Posts Tagged ‘public speaking’

The speech and how to tame it.

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Why are people afraid of addressing an audience?  The most common answer to that is that they lack confidence.  In teaching courses in public speaking, we have seen the most timid person become a tiger on the platform.  All it requires is the time to show the individual what they can accomplish.

Mind you, the basics can be learned but it is application and practice that creates the really great speakers.  We learned how far practice can take a person from our late friend Charles Templeton.  Chuck got his early start from listening to the evangelists who came to Toronto when he was young.  He used to practice their styles in front of a mirror.  He had learned how they used words and how they used their bodies for emphasis   He would admit with a laugh that he really started out to be a cartoonist but found that it was much easier just to talk.  That confidence in speaking never left him, even after he quit the church, tried politics and found his niche in the media.

But confidence can be deceiving.  In making a brief presentation to city council a couple weeks ago, we were overconfident and did not do well.  People who watched on television said that it was fine but we knew we lost our place in our notes a couple times and we could have done better if we had practiced it a few times.

But we really prefer to write speeches than deliver them.  We learned very early in our career that we had a knack for being able to hear the person say the words in our mind as we wrote them.  It is also the way good dialogue is created when writing for radio and television or producing fiction.

The key to speech writing is to build on audience agreement.  You layer agreements through the speech, building acceptance of what the person is telling the audience. You structure the sentences to allow the audience to react to the speech at planned intervals.  You create applause points for example to enable the audience to react.

A person for whom we wrote a speech recently tried to change some of the sentence structure.  He was correct in his grammar but it was wrong for the speech.  We convinced him to use our wording.  He was impressed when the audience proved the point by feeling free to applaud at what he thought was the wrong way to end some sentences.

Good writing is not always a good speech.  Speech writers research the audience and then research the topic.  They know how the words are understood.  There are many examples of that.

Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream and he used heavy repetition to drive home his point in a brilliant speech that was heard around the world.  Abraham Lincoln told the audience at Gettysburg that few would remember his words that day.  Millions of American school children know he was wrong.  Marc Anthony told the Roman mob that he came to bury Caesar, not to praise him.  He lied.  He turned the mob.

A good speech is communication at its most basic.  It identifies with the audience.  It uses words that are easy for the audience to understand.  It employs emotion.  It challenges.  It motivates.  It informs.  It paints pictures.  It asks for commitment.  It is memorable.  It is visceral.  It shows leadership.  And you thought it was just another speech.

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How to learn to love the microphone.

Monday, June 27th, 2011

The microphone is your friend.  It can help you communicate with large groups.  No matter how big your voice, there are audiences that are bigger than your voice alone can handle.  If you want to be a communicator, you have to learn to use the microphone.

The only problem is that most microphones you encounter in banquet halls, church halls, schools, community centres and other such venues are absolute crap. Even if the sound system is of the correct quality and design for the room and installed by an acoustical expert (rarely, if ever), that was two years ago and since then people have been intent on doing severe damage to the system.  They have no idea of the trouble they cause when they hit the microphone, run wheels over cables, play with the amplifier dials, randomly flick switches on and off and drop delicate speakers.  All you can do most of the time is hope the damn system lasts long enough for you to finish communicating what you need to say to the audience.

There is one solution that is practiced by professional communicators.  A professional comes early and checks out the system.  The professional asks that someone be there who knows how the system works.  A paid professional insists that someone be there to manage the system when in use.  Good luck with that.

If checking ahead is impossible, try to watch from the back of the room while someone uses the sound system.    If, for example, you hear popping, screeching, breathing and the voice tends to boom, the speaker is probably too close to the microphone.  That is a common error and is easily corrected by stepping back from the microphone and speaking over it, not directly into it.  And do not forget that the mouth is the most visible part of facial expression.  Do not let the microphone hide it.

And, for goodness sake, do not touch the microphone.  Only professionals use hand microphones.  Unless you are going to spend many, many hours practicing holding it properly, keep your paws off it.  You need both hands for your notes or full speech.  You need your hands for emphasis.

(If it is one of those cheap directional microphones—they are small and have a flat grill face—try talking directly into it from at least eight to ten inches away.)

The macho speaker who listens to previous speakers and claims they do not need that microphone is kidding nobody.  If they keep it up, they will do irreparable harm to their voice, lose all inflection and tone of voice for emphasis and annoy people in the front rows because of shouting at them.  It is a lose, lose, lose situation.

If you know it is a bad microphone, it is not the best course to see how fast you can talk and get out of there.  Many of these bad microphones—positioned properly—will do the job if you speak clearly and distinctly and enunciate every word.

It is critical that you only speak when you are looking at the oldest person (who is a little deaf) in the back row.  If you do not hold this person’s attention, you might as well cut your talk short.  You are not communicating.

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That great speech.

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

Some people think of a speech as being an end result.  How often have you said, that this or that person ‘gave a great speech.’  What that really says is that the speech was not successful.  If the speech did not motivate you to do something, it fails.

We were thinking of this when writing recently about political stump speeches.  These speeches have changed over the years as they have moved from the ‘vote for me’ talks delivered from a stump, the back of a train, a stage in a park or in a local arena.  Today these speeches are beating the drum to refresh the effort by already committed workers.

To understand great speeches, you need to analyze speeches such as Shakespeare’s recreation of Marc Anthony’s funeral oration for Julius Caesar, Abraham Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg, Winston Churchill’s classic Some chicken; some neck! speech to the Canadian parliament and Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s momentous I have a dream. They were not just rich in their use of the English language, nor just adept at alliterative rhetoric.  They were built on what writers refer to as power phrases and are brought to repeated and all-consuming climaxes with an unerring sense of timing.

A great speech is structured.  It is not something that is done off the cuff.  Words have to be carefully placed within the sentence to reach the listeners’ ears in the right sequence.  Words that are weak or weaseled are wasted words.

A great speech is an epic journey that travels from mountain top to mountain top.  It is interrupted repeatedly by planned, anticipated audience reaction.  It is structured for the audience to voice and indicate approval.  The speaker’s pauses are part of the planning.  Each round of applause builds on the previous.  It rises to a crescendo of approval.

And that is all in the timing.  Timing is a critical factor, not in the length of a speech, but in its delivery.  Like the great comedians, great speakers know that the crucial pause is what can make the difference between polite agreement and an ovation.

The hardest thing to teach a person who aspires to be a good, if not great, public speaker is to read the audience.  It can be as simple as; are they looking at their watches?  Are they nodding in agreement?  Are they looking bored?  Are they looking around to see how others are reacting?  Can you see puzzlement and segue in an ad-libbed clarification?  You have to think of a speech as a conversation and always be ready to adjust your remarks to fit the needs of your audience.

There are some darn good speakers today.  President Obama of the U.S. comes immediately to mind.  What is probably missing is great speech writers.

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The art of debate suffers serious setback.

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

The debates are over.  Thank goodness.  That was like putting four unruly little boys in the same playpen.  It was an opportunity for them to be nasty.

It really is too bad that Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc Quebecois is not as good a communicator in English as he is in French.  In the English debate, he went right for Harper’s jugular vein like a pit bull smelling lunch.  The only problem was that Harper could ignore him.  Harper hardly feels he has to make nice with a francophone separatist.

In fact, Harper ignored everybody.  With his warm and heavy makeup job and so perfectly coifed hair, he looked like he was afraid to move.  What left us cold about his style was that he never looked at anybody.   On Tuesday, he particularly ignored the moderator Steve Paikin—who let the English-language session get out of control.

Harper took whatever time he wanted. Ignatieff and Layton actually indicated to Paikin—practically raising their hand as though they wanted to go to the washroom.  Harper butted in whenever he wanted to.  Duceppe spoiled his presentation by getting red and angry with Harper.

The disappointment in the debate was the one guy who actually should have had the most debating experience at the university level.  Michael Ignatieff was over-prepped for the event.  His advisors should have left him alone.  It was obvious that they had fed him too many sound bites—which he finally garbled—and stopped him from listening to what others were saying.  While Harper could hardly care what they said, Ignatieff needed to win the damn debate.

He did not.

If we had renamed the show “Three and a half men,” Jack Layton was the half.  He was the earnest little boy allowed to play with the big kids. He appeared to be standing there throughout the debate looking admiringly at Harper.  Why he chose Ignatieff’s support for our troops in Afghanistan and attendance in the House of Commons as subjects on which to attack Ignatieff, we can hardly guess.  Ignatieff is the party leader and leader of the opposition.  He is in the House when he has to be but he has a lot of other work to do.

Harper tried to make something of the fact that he is now the longest serving minority Prime Minister since Mr. Pearson was Prime Minister from 1963 to 1968.  The difference is that Canadians liked Mr. Pearson and he accomplished a great deal during his time as Prime Minister.

Harper also reminded us of our blog about stump speaking.  The only difference is that Harper, as a speaker, is the stump.  The man has no passion nor feelings nor emotion.  Poor Laureen Harper!

After the two debates, the only conclusion is that Canadians need to take Stephen Harper to the woodshed.  He needs to understand that going way off topic to avoid answering questions does not always work.

The rest of them need to learn that a debate is not a bickering session.

The only humour in the entire two hours of English was when Gilles Duceppe had Jack Layton squirming, trying to get out of appearing to support the notorious Quebec language law (Bill 101).

The silliest question was from an obvious Conservative supporter in a small town in British Columbia about safety on the streets.  (Do they have a street there?)  Harper enjoyed the question.  Once again, we heard how he is tough on crime and easy on guns.

By the end of that first two hours, the leaders were tired, nobody had won anything and the audience was saying, “We missed regular programs for this?”  A sad result.

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Give me that old-time politics.

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

A political era is ending.  The stump speech will soon be a thing of the past.  We used to judge politicians by their ability to give a stump speech.  The name comes from when they found a suitable tree stump for a political orator to stand on while addressing local voters.  These speakers were able to involve the listeners in their oratory and were judged on their ability to enthral, convince and hold their audience.

One of the best of the breed of stump speakers in Ontario, that we knew, was J.J. “Joe” Greene, MP and Minister of Agriculture for the Pearson Government and then Minister of Mines and Resources in the Trudeau Government.  Joe was not as smart as Pearson or Trudeau but give him a simple stand-up microphone and an audience and he could wrap the audience around his little finger.  The world lost a great orator at when Joe died in 1978, at just 58.

Another great orator, in our estimation, was the late Don Jamieson.  A Newfoundland broadcaster who had opposed confederation with Canada, Don served in all the Trudeau Government cabinets before finishing as Minister of External Affairs in 1979.  He was our loyal and proud Canadian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom from 1983 to 1985.  Other than one particularly corny joke about a manure spreader that he used too often, Don was a delight to listen to.  He was always in demand as a speaker.

We were very impressed with how Michael Ignatieff was coming along last summer when he brought his bus tour to Babel.  He spent the afternoon at a garden party at our provincial MPPs home.  His speech won hearts and minds.   Sure, he was preaching to the choir but there were more than a few of us there who could review the speech for its content, credibility and quality of delivery.  Because the audience was Liberal and interested, it was quite long.  There was a point where it was obvious that he was bridging between two different speeches.  Nobody complained.  It was his audience.

What made the event a stump speech is that it was made without a lectern, without a note and without a teleprompter.  He was talking to that audience about the things that he needed to say to it.   It was a great sales pitch for what he believes is the inclusiveness of the big red tent.  He was selling the breadth and depth of Liberalism.  He succeeded.

It is interesting to note that Justin Trudeau MP is a comer as a stump speaker.  He is good.  When he was here in Babel speaking to supporters, we were comparing him to his father.  His father never was a good stump speaker.  He was too intellectual and needed the stimulus of the audience to really communicate.  Without that stimulus, Pierre Trudeau could be boring.  We will be looking for great things from his son.

But a stump speaker has serious competition today.  We have been seeing it on television news almost every night.  We are into the era of the teleprompter.  Jack Layton was the surprise on this.  He is not that bad a speaker but because of his various health problems, his handlers seem to have added the teleprompters to keep him from tensing up or flubbing.  They are using the reflective glass prompters that are to the right and left at the front of the stage.   He is just getting used to it after some weeks of practice.  He had a tendency at first to look like he was trying to follow a tennis match while speaking.

We noted that we had finally found Harper’s teleprompter the other day.  The media have been so tightly controlled that it had not been visible.  The Conservatives are using a large screen television prompter for him that is parked just in front of the television cameras.  It was not seen until a cameraman finally got behind the tame audience for a back shot of Harper.  The Conservative leader is such a control freak that he probably also memorizes the key points of his prepared remarks.

We have not seen Ignatieff with a teleprompter yet but when he gets to be Prime Minister, he will also have to learn to use them.

Teleprompter support will not be there tonight at the leaders’ first television debate.  This event is staged but not managed to that extent.  It is actual reality television.

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#46 – Public speaking and sex: The art of persuasion.

Monday, June 7th, 2010

When you are in your teens, it is good to have a friend with whom you can discuss your growing curiosity about sex. Most of the time, it helps demystify the subject. Occasionally, it leads to confusion.

I had such a friend. He often added to the confusion. There was the time, for example, when he convinced me to take a public speaking course that was offered as an after-hours class. It was because we had purloined some books from behind an older brother’s bookshelf that promised to explain the deepest mysteries of something called ‘coitus.’ We were convinced that it was a deeply serious work and we compared notes as we went through the books a chapter at a time.

“We gotta find out more about this public area that women have,” my friend explained. His solution was that it since it might have a relationship to public speaking, we could learn more by attending that class.

Since it was now my turn to read that chapter, it was not until the first public speaking class that I had a chance to suggest to him that he might be confusing the word ‘public’ with ‘pubic.’

But by then, it was too late. The class had started. Instead of being out playing work-up baseball with the gang, we were stuck with an elderly English teacher trying to tell us how to speak in public.

To our surprise and delight, we found the public speaking class dealt mainly with the art of persuasion. For two randy young guys, this was going to be more useful than the teacher realized. We figured it was going to help us get laid.

The first lesson was to learn about your audience. That made sense. We found out that the better you know your audience, the easier it is to get them to go along with your objectives. That is why you start by identifying with them. Knowing about them makes it easier to make them comfortable with you.

We were taught that once a comfort level has been established, you can address the subject of your speech. The teacher made the vital point that a direct approach was not always the best route to your objective. Here we were shown that by laying the groundwork properly, you can get people to think your objective is their idea. This was a revelation.

The teacher showed us how to build our case through the speech and to use emotion to help our audience to feel the need. She showed us how to layer our case to encompass different attitudes and personal needs. She also taught us not to bore our audience with needless verbiage. We learned to end on a high note, with an audience that is sure you have more to give. We learned the secret of the standing ovation.

But did this effort pay off with the girls? It is hard to say. My friend got himself a girlfriend right after taking the public speaking class and said it was not a gentlemanly thing to discuss sex with me anymore. Convinced he was not getting any, I went back to playing work-up baseball. The gang had decided to let girls play with us.

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#44 – And now for a commercial message.

Monday, May 31st, 2010

A newspaper cartoon that has always had personal staying power was one about two down and out guys sitting in an alley beside some garbage cans. One is saying to the other: “I was so busy saving the world, I forgot about me.

Would you believe the original idea of this blog was to showcase this writer’s talent. The idea was to sell writing services and, as the site became notorious, for Google to sell advertising for it. In both aspects, it fails. It seems that any person willing to write a blog is assumed to be available to write for free. And we only need to find another couple thousand readers a day to get Google interested in the ad potential.

This indicates a need for a new approach. A new angle is required. After much thought and a very funny discussion with the wife, a new type of blog is emerging. Future blogs will be about communication and sex. As the wife said, “Well, you do know a lot about communication.” It is hoped that her next husband will appreciate her sense of humour.

Here is a short sample of the idea:

Title: Public speaking and the multi-orgasmic audience

Delivering a speech to an audience is very much like making love to that very special lady. You know that she is capable of having many small orgasms during the coupling. Through applying yourself thoughtfully to this most enjoyable of tasks, you know you can build the experience, engulfing her in the thrill of the moment, and come to a new depth of understanding.

For what is a speech about? It is to take a seminal concept, build on it, embellish it, give it life, give it hope, share the promise, envelope it in rhetoric, drive it in, implant it for it to be nurtured, developed and gestated in the womb of the intellect.

You only wish that was always the case! Most speakers are there to get their own jollies. They hardly care about the recipient. It’s slam bam, “thank yuh mam.” Some speakers are so insipid, the audience is not even sure they were there. When was the last great speech you really felt? As you sat in that audience, did you believe that the speaker cared about your enjoyment? Or was the speaker there just to get his own point across?

Frankly, most speakers have one basic kind of spurt of an idea to deliver to their audience. They would be better to send it by e-mail.

When you have an audience capable of having many small orgasms on the way to the grand conclusion, you have to have a plan. You have to build the sensations. With tongue and touch, words that inspire, ideas that inflame, the ability to use power phrases, that bring your audience to new heights. You build the understanding. You become one in your empathetic relationship. You communicate.

Good sex needs mental stimulus as well as physical. Good speeches need to be felt as well as heard and seen. They have to control the moment, respond to urges, give the needed directions, satisfy demands and exceed expectations.

Maybe that special lady is too engaged during sex to applaud each rising crescendo of ecstasy but her appreciation at the successful conclusion knows few bounds. In a speech, each nuance can earn a chuckle or a guffaw and rising rounds of enthusiastic applause. As the speaker, you want the attention and to reach acceptance and climax in a standing ovation. That can be better than sex. Well, almost. It depends on who writes  it.

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We really do need comments on this one. I have to prove something to the wife. Let us know what you think at