Why speeches need numbers

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Has anyone ever told you that speeches need numbers? Here’s why…

I volunteer to coach a debating team at my local high school. I enjoy working with kids (grade 8s and 9s) and I’m glad to help them learn the value of public speaking at a young age.

Here’s what I always tell the kids:  “Start with an introduction and describe the three points you are going to make. Then make those three points. Then, in conclusion, summarize the three points you just gave.”

It sounds repetitive, I know. But this kind of repetition is essential when you’re speaking to an audience. Speech is linear. Audience members don’t have a “rewind” button they can hit (unless, of course, someone is making a recording.) They need constant directions and reminders about what you are going to say and what you just said. It helps if you can give them a numbering system — e.g. “Point # 1 is….. Point #2 is….”  I tell the kids this, and, yet, most of them fail to do it. Why don’t they follow my instructions, I wonder.

But recently, I had a comeuppance. I had to give a speech for a client and, in it, I  told the audience I had eight points. Yet, somehow, I failed to remember to number the points while I was giving them. A day later, one of the audience members came back to me and said, “I think you forgot two of your points. I counted only six.”

He was wrong, of course. But I was also wrong for not numbering them as I gave them. In all honesty, I hadn’t expected anyone to count. What a mistake! Speeches can convey complex and interesting ideas, but structurally, they need to be super simple and easy to follow.

Otherwise people won’t remember your message.

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