Masterful speakers create images in their audience’s minds, because long after people have forgotten everything else, they’ll remember the images.
Think of Churchill’s evocation of the “Iron Curtain” or Herbert Hoover’s classic campaign slogan “A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.”
You don’t have to project images on a screen when you give a speech or presentation to create images in your audience’s minds.
You can engage an audience’s imaginations in a speech in at least four ways.
1. Use Nouns and Verbs that Conjure Up Images.
Use concrete, specific nouns and verbs in the active voice — that is, doing verbs instead of being or having verbs.
FOR EXAMPLE: When Lane Kirkland, then-president of the AFL-CIO, gave a speech in his home state about the benefits the federal government provided, he evoked childhood memories. He didn’t just say he recalled what it was like to grow up in poverty. Instead, he told listeners, “I remember a South Carolina that was too poor to paint and too proud to whitewash.”
Psalm 23, possibly the most quoted passage from the Bible, is filled with concrete nouns and active verbs.
2. Give Examples or Make Comparisons.
Compare what you’re talking about (a thought, action, or thing) to something else — preferably to something people can picture in their minds.
I ask my clients to relate some aspect of their favorite pastime to whatever it is they’re giving a speech about. So complete this sentence, “What I want to describe is like….”
FOR EXAMPLE: A CEO who rides a Harley-Davidson motorcycle described a road trip he and his buddies took through the Smokey Mountains. He recalled the coordination and types of communications that the trip required. Then he likened it to the type of teamwork and communications his company needed to pull off its next venture.
3. Use Props.
Props make it easier for the audience to understand — to “see” — what you’re speaking about. They’re memorable. They grab the audience’s attention. They communicate information quickly. A prop can be any physical object that you interact with on stage.
I’ve seen speakers use — effectively — a Frisbee, an alarm clock, scuba gear, a chef’s hat and apron, a somersaulting robot, a drum major’s baton, a catcher’s mask and mitt, a beach ball, and even a bowling ball pulled out of a briefcase.
FOR EXAMPLE: Tom Antion, a professional speaker, builds one of his speeches around three hats. He dons a baseball cap to describe a company that’s young and aggressive. He replaces it with a top hat to talk about a company that has reached a level of maturity. And finally he puts on a safari hat to explain a company’s search for new business.
4. Tell Stories.
Audiences picture a story unfolding in their imaginations, and long after the speech when they’ve forgotten everything else they’ll remember the story. A story is the most powerful and memorable element of any speech or presentation.
FOR EXAMPLE: When the CEO of a community-based health plan speaks to local groups, she tells the story of her childhood in the poorer section of the city. She reflects on the steps she took to get to where she is today, and she inspires her listeners to make the most of their opportunities.
“Vivid images are like a beautiful melody that speaks to you on an emotional level,” says TV producer Steven Bochco. “They bypass your logic centers and even your intellect and go to a different part of your brain.”
And the part of the brain Bochco cites is where your audience can most easily be influenced and inspired. Which is what you want to do when you speak, right?