Tag Archives: public speaking

How good are the pictures you create when you speak?

Watching the Canadian Grand Prix I found myself getting confused from time to time because of the way the commentator was describing the action. Here’s an example of the kind of thing he was saying (not an actual quote).

Imagine you are actually watching the race, and get someone to read this aloud to you:

“Leading the race is Nico Rosberg. In second place is Lewis Hamilton, third is Hulkenberg, still on a one-stop strategy, using the super soft tyres, and the gap has widened to over 11 seconds, to the battle between Perez of Force India and Vettel. Button is cruising along in sixth place, with Felipe Massa in seventh. He’s catching up fast because his tyres are younger than Vettel’s.”

How easy was that to take in?

It’s easy enough to take in the 1-2-3, because they are described as a list. But the next bit creates a totally different picture because it is described in a different way and actually interrupts your understanding of what is going on. It creates a succession of disconnected images

When making a speech or presentation, it is always worth considering the pictures we make with our words, and check that consecutive images are consistent with one another.

Effective communication depends on connecting with the way our listeners receive and understand what we are saying. That’s why triads and repetition work. Repetition reinforces the message.

In a written text it is quite attractive to change the way in which a list is described. Not so in a spoken text. If, in the example above, the commentator wanted to make a point about the gap between drivers, he could have said:

“Leading the race is Nico Rosberg. In second place, just one second back, is Lewis Hamilton, with Hulkenberg third and only a couple of seconds behind him. Those are the three podium positions. Behind them the gap has widened to 11 seconds, to the battle for fourth place between Perez and Vettel. Down in sixth place we have Button, with Felipe Massa seventh.”

Read both version aloud and see which feels easier to understand.

 

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Deliver what it says on your tin

I was looking for inspiration.  I have been running public speaking programmes for many years and wondered if I was missing a trick. Perhaps I could still learn from others in the business. So I turned to a book written by a highly-acclaimed ‘expert’, only to be disappointed.

My expectations were high, and I was ready to be impressed. But 100 pages into the book I still have not found a single insight worth adding to what I already know. Worse, the author (who is English) has done what I find more common among Americans – he talks ‘about’ the topic rather than the topic itself.

He talks about certain typical situations in which the communication fails, but he doesn’t explain the dynamics, and takes forever to provide the solution. Moreover, when the answer arrives, it’s pretty ordinary.

That’s the word! Ordinary. This famous expert’s flagship work is just plain ordinary.

I turned to another book, this one written by an American. The title was attractive, saying exactly what I was looking for. The author has won awards for speechwriting.

Then I came across this: “Try some Self-Depreciating Humour”.

It should, of course, have been “self-deprecating”, and it was not a typo. The fault lay with the author. It’s quite a common error among Americans.

I closed the book. And as I did so, I recalled the time I spoke at the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers, and told of the rivalry between two orators in ancient Greece: Demosthenes and Aeschines.

An American speaker approached me later and said he sometimes told that same story himself, but related it to Demosthenes and Cicero. I gently pointed out that they were born nearly 300 years apart, so they could hardly have been rivals. If I were ever in his audience, I would have a problem with his credibility.

If you are going to stick your head above the parapet, as author or speaker, you’ve got to get it right, you’ve got to check your facts, you’ve got to deliver what it says on your tin. How quickly we can lose a following, just by failing to meet expectations

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Ed Milliband: could do better

The Opposition Leader’s speech to the Trades Union Congress was certain to fail. It revealed him as a work in progress, rather than a well rounded leader. The evidence is in the text as well as in his delivery.

It was a typical example of a speech put together without a proper understanding of its likely effect on the listener. I was prompted to write this critique by the extract that was played on the 10 o’clock news, in which he sounded like a middle manager with limited experience of public speaking. The only thing missing was “And I mean that most sincerely!”

The main weakness in his text was the disjointed rhythm which, on occasion, forced the listener to switch off in order to make sense of what he had just said. Here’s one example:

It’s how you unions and employers worked together to keep people working even during the most difficult moments of the recession. Putting jobs above pay rises. Working fewer hours in order to protect employment. Flexibility yes. Exploitation no. And nowhere is that more true than when it comes to zero hours contracts.

Ignoring, for the moment, the cumbersome language (as in the final sentence), consider the leap you have to make from “jobs above pay rises … working fewer hours …” to take in the comparison he draws in the next four words. In one step he has gone from praising the co-operation between unions and employers to rejecting exploitation. What exploitation? By whom? In what context?

He frequently interrupts himself. He does it in interviews, and he did it in this speech.  His opening paragraph was designed to surprise his audience by revealing that a former Tory PM was in tune with today’s Labour Party. But the way he addressed his own punch line was this: “Yes, I am talking, believe it or not, about …” That ‘believe it or not’ totally ruined it, both because it interrupted the flow and because it cast doubt on the story’s credibility.

Here’s another example: “Now I recognise, as do you …” Try saying it. And think about his intention. Clearly he wanted to say “we both know”, but he chose a clumsy and even cheesy form of words. He could have reversed the sentence with something like this: “Both workers and employers need flexibility. I know that, you know that.”

In another paragraph he had this:

The million young people looking for work. It is not their recovery. The long term unemployed, higher than at any time for a generation. It is not their recovery. The 1.4 million people, more than ever before, desperate for full time work …”

‘Scuse me, didn’t you just say a million people were looking for work? How did that suddenly become 1.4 million?

If you are going to throw numbers around, make sure you distinguish one from another. And get the grammar right. “The long term unemployed, whose numbers are at their highest for a whole generation” makes more sense.

His (almost) final paragraph had a weak attempt at an ascending tricolon: “High stakes for your members. High stakes for working people. High stakes for our country. We’re in the fourth year of this government.”

Eh? Where’s the punch line about high stakes? Why the sudden switch to another subject, from high stakes to government? It needed something like, “And high stakes mean high risk. High risk for you, for me, for all of us. Do you want to take that risk?”

Ed Milliband needs a new speech writer if he is going to stand a chance in the run-up to the next election. He himself needs help in understanding the difference between the text that’s written to be said and the text that’s written to be read — even before work on developing some gravitas.

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Why make a speech?

 

Recently I attended the local Toastmasters Area and Evaluation contests. It was a revelation.

Almost all the speeches delivered that day were without purpose. Or, to be more precise, they had little relevance to, or value for, the assembled audience.

This is not intended as a criticism of the speakers, all of whom are at various levels of the learning process. They cannot know unless they are told what a speech is for.

Their speeches were either self-centred or simply narratives.  In the evaluation contest, for example, a speech was delivered by an invited speaker who told a charming tale of her time in Japan. She told it well, and it was interesting, but it was not a speech.

In simple terms, the purpose of a speech should be to bring about Change — in the thinking, attitude or behaviour of the audience. What passes for speeches most often could better be described as an entertainment, a confession, or a declaration. If the audience thinks, “Why do I need to hear this?” or “How is this relevant to me?” it fails as a speech.

When I am training people in public speaking, I sometimes don a surgical mask and tell them how people in Tokyo may be seen in public places wearing similar masks — not to protect themselves from that city’s infamous smog, but because they have head colds or other infectious ailments. They wear the masks to protect others from their germs.

So my question is this: is your speech for your own benefit, or for the sake of others? That’s a good starting place for any speech.  Or presentation.

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15 Top Tips for Public Speaking

It seems to me that the main reason why people get anxious about speaking in public is that they are not sure what is expected of them. If you have a speech or presentation to deliver, here are 15 tips to help dispel that anxiety by making sure you are well prepared.

These tips will help you feel confident that you know your stuff, and also that you know why and how it will be relevant to your audience.

Tip 1: Imagine you are speaking just to me and answer this question: What do you want me to know?

Tip 2: Tell me why should I care about what you want me to know.

Tip 3: Why do I need to hear it from YOU? What’s your special connection with the message?

Tip 4: Would you pay to hear YOU speak? If not, why not?

Tip 5: Record your voice and ask yourself and some close friends if your voice is attractive. If not, make changes.

Tip 6: What’s your reason for speaking? Money? Influence? Ego? Passion? When you are clear about it you’ll be more focused.

Tip 7: When you have credible answers to tips 1-6, write your Core Message (the ‘carry away’) in a single sentence. That’s the message you should drive home when you speak.

Tip 8: Develop your message in 3 streams of argument or thought, e.g. Problem / Consequence / Solution.

Tip 9: Decide on your call to action. What do you want people to do when you have finished speaking?

Tip 10: Create an opening ‘Hook’ — something unexpected or dramatic that grabs attention right at the start.

Tip 11: Write out and learn your opening and closing paragraphs. Just use prompts for the rest, to sound more natural.

Tip 12: Decide on the ‘point of arrival’ or climax of your speech or presentation and build up the energy to that point. Your second ‘climax’ should be at the end.

Tip 13: Practise in front of a mirror or camcorder. Watch your gestures and body language.

Tip 14: When you are confident of your text, answer (aloud) the questions in Tips 1-3.

Tip 15: Unless you are in a speech contest, don’t try to give a world class performance. Just be sincere and passionate.

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Making a speech? What’s your intention?

Recently I attended the local Toastmasters Area Speech and Evaluation contests — just as a spectator on this occasion. I was disappointed.

Almost all the speeches delivered that day were without purpose. Or, to be more precise, they had little relevance to, or value for, the assembled audience.

This is not intended as a criticism of the speakers, all of whom are at various levels of the learning process. They cannot know unless they are told what a speech is for.

Their speeches were either self-centred or simply linear narratives. For the evaluation contest, for example, a speech was delivered by an invited speaker who told a charming tale of her time in Japan. She told it well, and it was interesting, but it was not a speech.

In simple terms, the purpose of a speech should be to bring about Change — in the thinking, attitude or behaviour of the audience. What passes for speeches most often could better be described as an entertainment, a confession, or a declaration. If the audience thinks, “Why do I need to hear this?” or “How is this relevant to me?” it fails as a speech.

When I am training people in public speaking, I sometimes don a surgical mask and tell them how people in Tokyo may be seen in public places wearing similar masks — not to protect themselves from that city’s infamous smog, but because they have head colds or other infectious ailments. They wear the masks to protect others from their germs.

So my question is this: is your speech for your own benefit, or for the sake of others? Your intention is a good starting place for any speech.

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Connect with your audience

It was the Final of the annual Anglo-Irish public speaking contest. A long-standing Toastmaster with a good record in these contests took to the stage, and the largely Irish audience pulsed expectantly.

It was a brilliant text, full of clever linguistic jokes, puns and even verbal pictures. But one minute into the speech, the audience’s expectations had been replaced by a sympathetic tolerance, as they disconnected from the speaker and waited politely for him to finish.

What went wrong?

Two things: first, it was a written text, not a spoken one. The text that’s written to be read is not the same as the text that’s written to be said.

Secondly, it was a recitation from memory. The speaker spoke AT the audience, not TO them. They sensed it and reacted accordingly.

The language was too clever to be received and understood on the run, at 150 words a minute. Some of the vocabulary was unfamiliar, the sentences were long, and the meaning of some sentences was obscured by subordinate clauses. It’s like telling a story, and breaking off in the middle to give some background material that adds nothing to the story, but gets in the way.

The speaker had written the text, and on the stage he was focused on recalling all 900 words (or thereabouts) in the right order. You could see it in his eyes. That’s one of the biggest dangers of delivering a speech from memory.

The next speaker started by throwing fortune cookies into the audience, which engaged their attention immediately. He then related his message to the message in his own fortune cookie, speaking to the audience in terms that they readily understood and could relate to. So of course he won.

To help you avoid a misconnection with your next speech or presentation, when you are preparing your material just imagine a member of your audience asking you these three questions:

1. What exactly do you want me to understand and remember?
2. Why should I care about that?
3. Why do I need to hear that from you (and not someone else)?

When you are delivering your speech, imagine that same person sitting somewhere near the front, waiting for you to answer those 3 questions.

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