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Oral Presentations: language, graphs and charts, anecdotes

It's Not Only About Visuals. Verbal Devices Can Help Too.

A picture can be worth a thousand words. But beyond slides, there are figures of speech and other verbal devices that also help to bring information alive. They help to clarify a complex message. They help your audience to better see, hear, feel—and remember. Here are just a few of the more common devices to choose from when you're making a point or stating a claim.

Metaphors and similes.
The two often are mistaken for one another. The difference:

A metaphor suggests a comparison by referring to or describing one thing as something else. "All the world's a stage." A metaphor should paint a picture in the mind, allowing you to make your point simply and quickly.

We routinely use metaphors in everyday speech to state or describe an idea. "That's a bird of a different feather... It's the elephant in the room ... It's a slam dunk ... " Metaphors serve as a shorthand description of something and aren't meant to be taken literally.

A simile is a direct comparison between two things that are not alike through the words like and as. "We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream," from Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech, is an excellent use of similes.

Used creatively, both devices can add punch to your remarks. They let you compare the subject you're discussing to something that's more familiar, more vivid, or more memorable.

Don't overdo the use of these, however. Make sure you're using them in the right way. And don't mix your metaphors. "That's a horse of a different feather" can only confuse your listeners and amuse them—at your expense.

Statistics. Most people don't like statistics. Still, they can be useful and sometimes essential, in making a point.

"Statistics have one purpose, which is to support your central ideas. The statistics themselves are not the message."

Try a little creativity when using statistics. No one, for example, will likely absorb or remember "8,979,362." "Almost nine million" is better. Better still, if it applies, is "40 percent", which is not as good for most audiences as "about four out of every 10."

Put your statistics within a context. Here's a good example from a recent review of how computer viruses can impact businesses: "Viruses, adware, spyware—they're a scourge of modern life. These attacks cost businesses upward of $23 billion a year in PC repairs and lost work. In the first half of 2004 alone, nearly 4,500 new viruses popped up—ten times more than just four years ago. On average, more than three out of four e-mails now contain a virus or advertising message."

Statistics have one purpose, which is to support your central ideas. The statistics themselves are not the message. The key is to use just enough statistics to make your case, and not to tell your listeners everything you know about a subject. So don't use more detail than you need—just enough to support your ideas. Explain what the statistics mean and identify your sources.

Anecdotes.
These are very short stories or descriptions that can also add impact to your remarks. They can be humorous, emotional, or serious. They should convey a particular point and they should fit seamlessly with your surrounding material. They should be a way to support your point, not serve as a digression with no particular purpose.

When you're looking for an anecdote, start by deciding what purpose you want it to serve. The best anecdotes are based on personal experience. But don't let that limit you. There are many sources of anecdotes, including an almost endless variety of Internet sites. Such a bounty can be a blessing. It can also be a curse unless you start your search knowing at least in general what you're looking for. It's a good idea to collect and file anecdotes and stories that you may be able to use at the right moment. These can be anecdotes you've heard; they can come from articles or books you've read. In short, they can come from almost any source.

Take the next steps in your journey toward making your presentations more powerful and memorable. Use imagery and other verbal devices to capture the attention and imagination of your audience. Attend a presentations seminar or work privately with one of our consultants to make the most of the structure and language of your presentations.


This Issue

Verbal devices can distinguish a speaker, helping him or her stand out in a crowd and be more powerful and memorable for an audience. To make sure that the structure and language of your next presentation are at the peak of their power, let our consultants help you reach new heights. Call us for some one-on-one coaching; we'll come to your location to work with you or a group of colleagues. You can also attend one of our regularly scheduled seminars that will help you use language and build your overall presentation skills, honing your edge. For more information, follow the links or give us a call at 1-800-874-8278 or outside the US, +1 201 894 8200.

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