Dec 28

Public Speaking tip: “Just the facts, ma’am”

I was inspired to write this post after seeing a similar post on Lisa Braithwaite’s Speak Schmeak and remembering some of my own frustrations with this area. A lot of speakers I’ve seen this past year seem to have developed the “habit” of quoting information without citing any sources.

As a result I’ve developed the expression “who said that?” or “where’s that written?” I want proof! For instance, the self improvement industry. I’ll start off by saying that I love self improvement. I have read lots of books and attended a number of great workshops on how to help me improve certain areas of my life. But I’ve noticed that, lately, there’s a lot of wish-washy references made.

For example, with the popularity of ideas like The Law of Attraction (LOA) you hear expressions like “Quantum Physics says that…” or “Science tells us…?” This leads me to ask “What science? Where is that written? Where’s your evidence?” It’s not just with LOA either, I’ve heard vague expressions like this about other topics too. A lot of the time the sources failed to get cited and I failed to be inspired or motivated to action. For me, we lose credibility as speakers if we cannot back up what we’re saying.

You cannot just say “because science says so” (or whatever you’re referencing) as there will always be someone in the audience like me who wants to learn more, so naturally wants to know that source. It may take a little more time for us to say; “in an article printed in the New Scientist…”, but I believe it’s worth it in the long run.

We owe it to out audiences!

More importantly if you’re hired to deliver a motivational speech to scientists you will lose ALL credibility if you cannot back up what you’re saying. As Lisa says on her blog post, please also make sure the facts that you give us are correct and not taken out of context and manipulated in order to back up your point.

Be specific and be honest – it will help take you a long way.


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  1. Lisa Braithwaite

    Thanks for the reference to my blog. Somehow people think that, because we’re not writing a report for school and required by the teacher to “cite our sources,” that audiences won’t care if we don’t back up our facts. Not true! Without credibility, a speaker is nothing.

  2. Simon - presentations training, UK

    Amen! I can’t begin to remember the number of times I’ve seen/heard speakers who were either too lazy or too stupid to check their references. Often-times though, it’s not really the speaker’s fault… they’ve just be told something and so they accept it as though it’s Gospel and they don’t have the necessary skills to go to a library and chace their way through the scientific literature.

    My pet hate is this one: remember hearing that only 7% of the meaning of what you say is carried inside the words themselves? It’s rubbish. When I went back and read the original references I found that the story was very, very different and certainly couldn’t justify being cited in the way it was as though it was a fact that “science tells us”. The research was sound and solid but taking bits of it out of context was disingenuous at best!


  3. Jason Peck

    Hey Lisa,

    Thanks for dropping by. I couldn’t agree more. We, as speakers, are not exempt because we are dealing mainly with the spoken word.

    When I’ve heard speakers not cite a source, or worse pass off a quote as their own, then I immediately lose interest. For me, they come across as not really being too bothered about their audiences.

    Hey Simon

    Thanks for your comment.

    I know what you mean, there are many speakers who do just accept something as Gospel rather than checking out the source. I really enjoyed the idea of the Law of Attraction when I first came across it. Nice concept in and of itself. But when science started being used, I got curious and read around the subject.

    The problem, perhaps, is when we listen to someone say “science says” then we reference the speaker’s vague quote rather than trying to cite the source for ourselves.

    And I agree, we cannot “bend a quote” to fit our own circumstances.

    In terms of the communication idea you mentioned in your comment, Lisa Braithwaite of Speak Schmeak wrote a post about that very idea. I linked to it at the beginning of my post.

    Thanks a lot for your comments guys!


  4. Simon - presentations training, UK

    Hi Jason – I’m taking this idea of details and so on one stop further in today’s blog post here if you’re interested…

    Cheers…. Simon

    PS: I ranted about the 7% nonsense years ago, Lisa’s dead write in her blog!

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