December 1, 2008 | By Stephen Boyd

Conversation in Presentations

At the end of their first date, a young man walks the girl to her front door. Encouraged by the way the night has gone, he decides to try for that important first kiss. With an air of confidence, he leans with his hand against the wall and says to her, “How about a goodnight kiss?” Horrified, she replies, “Are you mad? My parents will see us.” “Oh, come on! Who’s gonna see us at this hour?” “No, please! Can you imagine if we get caught?” “Oh, come on, there’s nobody around. They’re all sleeping!” “No way, it’s just too risky!” “Oh, please, please, I like you so much!” “No, no, and no. I like you too, but I just can’t.” “Oh, yes, you can, please?” “No, no, I just can’t.”

Out of the blue, the porch light goes on, and the girl’s sister shows up in her pajamas, hair disheveled. In a sleepy voice the sister says, “Dad says to go ahead and give him a kiss. Or I can do it. Or if need be, he’ll come down himself and do it. But for crying out loud tell him to take his hand off the intercom button!"

To tell this story, the speaker must increase vocal variety. You may think of conversation only in interpersonal communication, not usually in a presentation, but conversation or dialogue in a speech can add much to your presentation. Part of dialogue is asking questions, so your voice goes up at the end of the question. You exclaim in conversation which requires punching out the end of the sentence. You slow down when you are about to say an important phrase or word. You speed up when you show excitement in reacting to the point the other person has made. Thus if you tend to speak in a monotone, include dialogue to give the vocal variety you need.

Incorporating dialogue also gives you much more impetus for overall animation. When you are talking to someone, you will sometimes gesture toward the person, or sweep your arms to emphasize your feelings, or punch out part of your conversation with your hands. Sometimes when you are in a conversation, you take a step to emphasize a point or to change direction. Reacting to what the other person has said will motivate a different facial expression. Thus the conversation encourages you to use all aspects of nonverbal communication, which is rarely the case if you are imparting factual information or referencing slides on PowerPoint.

When I include dialogue, I can see that it provides a change of pace for me and the audience. Dialogue breaks up the presentation of data and ideas to give the audience a respite from the heavy content.

In your next presentation, look for a place where dialogue would fit. The dialogue could even be a way of giving information, such as relating a case study that involved two or three people. You simply report on what they say. For example, a new employee was part of a question and answer session with the CEO of the company. He asked, “What is the skill you have that has meant the most in getting to be president of this company. His answer was, “I have learned to listen.” This is a great dialogue that I use when I begin my seminar on effective listening.

Remember interpersonal communication is not the only place for conversation. A great addition to your next presentation might be a bit of interesting dialogue.

About the Author

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at http://www.sboyd.com. To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.

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