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ASK OCE — May 10, 2006 — Vol. 1, Issue 8


All speech is persuasive. A speech or presentation is an opportunity to change the hearts and minds of an audience, but most speakers appeal too much to the mind and forget the heart. The best speeches are, at their core, emotional events for both the speaker and the audience.

Far too many speakers overlook one simple fact: they must first appeal to the audiences emotions in order to engage their minds. Instead, presenters often disgorge a blur of facts, statistics, and concepts that can’t possibly be digested in the allotted time. An overwhelmed audience quickly tunes out.

A speech is actually a somewhat clumsy way to transmit dense or voluminous information. Lincoln did not review the entire chronology of the Civil War when he gave the Gettysburg Address, nor did Reagan recap the history of the Shuttle program when he spoke to the nation after the Challenger disaster. Any speech requires some pertinent information, but the presenter needs to decide what he or she wants the audience to do with that information after the speech is over.

Rather than thinking of a speech as a “data dump,” a speaker needs to determine how to build a narrative that the audience can understand as a linear story. There are four parts to any good speech:

The Kickoff. The opening of a speech should be a pertinent anecdote or arresting fact. The goal here is to grab the audience’s attention. As a rule, don’t start with a joke unless you are Jerry Seinfeld. A bad joke means a bad start.

The State of the Union. The second part of the speech highlights the context for the speech. This section often makes the audience feel uncomfortable about the current state of affairs. Most speakers want to jump right to solutions. This is a mistake. The audience should feel that the status quo needs to change, and that the speaker is the person to bring about that change. The goal is to help the audience think differently.

The Ideas. This is where the speaker’s creative ideas can be introduced as a counterpoint to the State of the Union. Depending on the circumstances, the speaker should strive to give the audience a sense of relief or optimism about the options to improve the situation.

The Call to Action. Here the speaker asks the audience to do something specific. Having an audience merely consider or think about something does not count. The speaker should call on the audience to act: call a Congressperson, write a letter to the editor, or organize a working group.

With these four sections properly laid out, the audience will feel engaged, compelled to act, and honored by the speaker. When properly inspired and challenged, it will be glad to oblige.

(This is the first in a series of occasional tips on effective public presentation and communication.)

In This Issue

Message from the Chief Engineer

NASA on the Hill: Administrator Griffin Testifies about Budget

This Week in NASA History: Magellan Heads to Venus

PM Challenge 2006 Draws 1,000

GAO: NPOESS Requires Agency Attention

Risk Communication: One PM’s Perspective

Leadership Corner: A Speech is Not a Data Dump

It’s a Small, Small World: NASA Nanotechnology

Archimedes Archive: The First Flight of Traian Vuia

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