Clear Comm Consulting

When should you speak? The advantages of order.

Jan 1, 2007

Are you part of a team that puts together presentations? Do you have to be part of a competitive bidding process where several groups or individuals make presentations? If so, when do you prefer to speak? Are you a “let’s go first and get it over with” kind of person or do you always want to have the last word? And what about those situations when the speaking position is out of your control? While it may not seem like a big deal, I’m going to make a case for giving your place in the speaking order some serious thought.

The first step is BE AWARE of where you stand in the speaking or presentation order. No matter where you end up, the audience is in a different place mentally at each step in the process. They may be energized and excited at the beginning, or perhaps they are unfocused — not sure what to listen for in the presentation. They may be distracted for the middle speakers, or comfortable with the process. By the end they may be nervous about the decision they need to make or are just looking at their watches and thinking about their next meeting. Is their stomach telling them it’s time to eat or are they just coming back from a big meal? All of this should be factored into any effective speaker’s thoughts BEFORE they walk into the room.

Even for those situations when you have no control of when you speak, at least consider asking the people who are going to hear from you about their day so far — is this the start of the process, the middle or the end? Will they all be able to stay or are some leaving soon?

Then there is the question of where you speak when you have a chance to control your fate. When should you appear to provide your best advantage?

After years of watching and making presentations of all kinds I can tell you I rarely want to go first. People don’t remember what you said or even how you said it! If you end up first, try to have something special to give to the audience so they can have a visual reminder of your key message. Also, think about scaling back some of the detail and zero in on the important stuff — they won’t remember the detail! The advantage of going first is if you hope they forget your message, and sometimes that can be the case, especially in bad news circumstances.

What about a middle position? Not bad, depending upon how many are speaking. If there is a long list you may as well be first because you will get lost. The upside is the audience has seen some of the information offered by others and you have a chance to stand out from the pack. If you know nearly everyone has offered a straightforward presentation, try to mix it up a little. How can you be different? What appropriate way can be found to stand out?

Finally, what about going last? Generally I like to have the last word. It has the best chance of sticking in their heads and sometimes you can play off of some of the things that have been said or done before you. No matter where you speak, always know you need to make the most of it. There is no such thing as an “unimportant” speech when others are deciding what they think of you — and people are ALWAYS deciding what they think of you!

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting,, a Phoenix, AZ-based communications consulting firm which is helping people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: [email protected].

Follow along with Cary on Twitter @CaryPfeffer

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