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The Use of Controversy in Your Speech

By: Angelique Caffrey - Updated: 13 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Audience; Presentation; Controversy;

When giving a speech it’s not always necessary (or wise) to make waves. However, sometimes a little controversy can spice up the dullest of subjects and turn what could otherwise be a tedious lecture into a rousing discussion.

The trick is to know when and how to use controversy… and when to leave it for another day. Consequently, we’ve addressed seven key “controversy” considerations to reflect upon before turning your next speech into a place for debate.

1. Not all types of speeches lend themselves to controversy.

Birthday speeches, anniversary speeches, retirement speeches, and memorial speeches are just some of the public speaking venues at which controversy should be eschewed. Having said that, speeches on topics such as politics, historical disputes, or philosophical arguments are ideal, welcome places to insert a little controversy.

2. You have to be ready to be disliked if you’re going to be controversial.

Some novice public speakers forget that controversy will not always reflect kindly on them. Hence, they are shocked when they discover themselves faced by an irate audience.

If you’re going to wholeheartedly commit yourself to being controversial, you’ll need to also commit yourself to being loathed by some and loved by others. For a very few individuals, this is an enjoyable experience; but for many others, it’s a nightmarish scenario and best avoided.

3. A little controversy goes a long way.

Don’t insert controversy simply for the sake of it. Like hot peppers, a little will serve you well, but too much will be overpowering. Just a small dash of controversy can add depth and interest to your speech.

4. Don’t use controversy to mask a bad speech.

If you haven’t prepared or researched your presentation, don’t think that controversy will suddenly make it “good”. Yes, the speech might wind up being memorable to audience members, but that doesn’t mean it will be remembered fondly or positively.

Your materials should be able to stand alone, with or without the insertion of old-fashioned controversy. If they cannot, you need to work further on your speech.

5. Controversy can be subtle.

Controversy doesn’t have to be startling or combative, as in the case of a fiery statement like: “I hate all dogs and wish they would be banned from parks.” In fact, controversy can be quite understated and relatively tame, inciting shaking heads but not hostile shouts.

6. You don’t have to be personally controversial to use controversy in your speech.

Not a controversial person by nature? No problem! Talk about a controversy in the context of explaining some or all of your subject matter.

For instance, if you’re discussing World War II, you could talk about the goals of the differing sides of the conflict. You’ll definitely hit on some controversial elements, but they will be offered in a “third person” framework.

7. Control any controversy you (or audience members) create.

Finally, if you find yourself creating controversy (or dealing with any that comes from your listeners), be ready to control it. Never allow controversy to get the better of your speech; it will only hurt you and turn your presentation into chaos.

If you feel that controversy is beginning to take too deep a hold or affect the overall ambiance of your speech, you can always initiate a break in your presentation so everyone can regroup. Often, a short breather will enable emotions stirred by controversial remarks to settle and cool. Then, everyone (including you) can return to their seats with more “level” heads.

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