State your bottom line

Now for what audiences most want to hear up front: your bottom line. Rudolf Flesch, a pioneer in plain English writing, called that "spilling the beans." Spilling the beans is even more crucial for speaking than it is for writing. In other words, make your bottom line your top line by telling your audience, right up front, your conclusion, recommendation, or request.

For example:

• A conclusion: "Overall, you'll be pleased with our company's financial picture. Our profits are up 8% and our predictions are all good. Now let's look at the details."

• A recommendation: "The promotion system for our junior staff isn't working, I'll explain the problems and suggest we set up a promotion board to make all selections."

• A request: "Our division needs a color printer to help us prepare more professional proposals."

Some speakers don't like this approach, hating to give away the bottom line at the beginning. They feel audiences are more receptive who first hear all the facts and all the logical arguments and then hear the bottom line at the end.

However, I don't think their audiences would agree. From my experience, audiences that have to wait get impatient. Worse, they often get confused: all those facts and arguments simply don't mean much without the essential context of the bottom line. Imagine yourself as part of the audience: when would you want the speaker to tell you the bottom line?

So get to the point—right up front. What works best for you as a listener also works best for you as a speaker.

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