Public Speaking Secrets for ESL (2015)
Chapter 6: Signposting: The Best Kept Secret of Professional Speakers
There he sat, our friend Milosh, who was rewriting his speech. He had written it once already and after reading it out loud, knew something was wrong. But what?
His friend, Raj, agreed to meet him to discuss what was needed. “Nothing, really,” Raj said.
Milosh looked at him, not quite believing him. Before he could say a word, though, Raj, explained. “All you really lack are some signposting phrases in order to point your audience in the right direction. Let me show you what I mean. We’ll put some in and you’ll hear the difference immediately.
Regardless of your first language, signposting is a secret that many professional speakers don’t like to reveal to other less experienced speakers. As useful as it is when you’re speaking to an audience in your first language, it becomes even more critical to use when English is your second language.
Signposting is surprisingly exactly what it sounds like. It provides your audience with the clues it needs when you’re giving them quite a chunk of information at one time.
Using signpost language is nothing more than using certain words and phrases that clue the listener in to what is either about to occur in your speech or what you’ve just gone over.
It’s a type of “heads up” to the audience. Those who speak with any type of accent find this quite reassuring that that their message hasn’t got lost in the midst of their accent.
To explain it in its simplest terms, the use of signposting language actually guides the audience through your presentation. One of the first things you need to know, though, is not use these words generously and to sprinkle them throughout your entire speech.
If you’re not familiar with these words, then it’s the perfect time to learn them and how to use them.
Start off in the Introduction
That’s right! You’ll want to start using these vital words in the introduction.
There are several ways you can alert your audience that you’re about to tell them what you’re talking about today. In introducing the topic and the specific aspects of it, here are popular phrases professional speakers use.
“The topic of my talk today is . . .”
“I’m going to talk to you today about . . .”
“My presentation today is concerned with . . .”
When you’re standing up at the podium and you use these words, you’ll practically be able to see people immediately paying closer attention to what you’re saying. They know you’re about to tell them the topic and thesis succinctly.
Giving your Audience an Overview of the Structure of your Speech
The following signpost words are excellent indicators for your listeners. These phrases will help them know in what order you’re tackling your topic. You’re providing them with clues when you say things like:
“Today, I’m dividing this presentation into four distinct parts . . . “
“I’d like to make seven important points today that are vital . . . “
“Basically, I’m going to be talking about three things today . . .”
“My goal is for you to take three major points away with you today . . .”
“I’ll simply start by saying . . .”
“First of all, I’d like to tell you . . .”
“Last of all . . . “
“The next topic we’ll cover . . . “
“I would be remiss if I didn’t mention . . .”
Finishing a Section
Before you move from one section to another, be sure your audience knows you’re done talking about the first. That way there should be little doubt that you’ve started to talk about another angle of your topic.
You don’t need to do this transition with much fanfare. It could be as simple as saying:
“That covers what needs to be said about . . .”
“So far, we’ve looked at . . .”
When you start a new Section of your Presentation
In the same way that you’ve provided your audience with clues about where you’re taking them in your presentation so far, you can let them know that they’re about to start a new section within the speech.
Again this isn’t difficult and doesn’t take much time from talking about the vital facts. Your listeners will immediately know you’re about to take a turn in the road when you prepare them with such phrases as:
We’re now moving on to . . .”
“Let’s turn our attention to . . .”
“Having said that, the next issue that needs covered is . . .”
Analyzing a specific point or providing recommendations
There comes a time in many presentations that you’ve made your argument or presented the evidence. Your next move then is to inform your audience what you feel it all means. Don’t be shy about mentioning to them that they’re about to learn what you believe is most important in all of this. They’ll know exactly where you’re going with this when you use phrases like this . . .
“So, what does all of that mean?”
“Let’s look at the evidence in a bit more detail.”
“It’s time to translate this information into terms that really matter to you . . .”
“Why would we even consider this all important?”
“The significance of all this data is . . .”
Providing the Listener with Examples
You’ll also want them to have a few moments before you start dealing with specific examples in your speech. Examples are great ways of illustrating your point and in effect, bringing it to life. You can easily let your audience know you’re about to do this through the following language:
“For example . . . “
“A good example of what we’ve just covered . . .”
“A good illustration of this principle . . .”
“To illustration this point, I’d . . .”
When it’s Time To Conclude
Just as it’s important your audience knows when you’re taking certain turns in the road of your talk, you also need to give them a heads up when you’re getting prepared to conclude.
Before ending your speech, you’ll no doubt want to sum up what you’ve said, wrapping everything up in a nice package for them to take home with them. Below are some very effective reasons you’re about to do just that.
“To sum up . . . “
“Let’s summarize what we’ve talked about today”
“If I can just pull this all together for you . . .”
“I’d like to recap what we’ve covered . . .”
“I’d like to conclude briefly with these words . . .”
“Just to summarize what I’ve covered in this presentation . . .”
“Just a reminder to of the issues we’ve covered today . . .”
Paraphrasing your Presentation
Many of the most effective speakers not only summarize what they’ve covered in their talks, but clarify and paraphrase what they’ve talked about. Again, signposting in this section is easy enough by using transitional phrases such as:
“Simply stated . . .”
“In other words . . .”
“What I’m saying is . . .”
Introducing the question and answer segment
Your next step may very well be to welcome questions from the audience. There’s no reason to approach this in an awkward manner. You can easily slip into this section simply by using any of the following phrases:
“I’d be happy to answer any questions at this time.”
“I’m willing to take questions from the floor at this time.”
“Does anyone have any questions?”
“Please feel free to ask any questions you may have.”
“Can I answer any of your questions at this time?
These are just a few of the ways you can use signposting to help guide your audience. While many native speakers seem to know how to use these transition phrases naturally, sometimes those who speak English as a second language need reminding.
Not only that, if you’re fearful your audience isn’t following along due to your accent, this gives them a chance to catch up to you and reflect on what you’ve been saying.
In the next chapter, I offer you a few miscellaneous tips that every professional speaker knows in keeping their audience’s attention, but seldom share with others. Read the next chapter to get a leg up on other speakers who give presentations in English when it’s their second language. It’ll ensure your presentation will be well received.