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Moving up the value chain of public speaking: The interpreter

6 min read


A few weeks ago we kicked off our series, ”Moving Up the Value Chain of Speaking Approaches” with a look at the Expert presentation approach.

If you missed the previous articles in the series, see:

Business leaders know firsthand the importance of aligning a team and galvanizing members to take action. To achieve this result, you need to convey information and connect with your audience. When your presentation goes beyond sharing information and includes a call to action, the Interpreter speaking approach will help you to rise to the occasion and ensure your success.

When to take the Interpreter approach

As an Interpreter, you’re in the moving business. Your job is to move people from point A to point B. Many times that goal translates as moving listeners from the “status quo” to a new way of operating.

Getting people to change is no easy feat! The super power an Interpreter brings to the table is the ability to interpret information so that it makes sense to the audience, enabling them to both understand and act on it. Review the following characteristics of the Interpreter and see how your presentation opportunity compares:

  • Presentation goal: As the Interpreter, your goal is to influence the audience, convincing people to take action or make a change.
  • Point of view: Interpreters are in the driver’s seat. You understand what is at stake and are invested in the outcome. Even if you don’t have the title of a leader, your ability to gain buy-in and influence a diverse group will directly impact success.
  • Audience and development: As an Interpreter, you want to influence people to take action, change the outcome of the problem or achieve the goal. Audiences might include your staff or other employee populations, board members or other stakeholders, external clients, analysts, or industry members. Examples of typical Interpreter presentations include:
    • Product launch
    • Analyst summit
    • Sales pitch or client meeting
    • Conference presentation or industry keynote event
    • Public policy forum
  • Content and message: As the Interpreter, target and direct your message to offer a specific approach to meeting a goal. Like the Expert, the Interpreter’s message requires logic and credibility. However, what differentiates the Interpreter from the Expert is empathy. Empathy enables the speaker to understand others’ perspectives and use that understanding to shape the message. In addition, rather than taking a neutral approach and simply stating the facts, use comparisons, anecdotes and stories to demonstrate a personal connection so the message is perceived as trustworthy and resonates with the audience.

Build these skills to be an effective interpreter

Using Professionally Speaking’s CODE process as a guide, build these critical skills to be an effective Interpreter:

Clarify your content. You may typically find yourself speaking to a group of people with varying levels of knowledge, different perspectives or mixed expectations. When crafting and delivering your message, your job is to focus on the needs of your audience, and that can be a bit tricky when the needs of each listener are different.

How do you begin? By finding the common ground between your listeners. At first glance, this task may seem impossible, but challenge yourself—you can always find common connections if you make the effort to look for them. This work will pay off when your message is clear, and the entire audience feels moved to take action. Get more information on this topic.

Organize your information. Understanding what audience members have in common enables you to craft a message that captures the hearts and minds of listeners, making them feel that you understand. The Interpreter influences listeners with a logical schematic that clearly answers three questions:

  • Why should I care?
  • How will it improve my life?
  • What must I do?

Develop. While an Expert is typically dependent on slides, an Interpreter develops a story first and uses slides only to aid audience comprehension. When developing your presentation, include metaphors to illustrate your point and facilitate deeper understanding of your message, use stories that everyone can relate to and show more than you tell.

Express Yourself. The Interpreter is constantly aware of how the audience is responding (whether verbally or nonverbally) and adjusts the presentation accordingly. In addition to the skills of an Expert, essential skills for an Interpreter to deliver a compelling presentation include the ability to:

  • Share emotion
  • Express empathy to others’ points of view
  • Talk with not at the audience, using a conversational tone
  • Teach so that the audience “gets it”
  • Adjust the delivery based on how the audience is responding

Cautions for the Interpreter

  1. Invest the time to research your listeners and their point of view rather than assuming you already know everything about your audience and the topic.
  2. Focus your message on the common ground between your audience members, especially when you’re addressing a diverse group.
  3. Practice out loud to ensure your message is coherent and learn where you could trip up.
  4. Refine and simplify content, which is not the same as “dumbing down” the message.
  5. Rather than getting mired in details, break down the message into understandable and actionable chunks of information.

Are you an effective Interpreter?

Before you present, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is my core message?
  • Where is my audience and where do they need to be? Are they open, skeptical, new to the idea, or split on the issue?
  • What common ground do listeners share?
  • What common ground do I share with listeners?
  • What stories, metaphors and comparisons will help them “get it” and move them to action?
  • Have I prepared enough to be conversational and engaging?

The ability to translate a message from a “presentation” to a “call to action” is what sets an Interpreter apart. As an Interpreter, you are a leader who goes beyond simply getting the audience to understand — you recognize the importance of influencing people to take action.

Don’t miss the next installment in our series: “Moving up the value chain of public speaking: The Catalyst.”

The Catalyst sees the need for a vastly different future and wants to transform the audience’s thinking, spark innovation and generate new ideas. Not everyone has the capacity to be a Catalyst, but those who do can become the movers and shakers of tomorrow.

Stephanie Scotti is a strategic communication adviser specializing in high-stake presentations. She has 25-plus years experience of coaching experience and eight years teaching presentation skills for Duke University. She has provided presentation coaching to over 3,000 individuals in professional practices, Fortune 500 companies, high-level government officials and international business executives. Learn more at and

Sharon McMillen Cannon serves as clinical associate professor of management and corporate communication at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC-Chapel Hill. She has a passion for teaching public speaking, business writing, intercultural communication, and the effective use of social media (@smccannon on Twitter).

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