Presentation skills: The Power of Changing the Focus of a Sentence

Making what you say during a presentation have more impact by changing the focus of a sentence.

Focus

In a presentation your content is of course essential. However, if you want to make a real impact, it is often not just what you say that is important, but also how you say it. Putting emphasis on certain points in your message by changing the word order of your sentences can help you focus the audience’s the parts that you think they should remember.

‘Given’ and ‘New’ Information

In English, important information is often put at the beginning or the end of a sentence, but there are two types of important information: ‘Given’ information and ‘new ‘information.

Given information is that which the listener already knows, and it is usually put at the beginning of a sentence. So, if the topic of your presentation is poverty, you can assume that this is given information for the audience. In that case you would probably use something like the following sentence:

Poverty is the state of being extremely poor.

‘New’ information is that which the listener has not heard before, and this information is put at the end of a sentence. 

Poverty is the state of being extremely poor.

Looking at this sentence, you will see that when defining the term poverty, that which defines the term is put at the end of the sentence. In other words, the information in the last part of the sentence explains, or gives meaning to the first part. That is because the definition of the term poverty is the new information.

This idea of putting given information at the beginning of a sentence and new information at the end can be very helpful when building  a well-structured argument if you make the new information from one sentence the given information from the next. In other words, the what you added to the last part of one sentence  as new information, should be put at the beginning of the next as given information, like in the following example:

Poverty is the state of being extremely poor. Being extremely poor has negative effects on the economy.

You could now continue your argument by making the new information from the last sentence, the given information in the next. In this case you would then start by taking negative effects on the economy as the beginning of your next sentence. Please note, however, that when using this technique, you should not always just copy the exact words from the previous sentence, since this would lead to a very awkward writing style. You should, however, repeat the information, so in many cases you should paraphrase instead of repeat.

Shifting Focus

As mentioned, shifting focus means changing the word order of a sentence to put emphasis on something in a sentence.  This could be, for instance:

  • A person
  • An object
  • A time
  • Etc.

Now let’s look at how you could change to focus of a sentence by changing the normal word order.

Normal sentence:

Alexander Fleming invented penicillin in 1928.

Focus on the person:

It was Alexander Fleming who invented penicillin in 1928.

Focus on the object:

It was penicillin which Alexander Fleming invented.

Focus on the time:

It was in 1928 when Alexander Fleming invented penicillin.

Changing the focus of the sentence by moving the things you want to emphasis to the front of the sentence allows you to formulate your words in such a way that your audience is much more likely to remember.

Introducing ‘New’ Information

Keeping in mind that new information usually goes at the end of a sentence, it makes sense that if you put it there when you introduce it for the first time. So, let’s look at the following examples:

Normal sentence:

Global warming is my subject today.

New information at the end:

What I’m going to talk about today is global warming.

Normal sentence:

Profitability is essential

New information at the end:

What is essential is profitability.

Clarifying Points

When talking about complex topics, or when, for some reason, you digressed from what you planned to talk about, you will need some expressions to put the focus back on the main points of what you wanted to say. Here are some expressions that will help you do that:

Let me put in another way …

Look at it this way …

What I’m trying to say is …

The point/thing is …

Conclusion

Putting focus on specific information by changing the word order in order to change the emphasis in a sentence can be a very powerful presentation technique. Just by carefully thinking about how you say what you want to say could dramatically improve the impact your message will have on your audience, so use it to your advantage.

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