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.

Subject – Verb Agreement

How to make sure that your subjects agree with your verbs

Subject/ verb agreement means that subjects and verbs must agree with each other in number. In other words, if the subject of a sentence is singular, the verb that goes with it needs to be singular as well, and if the subject is plural, the verb needs to be plural. Even though this seems pretty straightforward there are some situations in which using the right form of the verb could cause problems.

In the sentence, ‘My brother is taking the bus to school,’ for example, ‘brother’ is a singular noun so the singular verb ‘is’ needs to be used. However, in the sentence ‘My brother, as well as most of his friends, is taking the bus to school.’ It is a lot less clear whether a singular or a plural verb needs to be used. The following guidelines will help you make sure that your subjects agree with your verbs. Situation number one”

1.         When the subject is made up of two or more nouns or pronouns connected by            and you need to use a plural verb.

            He and his sisters are on vacation.

2.         When two or more singular nouns or pronouns are connected by or or nor, you          use a singular verb. Like in this example:

      The chairman or the secretary is at the meeting.

3.         When a compound subject contains both a singular and a plural noun or pronoun      joined by or or nor, the verb should agree with the part of the subject that is nearest to the verb.

            The owner or his employees go to the bank every day.

            Or

            The employees or the owner goes to the bank every day.

4.         Number four is about not being misled by phrases that come between the subject and the verb. You just have to make sure that the verb agrees with the subject, not with a noun or pronoun that might be in the phrase.

            One of the men is injured.

            The girl with all the dogs walks down the road.

5.         Number 5. You should use singular verbs with the words: each, each one, either, neither, everyone, everybody, anybody, anyone, nobody, somebody, someone, and no one.

            Each of these books is good.

            Nobody ever calls the emergency number.

6.         Number 6 is about what to do with nouns such as mathematics, civics, euros, measles, and news. Although they also need singular verbs.

            The news comes on at ten o’clock.

            Note: words like euros or, for example, dollars, are a special case. When you are          talking about an amount of money, you need to use a singular verb, but if you are           are referring to the euros or dollars themselves, so the currency, you need to use       a plural verb. So,

            Ten euros for a ticket sounds quite cheap.

            Euros are often used instead of Pounds.

7.         Number 7. Plural verbs are used for nouns like scissors, tweezers, trousers, etc.           

            Those trousers look very cool on you.

8.         Moving on to number 8. When using sentences beginning with there is or there are, make sure the subject follows the verb.

            There is one option

There are many possibilities.

9.         Number 9. Collective nouns, so nouns that are considered singular but are usually made up of multiple members, like team, committee, class, family, etc. take a singular verb when they operate together as a group, like in:

            The committee votes on the proposal.

            If the members of the group represented by the collective noun operate          independently, (so doing different things probably at different times) you should use a plural verb.  Like in:

            The class write their thesis papers this year.

This means that the people in the class write papers on different topics, probably       at different times during the year. They don’t operate in unison towards the same goal.

10.      The last one is number 10. When you use expressions like including, accompanied by, in addition to, or as well, etc., the number of the subject does not change. If the subject is singular, so is the verb.

            The King, accompanied by the Queen, is visiting the Netherlands.

Revising Comma Splices in Writing

A tutorial on how to revise comma splices in your writing

You create a comma splice when you join two independent clauses with a comma but without a conjunction. To be able to understand what that means it is important to understand what an independent clause is and what a conjunction is.

 An independent clause is a clause that has a subject and a verb and that expresses a ‘complete thought’. This means that an independent clause has a meaning on its own and does not need another clause to give it meaning. A simple example of an independent clause would be I sleep until nine, for instance. Here the subject is I, the verb is sleep, and the sentence expresses a complete thought because it is clear what is meant.

Conjunctions are words that link other words, phrases or sentences together, like in this example:

I like ice skating and field hockey, but I hate ice hockey.

Here and and but are the conjunctions that link the words and phrases together. As mentioned before, a comma splice is created when two independent clauses are joint together with a comma but without a conjunction, like, for example and or but.

The following is an example of how a comma splice is created starting with two independent clauses. The first independent clause is:

Spiders are not considered insects.

And the other one is:

They are arachnids.

When you join these two sentences together using just a comma – like in the example – you create a comma splice.

Spiders are not considered insects, they are arachnids.

There are three ways in which you can correct a comma splice. You can:

  1. Add a conjunction
  2. Change the comma into a semicolon
  3. Make separate sentences.

So, let’s take this sentence with a comma splice and rewrite it in these three different ways:

So, we start with:

He is not going to buy a house, he is planning to rent one.

This sentence contains a comma splice.

Adding a Conjunction

If you add a conjunction to the sentence, it would then read like this:

He is not going to buy a house, but he is planning to rent one.

So, the comma is still there, but it is now followed by a conjunction.

Adding a Semi-colon

Instead of using a conjunction, you could also add a semi-colon. The advantage of that is that the sentence would read the same as the originals sentence with the comma splice, the only difference being that it is no grammatically correct.

He is not going to buy a house; he is planning to rent one.

If you decide to use a semi-colon, it is important to make sure there is a close, logical connection between the two independent clauses. In this case the semicolon works because both sentences are about ways get a house.

Two Separate Independent Clauses

Another option is to divide the sentence containing the comma splice into two separate independent clauses. The sentence would then look like this:

He is not going to buy a house. He is planning to rent one.

Even though turning a sentence containing a comma splice into two separate sentences is an acceptable option, you have to keep in mind that good writing often means having to connect ideas. This is very difficult to do, however, if you use to many simple independent clauses, because it often leads to a very ‘choppy’ and simplistic writing style.

Acceptable Uses of a Comma Splice

There are also a few instances in which comma splices are acceptable. The first one is when using question tags, like in:

He is not here, is he?

It is also acceptable to use comma splices in short parallel contradictions, so when both phrases that make up the contradiction have a similar grammatical structure, like in:

I’m not rich, I’m poor.

Finally, comma splices are often used in fiction and poetry for the simple reason that in these types of informal writing the rules are a lot less strict. An example would be:

Using Parallelism in Writing

A tutorial on how to use parallelism in you writing effectively and how to revise faulty parallelism

Using parallelism means using matching words, phrases or clauses or sentences to express equivalent ideas. The reason for using parallelism is that it adds unity, balance and force to your writing.  On the contrary, when your writing lacks parallel structures, your writing style may seem awkward, which, in turn, could obscure the meaning of what you are trying to express. In other words, lack of parallelism could create confusion.

Using Parallelism Effectively

Parallelism emphasizes the relationships between equivalent ideas because it highlights the correspondence between:

  • Items in a series
  • Paired items
  • Elements in lists and outlines

Items in a series

When presenting items in a series, you should present them in parallel form. Like in these examples:

Baby food consumption, toy production, and school construction are likely to decline as the population of the Netherlands grows older.

Three factors influenced his decision to seek new employment: his desire to relocate, his need for greater responsibility, and his dissatisfaction with his current job.

Paired Items

Paired points or ideas should also be presented in parallel form because it emphasizes their equivalence and connects the two ideas. Here are two examples:

Roosevelt represented the United States, and Churchill represented Great Britain.

Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.

Items linked by correlating conjunctions (such as not only/but also, both/and, either/or and neither/nor should also be parallel.

The design team paid close attention not only to color, but also to texture.

Thirdly, parallelism highlights the contrast between paired elements linked by than or as, like here:

Success is as much a matter of hard work as a matter of luck.

Items in a list

You should also  present Items in a list in parallel form, like in this example:

The Irish potato famine had four major causes:

  1. The establishment of the landlord-tenant system
  2. The failure of the potato crop
  3. The inadequate financial support by England
  4. The passage of the corn laws

Revising Faulty parallelism

Faulty parallelism occurs when equivalent ideas in a sentence are not presented in parallel form, like in for instance:

Many people in developing countries suffer because the countries lack sufficient housing to accommodate them, sufficient food to feed them, and their healthcare facilities are inadequate.

After revision, this sentence could look like this:

Many people in developing countries suffer because the countries lack sufficient housing to accommodate them, sufficient food to feed them, and sufficient health-care facilities to serve them.

Faulty parallelism when pairing items can be revised by making sure you use matching elements. This means that you have to pair nouns with nouns, verbs with verbs, and phrases and clauses with similarly constructed phrases and clauses.

The following is a sentence with paired elements that should be revised:

Faulty:

Popular exercises for men and women include spinning, weight lifters, and jogging.

Revised:

Popular exercises for men and women include spinning, weight lifting, andjogging.

Sentences are often clearer and more emphatic if you repeat certain keywords (articles, prepositions, and the to in infinitives, for example) in each element of a pair or series, as illustrated here:

Faulty:

Computerization has helped industry by not allowing labor costs to skyrocket, increasing the speed of production, and improving efficiency.

Revised:

Computerization has helped industry by not allowing labor costs to skyrocket, by increasing the speed of production, and by improving efficiency.

When repeating relative pronouns, the relative pronoun constructions who(m) … and who(m), and which … and which are always paired and always introduce parallel clauses. When you revise, check to be sure a relative pronoun introduces each clause. To illustrate, let’s look at this example:

Faulty:

The Thing, directed by Howard Hawks, and which was released in 1951, featured James Arness as the monster.

Revised:

The Thing, which was directed by Howard Hawks and which was released in 1951, featured James Arness as the monster.

Presentation Skills: ‘Signpost Language’

How to ‘signpost’ your presentation effectively to give structure to your presentation.

To make your talk effective, interesting and easy to follow, it is a good idea to use signpost language. You can use signpost language to tell your listener what you have just talked about and what you are going to talk about. In other words, signposting language is the words and phrases you can use to guide your audience through your presentation.

Good presentations usually contain plenty of signpost language and this language is usually quite informal and easy to recognize, so it help to memorize a number of effective phases.

Introducing the topic

The subject/topic of my talk is …
I’m going to talk about …
My topic today is…
My talk is concerned with …

Overview (outline of the presentation)

I’m going to divide this talk into four parts.
There are a number of points I’d like to make.
Basically/ Briefly, I have three things to say.
I’d like to begin/start by …
Let’s begin/start by …
First of all, I’ll…
… and then I’ll go on to …
Then/ Next …
Finally/ Lastly …

Finishing a new section

That’s all I have to say about…
We’ve looked at…
So much for…

Starting a new section

Moving on now to …
Turning to…
Let’s turn now to …
The next issue/topic/area I’d like to focus on …
I’d like to expand/elaborate on …
Now we’ll move on to…
I’d like now to discuss…
Let’s look now at…

Analysing a point and giving recommendations

Where does that lead us?
Let’s consider this in more detail…
What does this mean for…?
Translated into real terms…
Why is this important?
The significance of this is…

Giving examples

For example,…
A good example of this is…
As an illustration,…
To give you an example,…
To illustrate this point…

Summarising and concluding

To sum up …
To summarise…
Right, let’s sum up, shall we?
Let’s summarise briefly what we’ve looked at…
If I can just sum up the main points…
Finally, let me remind you of some of the issues we’ve covered…
To conclude…
In conclusion …
In short …
So, to remind you of what I’ve covered in this talk, …
Unfortunately, I seem to have run out of time, so I’ll conclude very briefly by saying that …..
I’d like now to recap…

Paraphrasing and clarifying

Simply put…
In other words…….
So what I’m saying is….
To put it more simply….
To put it another way….

Invitation to discuss / ask questions

I’m happy to answer any queries/ questions.
Does anyone have any questions or comments?
Please feel free to ask questions.
If you would like me to elaborate on any point, please ask.
Would you like to ask any questions?
Any questions?

Revising Faulty Predication

Faulty predication occurs when the predicate in a sentence or a clause does not explain what the subject of a sentence is or does.

A predicate in a sentence (or clause) tells you what the subject does or is. You could also say that the predicate is everything that is not the subject. So, to give you an example, in the sentence ‘The email contained many interesting details’, ‘The email’, is the subject, and ‘contained many interesting details.’ is the predicate.

In the sentence ‘The applicants for the job were skilled programmers.’, ‘The applicants for the job’ is the subject, and ‘were skilled programmers’ is the predicate.

What faulty predication means is that a sentence’s predicate doesn’t logically complete its subject, and there are three causes for it:

  1. Incorrect use of the verb Be
  2. Incorrect use of ‘Is when’ and ‘is where’
  3. Use of: ‘The Reason … Is Because’

Incorrect use of ‘Be

Faulty predication often occurs in sentences with a linking verb – a form of to be, for example. – in combination with a subject complementlll, like in this example:

Political corruption and Economic decline were the downfall of the Roman Empire.

What the writer says here is that ‘Political corruption and economic decline’ were the downfall of the roman empire, as if ‘the downfall of the Roman empire’ described or identified the subject ‘Political corruption and Economic decline’, while in fact what the writer meant to say was that they were reasons for the downfall.

What the sentence should have been is:

Political corruption and Economic decline caused the downfall of the Roman Empire.

Incorrect use of ‘Is when’ and ‘Is Where’

This type of faulty predication often occurs when the writer presents a definition that includes a construction with one of is when or is where, like here:

Arachnophobia is when a person has a fear of spiders and other arachnids.

When defining something is must be preceded and followed by nouns or noun phrases, which is not the case here so the sentence could be rewritten like this:

Arachnophobia is the fear of spiders and other arachnids.

Now ‘the fear of spiders and other arachnids’ defines ‘arachnophobia’.

The reason …’ in combination with ‘ … Is because

Using The reason in combination with Is because leads to a similar problem as you can see in this sentence:

The reason they overeat is because they are bored.

When the phrase the reason is precedes because., like in the example, the word because means for the reason that, so the writer is saying the same thing twice. This is why because should be deleted and the sentence would look like this:

The reason they overeat is that they are bored.