Having Something to Say

If You Don’t Have Something To Say, You Are Wasting People’s Time, And They Will Know It Immediately. 

By Thomas J. Roach

Public communication comes with requirements. When speaking or writing to a group we contend with different expectations than when we speak privately. We are supposed to be organized, to use more formal language and to have information that the audience or readers do not already possess. 

Speakers who wing it, who try to bluff their way through a talk, are rarely successful. Information is like food, and audiences like to be fed. Whatever the topic, it is always good to do a little research and come up with interesting, little-known information. 

If the information is surprising, it can be used as an attention-getter in the introduction. This is especially helpful if one is speaking or writing about something familiar to the audience. Not only does it teach them something new, but it has shock value because the audience realizes they were not as well informed as they thought. Additionally, the new and unusual information demonstrates that the speaker has expertise on the topic, and that creates interest in the rest of the speech. 

Sometimes the new or little-known information is the subject of the discourse. This requires more research and careful arrangement because the audience is learning something in depth. The new machine looks different, but the speaker or writer explains that its operation is similar to the old machine. Or the new equipment looks like the old equipment, but its operation is different. The insights are layered into the discourse as steps or levels of revelation. 

If the new information is complicated, it may need to be imbedded in the conclusion after building a base of understanding in the body of the presentation. Many car companies have decided they do not need to provide spare tires. It seems like a bad idea, but if a speaker goes through the list of justifications, it might make sense and be more acceptable: calling a tow truck is safer than changing a tire on the side of the road and most new car owners have insurance that provides for towing. 

Cars without spares are lighter and therefore get better gas milage. Not having a spare means more room for storage. Tire inflation kits are becoming more effective. And, of course, one can always buy run-flat tires. 

A presentation on eliminating the spare tire might start with the surprising question, do you really need a spare tire? The body would discuss the points about safety, insurance, milage, storage, inflation kits and run-flats. The point that concludes the presentation might be made by researching another little-known fact: approximately one third of all new cars sold this year will come without a spare.

How many times have you engaged in a heated debate over something that could be resolved in seconds by running a few words through a search engine? 

Advancements in technology make the world more complicated every day. No one is smart enough to keep track of all the changes, and the more we become dependent on digital entertainment and broadcast news, the less we read and the less in-depth knowledge we have. Someone who actually spends 20 minutes reading about a topic in Wikipedia and online information sites becomes an expert among novices, and someone who really studies an issue can become a leader among experts.

Research is an especially powerful tool in speeches and presentations. Knowledge makes us confident and overcomes shyness. It gets the attention of our audience. It adds value to the discourse. And it makes the speaker a trusted authority on the topic. 

Formal presentations are supposed to be interesting, informative, and efficient, not conversational. You may wear some really impressive clothes; you may project your voice and speak clearly. You may even be charming and persuasive, but if you don’t have something to say, you are wasting people’s time, and they will know it immediately. 

The most important component of communication is simply having something to say.

Thomas J. Roach Ph.D., has 30 years experience in communication as a journalist, media coordinator, communication director and consultant. He has taught at Purdue University Northwest since 1987, and is the author of “An Interviewing Rhetoric.” He can be reached at [email protected].

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