Guide on the Side – Objectives – What to Tell and How to Tell It

Marie Wallace has enjoyed a fulfilling career as a librarian, beginning in 1951 in academia with the University of California and transitioning in 1971 into the private law library world until her 1995 retirement from O’Melveny & Myers. She is the 1997 recipient of the American Association of Law Libraries‘ highest honor, the Marian Gould Gallagher Distinguished Service Award. Throughout her professional life, Marie has been a guiding force in the Southern California Association of Law Libraries, Practising Law Institute’s programs for law librarians and Teaching Legal Research in Private Law Libraries (TRIPLL).

Today, Marie has commenced on a new path she terms “Life in Progress,” which enables her to pursue a diversity of interests as a master swimmer, law librarian, trainer, storyboarder and designer of wearable art. She continues to be a dynamic speaker and prolific writer on such topics as private law library management, presentations and training. She is a member of Toastmasters International and is active with the American Society for Training Development (ASTD) and in continuing education for private law librarians. She devotes her “free” time to various non-profit and civic activities.

You’re on the way to a final exam for a class you never attended. As if that were not bad enough, you are unable to find the exam room. This common nightmare morphs into reality when you are to give a presentation and do not have clear objectives.

Seasoned presenters determine speech objectives as a first step. Novice speakers may spend hours revising and revising their material and never realize they have omitted the first step. Objectives provide a road map to the final destination and help:

  • Create an arresting title

  • Visualize the outcomes

  • Organize the material appropriately

  • Determine the type of speech to prepare

  • Publicize the presentation

  • Select the best technology to use (flipchart, props, slides, video, display)

Phase One

There are two distinct phases to formulating objectives. Both are aligned with the audience. In the first phase, you sleuth the facts/demographics:

  • What is the group identification of the audience?

  • What do they know about the subject?

  • What are their main interests?

  • What other speakers have they heard on the subject?

  • What is their professional bias or way of looking at things?

  • What is the occasion?

If you are speaking in your natural habitat to a group that you know, you may have the answers to these questions already. But be careful about the assumptions you make. The outlook of professionals varies depending on what kind of organization they work for, their status in the organization and the years in practice. For instance, entrepreneurs and consultants often have different outlooks than their other professional counterparts.

The way to gather an audience profile varies depending on whether you are presenting from the inside (where you work) or the outside (external to your affiliation).

Inside your organization

  • The person who asks you to present is likely to epitomize the audience

  • Consider the inviter’s status and professional background

  • What is the organizational context

  • Products and/or services

  • Major clients

  • Business plans

  • Growth strategies

  • Issues facing the organization or industry

Outside your organization

  • Go beyond the person who invites you to present

  • Talk to the President and other bellwether members of the organization

  • Find out what the occasion is and if there is a program theme

  • Are there other speakers? What are their subjects?

  • Read the organization’s newsletter or other publications

  • Look at their Web site

  • What is the group’s interest in the subject

  • How do they plan to use information

Phase Two

Use the facts gathered about audience dynamics to write out the objective statement so you and your audience are clear on what you intend to accomplish. Very often the person who asks you to “speak about…”, “report on…” or “participate in a panel about…” fails to give you a clue about the audience or intended outcomes.

I like Claudyne Wilder’s ( paint-by-numbers approach. She parses the objective process down to a simple formula, connecting what the presenter will be doing with the desired audience outcomes. The speaker fills in the blanks.

“During my talk I plan to… [verb and noun] so that …[noun and verb].” By the end of my talk, my audience will… [verb and noun]”


“During my presentation, I will demonstrate [verb] two genealogical Web sites [noun] so that the audience [noun] can observe [verb] how to use them. By the end of my speech, you will be able to start using [verb] these sites [noun] to create a family tree.”

“My objective today is to persuade you of the advantages of DVD so that you can modify your budget projections to include this format. By the end of my talk, you will have specific unit costs, a list of equipment required and three compelling reasons to convert.”

“In this seminar, I will show and compare the most common online technologies used for e-learning so that you will know your options. By the end of the seminar, instructors should be able to evaluate online learning tools, such as chat sessions, email and discussion groups, for your specific e-training environment.”

Types of Speeches

Part of setting objectives is to determine the type of speech you are going to give. The three most common types are to inform, persuade or entertain. If you have been asked by your boss to give “a status report on…,” “a technical briefing”, or “highlights of the conference you just attended”, you know you will be designing a speech to inform. The audience already appreciates the utility of the topic. Concentrate on facts and examples. Organize your material for easy comprehension by the audience. Handouts and visuals may make the information more useful.

If your objective is to get people to understand, accept and act on your ideas or a new idea, such as a proposal, budget request, or staff reorganization plan, you will be preparing a speech to persuade. In this type speech, the audience must be convinced of the usefulness of the topic. Start by getting agreement that there is a problem, using examples that embody the audience’s beliefs and values. Develop the ideas logically and intersperse emotional issues. (Is this what you want?) Add personal or other stories designed to persuade. Propose your solution with an appeal to the audience’s self-interest. End with the specific action you want to audience to take. If the action involves information the audience may not have or know how to do, such as write letters to elected officials, supply addresses and sample letters.

Novice speakers often mistakenly believe that the facts alone will persuade an audience. If this were true, advertisements and closing arguments would contain no emotional messages.

A speech to entertain, such as the after dinner speech, is characterized by shared humor, getting people to relax, smile and perhaps laugh. This type speech will be the subject of another column. However, you can effectively incorporate humor to further your objectives in speeches to inform and to persuade. Humor promotes goodwill and gets the attention of your audience.

Objectives are the cultural context of a presentation. A speech is more than telling what you know. It is knowing what to tell and how to tell it. The audience is key to that knowledge.

Posted in: Guide on the Side, Presentation Skills