Author Joy Engelsman
In this classic scene from the movie, Dave, actress Bonnie Hunt plays the role of a White House tour guide. While directing a group of tourists along the red-carpeted halls, she pauses to announce bits of history related to the tour. Each stop, with the guide’s commentary is part of the whole tour in the same way that each point of a speech is part of a whole presentation.
The tour guide knows her material really well. She’s memorized the key points and tells them with interest. But, like many speakers, she hasn’t thought much about how to travel between them. Instead, walking backward and waving the tourists forward, she repeats, “We’re walking; we’re walking, and we’re stopping!” each time she wants them to move with her to the next point.
Speakers are like tour guides. It’s our job to keep the group together, so we have to do more than just know the content of our main points. We also need to decide how we’re going to move the whole audience with us from one point to the next with more interest and creativity than repeating, “We’re walking, we’re walking, and we’re stopping.”
We usually call these connecting words transitions, but I prefer the term ligaments because the word transitions can imply a significant change from one thing to another, and sometimes the pieces that we’re connecting in our presentations are fairly similar, not different from each other. Besides, the word ligaments gives us an immediate picture of the vital role they play in our real lives.
Like healthy ligaments that join the bones of our bodies so that they all work together, good transitions link the main ideas of our speeches and presentations without necessarily suggesting a drastic change. An effective speaker will thoughtfully consider how best to keep the audience moving along with the presentation by developing these healthy ligaments:
1. Verbal Ligaments
Most often, we use well-selected words to tell our audience that we have completed one point and are moving on to another. In an upcoming post, I’ll explain how words can connect, develop, or offer contrast to the ideas of the presentation to move the audience along.
2. Silent Ligaments
Sometimes the best indicator that we’ve completed a thought is silence. Just stop and breathe. Put some empty space between the major points so that the audience can catch up with you. In my first year of teaching a combination class of 5th and 6th graders, I struggled with classroom management until a veteran teacher advised me, “Stop talking and just look at them. Your students will stop with you and then together you can move on.” In the movie, Hunt’s character never considered this option as she prattled on and on with her Tour Guide information. Her constant talking contributed to the humor, but in our speeches, it’s not quite as funny when we lose our audience members along the way.
3. Position Ligaments
An effective speaker is intentional about posture, stage location, and gestures that subtly tell the audience, “Ok, we settled that point, and now we’re walking, we’re walking…” Use a mirror to find a combination of body postures that works for you. For example, lean forward to finish your point, then stand straight, relax your shoulders and drop your arms to your sides. Choose a location on the stage that will mark all of your ligaments and go to it each time. Go back to the podium, or if you end each point at the podium, then step away as you move on. Select a significant gesture and repeat it at the beginning of each major point.
Some ligaments are better than others and each of us needs to find what works best for the variety of talks that we give. The only hard and fast rule is that we intentionally think and plan what words, silence or position will fill the spaces between our main points. After all, a good presentation without ligaments is just a pile of bones.
Listen for ligaments in the speeches of other presenters. How does the speaker keep the audience together and connected to their topic as they move through the presentation?
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Joy has been part of the DCI family for 20 years. She teaches preaching at Denver Seminary, writes on communication and worship, and serves as a part-time Chaplain for a hospice in Denver. Joy and her husband Bob enjoy living in Denver with their two teenage daughters.