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Chapter 13 Presentations to Inform

After all, the ultimate goal of all research is not objectivity, but truth.

Helene Deutsch

Getting Started

Introductory Exercises

  1. Please make a list of five activities you have participated in recently. Choose one and create a time order list, from start to finish, of at least five major steps involved in accomplishing the activity.
  2. From the list of five activities above, please consider which of the activities the audience (or your class) has probably had the least experience with. Now make a list from that activity of at least three things you would explain to them so that they could better understand it. From that new list, consider how you might show those three things, including visual aids.

Storytelling is a basic part of human communication. You’ve probably told several short stories just today to relate to friends what the drive to school was like, how your partner has been acting, what your boss said to a customer, or even what your speech teacher did in class. With each story you were sharing information, but is sharing the same as informing? At first you might be tempted to say “sure,” but consider whether you had a purpose for telling a friend about another friend’s actions, or if the words you used to discuss your boss communicated any attitude.

At some point in your business career you will be called upon to teach someone something. It may be a customer, coworker, or supervisor, and in each case you are performing an informative speech. It is distinct from a sales speech, or persuasive speech, in that your goal is to communicate the information so that your listener understands. For example, let’s say you have the task of teaching a customer how to use a remote control (which button does what) to program a DVD/R to record. Easy, you say? Sure, it’s easy for you. But for them it is new, so take a moment and consider their perspective. You may recommend this unit versus that unit, and aim for a sale, but that goal is separate from first teaching them to be successful at a task they want to learn to perform. You may need to repeat yourself several times, and they may not catch on as fast as you expect, but their mastery of the skill or task they want to learn can directly lead to a sale. They will have more confidence in you and in themselves once they’ve mastered the task, and will be more receptive to your advice about the competing products available.

While your end goal may be a sale, the relationship you form has more long-term value. That customer may tell a friend about the experience, show their family what they learned, and before you know it someone else comes in asking for you by name. Communicating respect and focusing on their needs is a positive first step. The informative speech is one performance you’ll give many times across your career, whether your audience is one person, a small group, or a large auditorium full of listeners. Once you master the art of the informative speech, you may mix and match it with other styles and techniques.