The August 23, 2015 headline of The New York Times read:
A Plunge in China Rattles Markets Across the Globe

Stocks around the world tumbled in volatile trading on Monday, leaving investors to wonder how much government officials can and will do to insulate the global economy from the turmoil. The upheaval in the markets began with another rout in China that drew comparisons to the 1987 crash in the United States known as “Black Monday.”

The large-type front-page headline, like the one above, became popular in the late 19th century when increased competition between newspapers led to the proliferation of bold, attention-grabbing headlines. Readers were immediately drawn to the words, and soon newspapers employed all manner of typographical embellishments to grab people’s attention, including bold type, underlined phrases, and italic words.

Mere words? Hardly. Newspapers skillfully arrange sequences of words in ways that make us feel the full impact of important stories. Sometimes it’s horror, contempt, and anger: “GERMANY AND ITALY DECLARE WAR ON U.S.” Other times, it’s pure inspiration: “THE CROWNING GLORY. EVEREST IS CLIMBED!”

While, we can’t necessarily see the words you speak, these very same principles apply to your presentations. Think about how you say the headlines above out loud or in your head.  Think about how you change your tone or the spacing of the words.

It’s difficult for listeners to absorb everything a speaker says, especially when a series of ideas is coming at them in such rapid-fire succession. Which is why I encourage my clients to highlight key feelings, attitudes, and words by emphasizing certain phrases more boldly than others.  You should always ask yourself these two questions when giving a speech:

  1. What do we want the audience to think, feel, or do to move them closer to our cause?
  2. What is different after communication has taken place?

Highlighting every word you say is counterproductive to those goals. You want to be selective. You want to ask yourself which concepts and phrases deserve more attention than others. I’ve written previously about speaking like a broadcast journalist – doing so helps you punctuate your speech and communicate what is of real interest to your audience.

When we speak, there are a variety of techniques that will make our meaning clear, including emphasis, intonation, rhythm, and strategic pauses. In addition, what we don’t say can help our message.  When giving a presentation, you can punctuate your speech in a variety of ways, including with physical gestures. You can raise your eyebrows. Furrow your brow. Take a moment to smile. All these physical movements can help you draw your audience’s attention to a particular element of your speech.  It’s also a visual guide for your audience.  While they can’t see the punctuation written on your script or memorized in your mind or felt in your heart, they can see your expressions, gestures and you’re your carefully emphasized message.

Want to get your audience’s attention?  Apply the same tactics used in prose – they are just as applicable!

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