There are two kinds of public speaking signposts. Both of them keep your listeners informed about where you’re going — and where you want to take them.
Public Speaking Signposts Can Be Verbal
One of the most effective ways to sound more professional as a public speaker is to alert your audience whenever you transition to a new topic, reiterate a point, or change the direction of your argument. That’s what’s going on when you hear speakers say things like,
- “So, we’ve talked about X; now let’s move on to Y.”
- “Why does that matter? I’ll tell you why. It’s because…”
- “I want to leave you with the following thought…”
Each of these audio signposts signals a transition. They are formulaic because they have a “ceremonial” function: They let your listener know that something important is coming, and remind you to slow down and emphasize what you’re about to say.
Public Speaking Signposts Can Be Visual
The other kind of public speaking signpost grabs your audience by the eyes rather than by the ears. In his classic post on “Really Bad Powerpoint,” blogger Seth Godin famously argued that it’s better to show a photo of a dead bird than a list of bulleted points about air pollution.
Godin was right (though PowerPoint hating has since gone to silly lengths). Pictures are signifiers that, like transitional phrases, help move your audience’s attention to wherever your speech is going next.
Signs Can Be Public Speaking Signposts
Which brings us to the picture, above, of Occupy Wall Street. I wish I knew (a) who shot this image, and also (b) who created the row of signs it shows. Like a dignified Greek chorus, those signs stand in for people who are suffering in our winner-take-all economy. They testify to harsh realities, such as:
- I will never pay off my student loans
- I will never own a home in my life
- I will never get a job in this economy
These signs are also signposts. Like transitions in a speech… like Seth Godin’s startling bird image… they focus our attention on where things are going next. Only in this case, it’s not about showing us where a speech is headed.
These signposts point out where we’re headed as a country — and whether that’s really where we want to go.