because something is meaningful to you, doesn’t mean it holds much value for the listener. The specific speech goal keeps the listener in mind.

speech goals
speech goals

I teach that we should practice “speaker’s stinginess.” This means that typically we know lots more about our subject than we actually share. We must be selective about what we bring to the presentation. We never want to try to teach ALL we know in a single presentation. This “over-info” approach can lead to intense boredom and disinterest for the listener. Remember, bring only that information into the speech that is directly or indirectly related to your specific goal.

Some examples of specific goals:

“I want my listeners to be understand the importance of subordinate ‘buy-in’ when it comes to departmental restructuring.”

“I want my listeners to understand the value to investing in mutual funds early in life.”

Let me give a few valuable tips for developing specific speech goals.

  • speech goalsKeep writing it out until it conveys exactly what you want the listeners to do – don’t compromise on this and don’t rush it. Getting this right helps you to specify what information and data to bring into the speech or presentation. You will feel better about yourself AND your listeners will benefit in a deeper way.
  • Write it in a way that keeps the needs and/or best interest of your audience in mind – Too often speakers are more concerned with what they want to say rather than with what needs to be said. The audience members are there to be informed, instructed, and bettered. They are not there merely to allow you to share your passions. Keep why they are there at the forefront of your thinking.
  • Make sure you are only conveying one dominant goal, not several – While you may have some sub-goals, these exist only to bolster the value of the dominant goal. You want your listeners leaving the room with the ability to answer the question: “What was the speaker’s purpose in the presentation?”

I trust this short article has been helpful.

All the best!

Tony Guthrie, Ph. D.



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