Michael H. Schaefer, DTM

One on One Coach, Keynote Speaker, Leadership Trainer

Could You Be More Specific?

(Does this look like the general direction of your speech?)

“I am the greatest!” “Things are worse than ever.” “They don’t make them like they used to.” “This is the best ice cream ever.” “Coke is better than Pepsi.”

Phrases like these during a speech fall into the C+C Music Factory category: They are all ‘Things that make me go hmmm.’

Unsubstantiated points (in this case, opinions) take me right out of listener mode and put me into investigator mode. I stop listening to the speaker and try to figure out if in my experience what he or she just said really was true or if there might be a way to prove it.

It is so easy to keep the audience with you when making a point. Just give an example to illustrate it or prove its validity. Like:

Did the speaker win the world heavyweight boxing title? Then he may, in fact, be the greatest.

In 1965, CEO’s from major corporations earned 24 times what the average worker made. In 2007, CEO’s made 275 times more. So comparatively, things may be worse than ever (for the worker, not the CEO.)

William Faulkner, one of the greatest novelists of the twentieth century wrote screenplays for movies made over 50 years ago, so that they, in fact, don’t make them like they used to.

Bon Apetit Magazine rates Van Leeuwen the best ice cream in New York City.

In studies carried out in 2005, People who knew they were drinking Coca Cola preferred it to people who didn’t know what brand they were drinking, regardless of whether they were drinking Coke or Pepsi. So in associative terms Coke has a bigger brand presence in people’s minds. It feels like it’s better than Pepsi in some way.

Now doesn’t that sound less opinionated and more convincing?

There’s nothing like a little research to bolster your subjective arguments.

For points other than opinions, examples add clarity to something that starts out general. And too many generalities verge on the cliché or risk boring the audience with warm but fuzzy indefiniteness. Check the difference:

Mars is known as the red planet.

Mars is known as the red planet because of its iron oxide content. We have another word for iron oxide: rust. Imagine a planet filled — with rust.

The sparrow hawk is fast.

The sparrow hawk is fast. It attacks its prey twice as fast as a cheetah.

The difference between a million and a trillion is immense.

The difference between a million and a trillion is immense. A stack of a million dollar bills would equal a building thirty-five stories high. A stack of a trillion dollar bills would reach a quarter of the way to the moon.

Examples are all about specificity. Clarify an image, create a concrete effect in the audience’s understanding. They’ll latch on, and you can take them on a more tangible, captivating and effective ride. A metaphorical example for the difference between a general speech and a specific one might be an old train traveling through a flat plain filled with fog and a roller coaster on a sunny day with crisp views all the way to the horizon. Your specificity will leave your passengers sweaty and smiling. Don’t forget to tell them to hold on tight!

Next time: The Biggest Secret Weapon of Them All…

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