Virtue 1: Audience-Centeredness

Tailor your message to your listeners.

The purpose for making an oral presentation is to influence others: to get them to understand your ideas, to consider your point of view, to believe your arguments, to act on your proposal. The challenge is that the people to whom you’re speaking don’t necessarily see the topic or information or issue as you do — they may be less interested, less knowledgeable, less committed. So you must tailor your message to your immediate audience. Read more ...

Virtue 2: Unity and Coherence

Select and arrange every element of your talk to communicate a clear, concise core message.

Listeners appreciate order. They expect a talk to hang together and follow a plan that is clear, consistent, and sensible. And they expect the whole thing to add up to some clear, worthwhile point. To meet these expectations, an effective presentation must be unified and coherent: It should have a clear, concise core message, and every element of the presentation should stick to that message, amplify it, clarify it, and, if it’s an argument, support it. Read more ...

Virtue 3: Stickiness

Make your ideas compelling and memorable.

“Stickiness” is the term used by authors Malcolm Gladwell and, more recently, Chip and Dan Heath, to identify the attributes that make messages compelling and memorable. Besides being clearly organized and solidly supported, a sticky presentation is also interesting, meaningful, and relatable for the audience. Read more ...

Virtue 4: Credibility

Establish trust in yourself and your information.

No oral presentation can achieve its objective if listeners have doubts about the information or the speaker. To be effective, both the message and the messenger must be believable.

Speakers themselves are persuasive, wrote Aristotle, when they demonstrate practical wisdom, virtue and good will. Those were the components of “ethos” – what today we call “credibility” and think of as a blend of expertise, trustworthiness, and good intentions. It is important to recognize that credibility is not a stable trait inherent in the speaker but rather a perception formed by one’s audience and subject to revision, even from one moment to the next. As a speaker, then, the success of your presentation depends heavily on how your work, your character, and your intentions are perceived by your listeners. Read more ...

Virtue 5: Conversational Delivery

Speak to listeners as if you are conversing with them.

I wish you to see that public speaking is a perfectly normal act, which calls for no strange, artificial methods, but only for an extension and development of that most familiar act, conversation.

– James Albert Winans, Hamilton 1897

A speech is simply not a speech until it is delivered to an audience, yet that is the part of speech-making that most worries many people. But James Winans, whose conception of delivery still infuses contemporary scholarship and teaching, wanted us to understand that speech delivery is merely an adaptation of something we all do every day quite naturally and effectively.

What Winans saw as essential to effective public speaking was the same quality of communication found in most conversation. “There is no good speaking,” he wrote, “without this conversational quality.” Read more ...

Virtue 6: Listenability

Use clear language and expressive voice.

Listeners can’t reread, pause, or replay a live talk when they don’t get something the speaker says. And listeners are constantly being distracted by personal concerns, environmental stimuli, and a host of other factors at the same time that the speaker is trying to focus and hold their attention.

The speaker, therefore, needs to help the audience by using language and vocal expression to make the presentation as listenable as possible. Listenability is speechwriter Alan Perlman’s term for the degree to which, for the immediate listening audience, an oral presentation is clear, coherent, meaningful, and easy to follow. Read more ...

Virtue 7: Visual Effectiveness

Ensure that everything your audience sees enhances and supports the message.

Since all face-to-face presentations have a visual dimension, what the audience sees can make a difference. This is as true for the speaker’s attire and body language as it is for images, graphs, and video: All are out there for the audience to interpret and evaluate. The visual elements should be as purposeful and well-prepared as all the other components of an effective presentation. Read more ...


Office / Department Name

Oral Communication Center

Contact Name

Amy Gaffney

Oral Communication Center Director

Help us provide an accessible education, offer innovative resources and programs, and foster intellectual exploration.

Site Search