Make your presentations more persuasive with striking contrasts

When presenting or pitching it is vital to stand out. Particularly for a small business we need to grab attention if we want people to notice, remember and be persuaded by what we say.

Here are three opportunities for contrast when giving a speech or presentation:

Contrast in content

In most business communication, the goal is to persuade your audience to adopt your call to action.  This might be to buy your sales pitch, support your recommendations etc.  Effective persuasion requires contrast in content.

Evidence-based information, e.g. statistics, track record or a reinforcing quote from a relevant expert drive credibility, authority and recognition of your expertise.  However, these alone are not enough to persuade.  You need to contrast this ‘rational’ information with more emotive content that helps build trust, relationships and connection.  Here, storytelling and anecdotes come into their own.  They may reveal something about you as a person, what you are like to work with, your motivations etc.  They are your chance to demonstrate your enthusiasm for the case in hand.

The contrast of functional and emotive content can bring even greater potency to your message.


Contrast of language and words

Rich and colourful vocabulary stands out.  It might not be everyday conversation, but this is a speech, not everyday conversation.  We need to avoid words that are so obscure or full of jargon that people cannot understand – and that is why it is important to know your audience.  However, when we use rich language, it stands out as different and erudite, enhancing our credibility and authority.  For instance, instead of ‘say’, try muttered, mumbled, shouted, whispered, etc.  They all communicate the act of saying and additionally information.

We also have rhetorical devices to contrast from everyday speech, for instance:

  • Metaphor, an expression that describes a person or object in term so something else which has similar characteristics, e.g. the city as a jungle, broken heart, bubbly personality
  • Alliteration, e.g. colourful contrasts communicate, startling statistic
  • The rule of three pervades formal speeches, fairy stories, film titles, comedy.  One example I like is from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass:

“The rule is: jam tomorrow, and jam yesterday, but never jam today”

Rhetorical devices like these give emphasis and colour which enrich our words – they create engaging content.

Contrast of voice and body

I’m sure you’ve experienced the misery of the monotone.  It’s hard to stay focused on a voice that drones on relentlessly, without any kind of variety of pitch, pace, volume, etc.  A voice that goes faster and slower, louder and quieter, harsher and softer, higher and lower is interesting.  That colour and contrast brings meaning and interest to our words and makes a greater impact.  For instance, if you say “the words tripped lightly off the tongue …”, you will render them more memorable if you use a short, staccato, light enunciation, using a faster pace that, combined, suggest the movement of the words themselves.

While you are talking, think about how you can use contrasting body language and gestures to give emphasis to your words.  If your hands and arms are constantly flailing around, you deny yourself the opportunity to use gestures.  For example:

  • Size – us your arms to indicate large and fingers for small
  • Distance – indicate distance from you (near or far), set your gaze afar, etc.
  • Inclusion, use an all-encompassing sweep across your audience or wide arms coming together in a large, encircling gesture.


To give your gestures impact, keep your arms relaxed and hanging loosely by your side and then move them when you want to reinforce a point.  Next time you are watching a play, note how the actors use gestures.

Contrast is the light and shade, the interest, the difference that makes your speech stand out and helps your audience be persuaded by your message.  Use striking contrast.


Lyn Roseaman is from Toastmasters International, a non-profit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations. Headquartered in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, the organisation’s membership exceeds 352,000 in more than 16,400 clubs in 141 countries. Since 1924, Toastmasters International has helped people of all backgrounds become more confident in front of an audience. There are more than 300 clubs in the UK and Ireland with over 7,500 members. To find your local club:  Follow @Toastmasters on Twitter.



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