Did you ever make a speech but see a few people looking at you quizically while you spoke? If so, maybe your explanations and examples weren’t clear enough.

When you’re teaching your audience new content, or perhaps giving them technical or dense information, it’s important to break it down so that everyone understands.

Some of the ways you can do this are:

  • Comparisons. If you come from a small village, maybe the easiest way to give people a sense of its size is to say, “For every one person living in my village there are 500,000 people living in London”.
  • Examples. It’s good practice to illustrate information with clear examples. Use names, places, or descriptors that will help visual learners capture the situation in their mind’s eye. Contrast: “My client saved 10% on her car price” with “My client, Rebecca, saved £10,000 on the cost of a new red Mercedes.” Only a couple of words more have been added and we can paint a clearer picture.
  • Metaphors and Analogies. Aristotle said that to be a good teacher “It is necessary only to be master of the metaphor”. This involves using what we already know to help explain the unknown. Look for everyday examples that might be used to explain more complicated concepts or processes. For example, the nucleus of an atom could be described as being similar to a tennis ball inside a stadium.
  • Stories. A quick story or case study to illustrate your point can work wonders, both for audience understanding and for your own credibility. Again, be descriptive. Don’t go too far by cramming your tale with needless detail that suffocates the listener’s imagination, rather than stimulating it.
  • Pictures, Photos, and Physical Objects. As they say, a picture speaks a thousand words. If you have photos to illustrate your point please do include them. Again, make them nice and large, ideally occupying a whole slide. You can bring physical objects such as models or even wear a costume if it helps drive your point home and increases understanding.
  • Questions. These can be wonderful for encouraging the audience to think. If your content relates to making a decision, you can ask, “What would you do in the same situation?”

PUBLIC SPEAKING – VAK system to aid understanding

Another important consideration is the VAK system. Most people process information in one of three different ways. They may be visual, auditory or kinaesthetic. Visual people need to hear expressions like “Do you see what I mean?”. Auditory learners are stimulated by language such as “I can hear what you’re saying” while kinaesthetic learners are more focused on feelings. For example, “I can feel where you’re going with this”, or “My gut reaction is to agree”. Try to mix up your language so that you touch all three groups.

As speakers, it’s our responsibility to ensure that everyone in the audience follows along and understands our words and ideas. Use these 6 tips to break it down for all your listeners.


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