Contrast In Presentations Creates Contour

People are naturally attracted to opposites, so presentations should draw from this attraction to create interest.

Communicating an idea juxtaposed with its polar opposite creates energy. Moving back and forth between the contradictory poles encourages full engagement from the audience.

When you take a strong and clear position you create the opportunity for audience members to come up with a strong opposite position, creating contrast. The odds are good that any time you make a claim, there is someone in the audience who supports a counter claim. Obviously, you believe your point of view is the right one—but others are likely to disagree.

Establish the gap between what is and what could be using contrast. Most people take the obvious approach of contrasting the world as it is today (or was historically) to what it could look like tomorrow. But it could also be “what the customer is like without your product” versus “what the customer could be with your product.” Or “what the world looks like from an alternate point of view” versus “what the world looks like from your point of view.” The gap boils down to any contrast you present between where the audience is now, and where they could be if they accept your perspective.

Presenting differing points of view and perspectives isn’t just a case of being thorough. It’s interesting to audiences—and there’s proof.

In a 1986 article in the American Journal of Sociology, John Heritage and David Greatbatch analyzed 476 political speeches in Britain and studied what preceded the applause. They were interested in understanding, for example, why the response to one speech was total silence, while other speeches received applause almost twice per minute. What factors were appealing enough to the audience to evoke an actual physical response (clapping)? Their conclusion, based on the study of over nineteen thousand sentences, was that contrast plays a clear and important role in generating audience response. Nearly half of the instances when the audience applauded were directly linked to a point in the speech where the speaker was communicating a contrast.

The following exercise will help broaden your own perspective and create room for you to consider and address the audience’s alternate beliefs. Confronting their perspective gives you credibility; you’ll even hear opponents say things like, “Wow, that was thoroughly thought-out.”

Create Contrast

Revisit the ideas you’ve generated up to this point. For each one there will be a contrasting idea that’s inherent to it. An intelligent rebuttal can exist for each idea you present. Even though you may not include them in your preparation, it’s important to know what they are and understand them.

You can use the columns of contrasting elements on the next page as a jumping-off point for exploration. The majority of your ideas will probably belong in one of the two columns. Study the elements in the columns and brainstorm new ideas you haven’t yet thought of. For each point of view you’ve established, create an opposing point of view. Move from the top of each column to the bottom, and then repeat the process from the bottom up. This can help trigger even more ideas. When you have completed the exercise, you should have a solid list of contrasting ideas.