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— John Zimmer
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According to the Chicago Architecture Center, “Chicago has long been a laboratory for architectural innovation and experimentation.” I was recently in Chicago for a conference and got to experience that great city firsthand.
While in Chicago, I was joined by my daughter Alexandra and together we explored some of what the city has to offer. And yes, the architecture is magnificent.
A highlight was the Architecture River Tour. For 75 minutes, we cruised up and down the three arms of the Chicago River while our tour guide shared the history of, and stories behind, approximately 40 or so buildings.
If you ever visit Chicago, I cannot recommend this tour enough. It’s a great way to see this fantastic city and its architecture. From Art Deco to Beaux Arts to Postmodernism to Spanish Colonial Revivalism and more, Chicago has it all.
I took all the photos in this post; click on any of them to see the larger images.
So what is the lesson to be learned from these very different buildings? Well, it has to do with the one thing that they all have in common (apart from being in Chicago).
They all have structure.
Without structure, none of these buildings would be stable and most, if not all, would fall. It’s the same with speeches and presentations. They need structure.
The essential elements of any speech are an opening, development of the theme or message, and a conclusion. The opening should grab your audience’s attention and let them know where you are going to take them. The conclusion should summarize the key points, include a call to action if any and, ideally, link back to the opening.
The structure of the main part, during which the theme or message is developed, can differ from talk to talk just as the structure differs from building to building in Chicago.
The following are examples of different speech structures:
- Chronological: The key points are presented in chronological order, beginning with the oldest event and proceeding to the present or, where applicable, the future. This structure is useful when discussing, for example, the history of a company or the evolution of a product.
- Sequential: The key points are presented in the order in which they must be accomplished. This structure is useful when discussing the different steps in a project or undertaking.
- Pros and Cons: Arguments in favour of, or against, a proposition are presented. This structure is useful when a decision has to be made and there are different options.
- Climax: The key points are presented in order from least important to most important. This structure is useful when trying to persuade the audience to do something. The speaker’s argument builds in intensity to the final point.
- Headline: The key points are presented in order from most important to least important. Like the Climax structure, the Headline structure is useful when trying to persuade the audience to do something. The difference is that the Headline structure is better when you have little time to present or are presenting to busy people with a short attention span. In such cases, you don’t want to bury the lede.
Whatever your speech or presentation, make sure that you structure your ideas in the most effective way possible given your subject, your audience and your objective. Throwing random ideas together in a haphazard manner is not an option.
Until next time, Chicago!
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Good, better, best.
Bad, worse, worst.
One, two, three.
Past, present, future.
When we speak, we often find ourselves comparing things (e.g., different investment opportunities; different options for a business) or reviewing a timeline (e.g., stages of a project). Thus, we should structure our presentations using the appropriate format.
But the work doesn’t end there. Once you have your structure, you have to present the material in a way that is effective for your audience.
In Western societies, when we show or display information, we start at the left and move to the right. This is because in Western languages (English, French, German, Spanish, etc.) we read from left to right. (You’re doing it now.)
Thus, it is normal for us to think:
1 → 2 → 3
Past → Present → Future
Good → Better → Best
Likewise, it’s natural for us to gesture from left to right when we describe the patterns above. However, if we gesture this way when facing an audience, the audience members will see things in the opposite direction.
3 ← 2 ← 1
Future ← Present ← Past
Best ← Better ← Good
To make things as easy as possible for your audience, you have to change your perspective. You have to gesture and move in a manner that is opposite to what you would normally do.
For example, let’s suppose you were talking about the growth of your company. You want to speak about its creation and past, then talk about where things are now and finish with your projections for the future.
For the benefit of your audience, when you talk about the past, stand stage right (the right side from your perspective but the left side from the perspective of the audience). As you begin talking about what is happening today, move to the centre of the stage. When speaking of the future, move to stage left (the right side of the stage from the audience’s perspective).
You can take the same approach for any of the other speech structures mentioned above. And if the stage does not allow you to move very much, you can get the same effect by gesturing in the appropriate direction.
Just remember that your audience has a mirrored view of you. Your movements should always reflect the point of view of the audience. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you have it, you will find that the right movements and gestures come naturally.
Of course, if you are speaking to an audience of people whose mother tongue is a language that is written from right to left (Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew, Urdu, etc.), then you want to do the opposite of everything I have said above!
I used to work in United Nations and I traveled regularly to several countries in the Middle East. Because I had learned to adapt my movements and gestures for Western audiences, I had to temporarily “unlearn” my stage movements and gestures and revert to my natural way of gesturing, which now felt bizarre and unnatural to me!