Voice – Verbal

“If it is to be a minute speech I shall need four weeks in which to prepare, if a half-hour speech, then two weeks, but if I am to talk all day I’m ready now.” Rufus Choate and others


In this section we are going to look at voice in terms of Verbal – which are the words we use. You can find the Non-Verbal page here.


Here we are going to cover off some of the areas we need to pay attention to when writing our presentation. We are going to talk about the words we use as opposed structure and persuasiveness which are covered in different parts of this web site.

Adrian Wallwork (2016) suggests there are number of disciplines we should adopt when presenting at conferences. Whilst for a majority of people reading this page may never present at a conference, it is still valuable advice especially when we have to deliver an important presentation.

Write it down

Writing your presentation down enables you to:

  • use the most effective and efficient vocabulary.
  • flesh out your content to ensure your thoughts and ideas make sense once written. Because quite often what goes on in your head is not the same as what comes out your mouth!
  • check the sequence of your presentation to make sure you have solid evidence to back up your assertions.
  • give it to someone else to sense check
  • have a document to memorize
  • use it as a record so you can make improvements and repeat the good parts for next time

Don’t read it to your audience

Once you have written the presentation out, don’t read it word for word when presenting. Memorize it. Memorizing a presentation means remembering the essence of all the key messages, so when you present, it sounds more conversational. This way no two presentations using the same script will ever be the same – which is more interesting for everyone. The following techniques are based on the work of Lorayne and Lucas (1975).

Once you have the key ideas, thoughts or words you then need to link them. You link them by making some very creative patterns of thought that are unique to you. Here’s how I worked with a client recently to help them remember a very detailed presentation for a $500 million dollar pitch.

We broke the presentation into rooms in a house and its hallway led through to football stadium. In the following table I’ll give you a couple of snippets.

Good morning my name is Joe Blogs and I am the project manager for this bidStanding on the path leading to the house looking at the front door which has a welcome mat and a name plate next to the door with his name on it.
I would like to introduce my teamOpens up the visitors book just inside the front door where it list all the names and photos of the team
I would like to talk to you about three topics today, design, timetable and completionEach topic is represented by an illuminated light that is in the shape of the topic to be talked about outside and above the door of each room. The first light is in the shape of a building and black with a bright background and windows cut out to represent the design. The second is a flashy neon sign with Monday.com written on it to represent timetable. The last one is a bright white beacon of light like the sun shining through the clouds to represent completion.
Let me talk to you about designlooks at the first black and white light and walks through the door
we then walk around the room picking up familiar objects, photos, mirrors, books etc and linking the thoughts together. We then move to the next room and do the same, making the objects different and weird if possible.
The last topic is the completion Walkthrough the bright beacon of light to the football oval and stand in the middle of the ground
We are very excited about this project and look forward to finishing the building on time, on budget with zero injuriesStanding in the middle of the ground with all the fans cheering (very excited) we look at the game clock (on time), then to the managers/coaches box where the coach has a dollar symbol on his shirt (on budget) and then to the reserves bench where there are no injured players (zero injuries)

Another technique is to use symbols and drawings. So if a client gives me a facilitators guide which I have to remember, I will draw a picture that represents each section down the left-hand margin. When I look down at a double page spread all I need to do is refresh myself on the 6 or 8 sketches and away I go. I usually have a poor memory but using this technique I can confidently facilitate a 3 day program as if it were my own.

For example in order to remember this phrase (which is out of context so wont make a lot of sense):

  • Not only does it allow your audience to rest after each Resolution, but it also grounds your presentation in reality.
  • It makes it both interesting and real, in a world where your audience is used to spin.
  • If you want your audience to follow you and give you credibility, you’ll want to keep returning to specifics. And this is what your example is: tell them about a specific person who did a specific thing, at a specific time and a specific place.
  • This is particularly Important if you are an iNtuitor on the Myers-Briggs spectrum, and there are Sensor’s in your audience. N’s have a greater tendency to generalize; S’s really need the specifics.

……..I would draw the following

In looking at this drawing, I would interpret this as

  • The sqiggly bottom line represents “grounds you presentation in reality”
  • The fishing reel, represents “real” and “spin”
  • The little circles around reel represent “specifics”
  • The N in the middle of the reel represents “iNtuitor”

This may seem a bit odd, but the more bizzar you make it the easier it is to remember.

There are lots of resources on the internet for memorizing speeches, but a book worth downloading or buying is The memory book by Harry Lorayne, and Jerry Lucas.

Only have one idea per sentence

Both Wallwork and Lorayne subscribe to this process. The idea is that you just have one thought or idea per sentence, this makes it easier to remember and keeps your presentation tight.

Be Concise

Unless you have been allotted a specific time as a guest speaker, why would you take more time than you need. People don’t like presenters who run over time and in some circumstances you will be penalised for doing so.

I was working on a pitch where the client, the state government, said that the agenda for the presentation was 10 minutes presentation and 50 minutes Q&A. I said to my client that we will rehearse to 8 minutes with 2 minutes up our sleeve if someone runs over. My client said they didn’t believe the client really meant 10 minutes and they should rehearse to 15 minutes. We negotiated to the allocated 10 minutes.

When they arrived at the presentation, the client pulled out their watch and said “welcome, you have 10 minutes, your time starts … now”. As it turns out, one of the presenters decided to ad lib at the end of the presentation, which took it to 11.30.

The message here is have enough material for your allocated time less 15% and the way to get to that number is by being concise.

Simplify the sentences

Albert Einstein said that “if you can’t explain something simply you don’t know it well enough.”

Quite often people who use over technical language to a non technical audience are either trying to impress them with their knowledge or don’t really understand the topic well enough.

Here’s an example from Ghostlittle.com

Original sentence

Keyword research can seem overwhelming, but adding a couple of the tools above to your marketing arsenal can help you make strategic decisions about the content that will be most effective to create for your business.

Revised sentence

While keyword research can seem overwhelming, these tools can help you make strategic content decisions for business growth.

Be specific

Audiences relate better to numbers than generic quantities as it helps them to remember what you have said. Wallwork (p.29) gives the following examples:

  • I am going to give you a few examples. Should read- I am going to give you a three examples.
  • We have found some interesting solutions to this problem. Should read – We have found four interesting solutions to this problem.

Mark-up your script.

When you are happy with your written presentation, break it down into it’s thoughts and ideas, with double line spacing and large font, 14+. Mark it up with the following:

  • pictures or icons that will help you remember key thoughts
  • bold fonts or highlights for words to be emphasised
  • three red forward slashes to represent a pause.
  • if there are words that you have trouble pronouncing use brackets to break it down phonetically.

When using a script do as newsreader do. Have the pages lose and slide the pages across your lectern. So that at any one time you are always reading from the left-hand side but can see what’s coming up on the right-hand side. When you have finished the LHS, slide the RHS page across, so it becomes the page you read from.

If you are using cue cards, the same mark up rules apply, but you can only shuffle the cards.

Better still don’t use any notes any all!


Crumb, A 2021, 5 More Examples Of Why Short Sentences Are Better Than Long Sentences In Business Writing, viewed 14 January, <http://www.ghostlittle.com/blog/examples-short-sentences-suprior-long-sentences-business-blogging>.

Lorayne, H & Lucas, J 1975, The memory book, W. H. Allen, London.

Wallwork, A 2016, English for Presentations at International Conferences, 2ndedn, Springer International Publishing : Imprint: Springer, pp. 19- 36.