The Ripple Effect

The ripple effect is a powerful phenomenon.

Have you ever tossed a pebble into a lake when the water was completely calm? I used to do it all the time when I was a kid growing up in Canada in a small town on the shores of Lake Erie.

Although the pebble is small, the effect is large. From that tiny “plop”, ripples begin to spread out in all directions. And it never ceases to amaze me just how far they can extend. A tiny pebble, no bigger than a thumbnail, can affect an area thousands of times its size.

Ripple effect

The same holds true with our speeches and presentations. Every time we speak in public, we are being given an opportunity to toss a pebble into the still water that is our audience. Although we can never be entirely sure how far the ripples will extend, the possibilities are almost unlimited.

I recently had the privilege of working with members of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative at the World Health Organization (WHO) on their presentation skills. They are doing incredibly important work to rid the world of an age-old scourge.

As the workshop approached its conclusion, I left the participants with a final thought on the far-reaching effects of our words. I said that they can change the world in ways that we cannot know at the time we are speaking.

And then I offered the following ripple effect scenario:

  • A member of the polio team prepares thoroughly and delivers a compelling presentation with conviction and passion.
  • Because of the presentation, a member of the audience is persuaded to make a large financial contribution to the fight to eradicate polio.
  • Because of that contribution, extra vials of vaccine can be purchased and additional personnel can be hired to distribute them.
  • Because of the extra vaccine and additional personnel, the vaccine reaches a village that would otherwise have missed out.
  • Because the vaccine reached the village, a little girl (or boy) is vaccinated.
  • Because the little girl was vaccinated, she does not contract polio.
  • Because she does not contract polio, she is able to concentrate in school and get good marks.
  • Because she gets good marks, she is able to go to university where she becomes an engineer or an artist or businesswoman or, perhaps, a doctor.
  • Because she becomes a doctor, she is one day involved in groundbreaking work that ultimately leads to the cure of some other disease.
  • Because a cure is found, the lives of thousands of people are saved.

Now, stop and play it backwards:

  • Thousands of lives were saved because a cure for a disease was discovered.
  • The cure was discovered because the doctor was involved.
  • The woman became a doctor because she went to university.
  • She went to university because she got good marks in school.
  • She got good marks because she was able to concentrate and work hard.
  • She was able to concentrate and work hard because she did not get polio.
  • She did not get polio because she was vaccinated.
  • She was vaccinated because the vaccine reached her village.
  • The vaccine reached her village because there was enough money to purchase the vaccine and hire the personnel to deliver it.
  • The money was available because a person was persuaded to make a donation on the strength of a presentation.
  • The presentation was compelling because the presenter put effort into its preparation and delivery.

Will this ripple effect happen? I don’t know. Could it happen? Absolutely. And keep in mind that this is just one possible scenario of the effect of one presentation on one member of an audience and the impact that it had on one little girl. If you factor in the other members of the audience (and other audiences) and all the other children who are vaccinated as a result, the mind begins to boggle with all the exciting possibilities.

So whatever the subject matter of your next speech or presentation, spend a few moments thinking about the ripple effect that your words could have. Like the ripples from a small pebble, they could extend far and wide in many directions.

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  1. Great inspiring article to start the day with a different mindset than the famous “metro-boulot-dodo”! Thanks.

  2. Dear John,
    This was a very powerful contribution to the art of presentation. Thanks so much.
    Do you mind if I translate this to the Norwegian language and publish it to my friends on facebook? Furthermore, I will in the translation refer to your name (full name) as the author.

    1. Dear Bjarne,
      Thank you for the comment. I am glad that you enjoyed the post. Please feel free to translate it (and any other post you happen to like) and post it on whichever website or social media forum you like. All I ask is that you attribute it to me (which you have indicated you will do) and to provide a link to the original in English.
      Many thanks! Tusen takk!

  3. John, thanks for the thought provoking commentary.
    You have narrowed the “The Ripple Effect” here to presentations and speeches but I would go further and say, during all of your wake hours, whatever you do, including all of your non-verbal gestures, cause a ripple effect in the world. The question is only how far will the ripples travel.
    Simply sulking while riding the tram or electing not to strike up a pleasant conversation with a stranger sitting with you on a train could also have a ripple effect.
    In the end, what kind of ripples you set off depend on your conscious effecting of the ripples by your general disposition towards life which themselves originate form your ethical and moral principles. If you love the world and humanity, then your behaviour and disposition will more likely generate ripples that will reach far, and leave a positive effect everywhere where your foot prints were seen.

    1. Hi Kamran. Thanks for the great comment. Of course, I wholeheartedly agree with you. As Manner of Speaking is a public speaking and presentation blog, I keep my focus narrow. But the ripple effect applies in almost everything we do.

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

Guadalupe Garcia

Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International