Know Your Limits: Improved Focus for Improved Speaking


Mnmlist has a great little piece up today about the zen of limits. The upshot of the piece is that creating limits, even when they seem arbitrary, are often an essential component for figuring out what is really important.

We have all kinds of limits and structures and “rules” for public speaking. We have clear forms and styles, guidelines for creating good visual aids, rules about motion and gestures. All of these serve the purpose of helping call attention to what is most important.

Limits Improve Focus

I like to hear myself talk.

Big shocker, I know! A public speaking coach who likes to hear the sound of his own voice. Somebody alert the press.

The problem is that I can get carried away. I enjoy speaking to and with people so much, that I get dragged off topic, or I ramble on tangentially. My point gets made, and I cover everything I need to cover most of the time, but I’m not always as effective as I could be.

However, I’ve noticed that when I focus my presentation, when I limit my scope to something very specific, I find that I’m able to be more effective and efficient in conveying the information that I’m interested in.

Setting that focused limit on my content helps me to elaborate in much greater detail, and it keeps my audience more engaged. Even tangents tend to be more topical and focused.

A talk on political apathy is probably important. There is much to be said on the subject, for sure. So much, in fact, that to try to cram it all into a speech would be folly. The speaker who took this on would likely under-cover key information, or wind up getting bogged down, and running out of time to cover everything.

Limiting the topic is the key to resolving those problems. A talk about political apathy may be too general, but a talk about the alienation of teenagers from the political process through commercial distraction would cover some really important information that contributes to a broader dialogue.

As Leo points out in the Mnmlist article, limits help us focus on what is most important. The question of what is most important should be on the forefront of our minds when we prepare speeches and presentations.

Limits Improve Speaking

While having good, focused content is awesome, it isn’t the only place where limits are important for improving your public speaking ability.

Having a good quality structure for your speech is the sort of limit that allows you to focus on the information you’re supposed to be conveying at any given moment. Time limits force you to be concise and economical in your language choices. Polish and refinement of your gestures and physical movement allows you to provide emphasis and avoid distraction.

In fact, all of these limits help to provide emphasis and avoid distraction. Distraction is the enemy of a good presentation. Keeping an audience engaged requires that you minimize their ability to be distracted from the information that you want them to have. The imposition of content limits, time limits, structural limits, and physical limits all contribute to drawing the audience’s attention to where you would have it go.

That’s golden.

Keep asking yourself “What’s the Most Important Thing?” and make sure that the limits you define help to draw attention to the thing you identify.

How do you feel about dealing with limits? What helps you get focused and stay focused? Share it in the comments!