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Public Speaking Know How
Public Speaking Know How
Have you ever used a bullhorn? Blowing the horn to get the crowds’ attention and hearing your voice through the high-powered PA system is empowering. Just as a bullhorn is powerful, so is your voice. Using your voice effectively will not only ‘sound the trumpet’ and get their attention, but keep their attention with amplified speakers and adjustable volume.
As a public speaker, your goal is to keep the audience interested. If your content is good, the pendulum shifts to the delivery. The idea is to recreate the effect of a bullhorn without causing irreversible hearing damage.
To start, practice a more conversational style over a wooden, rehearsed ‘one-note’ delivery. Being a conversational speaker builds trust and likeability. An audience doesn’t want to be yelled at or preached to...they want to be engaged...to be part of the conversation. There's probably never been a more conversational presidential public speaker than George W. Bush. Regardless of your politics, he's the guy you want to sit on the front porch with and enjoy a glass of sweet tea.
If you take a look at the 'bullhorn video' you'll witness the engagement from the audience...the cheers, the 'hoorahs', and the applause. It's a time when the country was broken and needed encouragement. As a public speaker, you may not hear the cheers of a crowd but you may witness a powerful non-verbal dialogue. If you’re connecting with the audience as a speaker, you’ll see eye contact, head nodding, forward movement, an audience at full attention. It’s a satisfying feeling to get that much commitment from your audience.
As a public speaker, one of the keys to establishing the trust and likeability connection is to be conversational. The voice is a remarkable tool for speakers to refine, retool, and perfect. In order to develop a more conversational tone, you have to practice. Writing good content and practicing the presentation go hand-in-hand.
To produce a conversational tone, a speaker has physical access to volume, pitch, pause, rate, pronunciation and articulation of words that assist in generating the desired quality of voice.
When investigating the venue for your speaking engagement, it’s important to determine the size of the room. If there’s no microphone, you’ll need to estimate how your voice will travel from the front of the room to the back. If the room’s large, you’ll need a microphone.
If a microphone is needed, always check the equipment before going ‘live’. Oftentimes, there are adjustments that need to be made. It’s not always the quality of the sound system, but the placement of the microphone.
As a cheerleader in high school, I remember the thrill of being 'cheer captain' for a week. Captain translated into choreographing the routines, deciding the order of the entire ‘show’, and manning the microphone. Having the entire student body focus all attention on me while introducing cheers, chants, events, and ball players was quite the thrill. (I’d mentioned being afraid on stage, I believe this was an adrenaline rush).
After the pep rally, the HS Choral Director, Loretta Whitaker approached me and said, “There’s something wrong with your voice.” I told her nothing was wrong. I wasn’t sick and felt good. She said, ‘I thought something was wrong because you sounded like Minnie Mouse.” She said I was holding the microphone too close causing a ‘squeaky’ distortion. I was deflated.
If the venue is outside, you might want a microphone or bullhorn. In one of the Life Stories written for WKY Community Living, Ruth Gunther was mentioned. She was the Drill Corp coach for the dance team. She literally carried a bullhorn around with her on a regular basis. Gunther was more of a drill sergeant than a coach but her no nonsense ‘get it right’ attitude was effective.
Pitch deals with the rise and fall of one’s voice. Think about sentence structure when checking pitch. If you’re making a statement, the pitch goes down. If you’re asking a question, the pitch goes up.
In the movie ‘Perfect Pitch’, acapella singers focused on staying in harmony. Without an instrumental accompaniment, every out-of-tune note was a ‘screech’ fest. As a speaker, try focusing on an ‘Easy Listening’ voice. It’s the voice that’s mellow and hits all the right notes. For some, it comes natural. For others, it takes practice.
Pauses can be very effective when used properly in public speaking. If there’s a period or a coma in your written speech, take a breath or a short pause when speaking out loud. If you’re asking a rhetorical question, insert a longer pause. Again, this is about rehearsal time and figuring out what seems natural.
Pauses give the speaker time to soak in the moment and the audience time to absorb the words. There’s got to be time to breath and feel the energy in the room. The only way to do this is to slow down and pause. 99% of the time, a speaker never takes too many pauses (unless they lose their place while speaking)
Practicing the pause will help eliminate vocal utterances like ‘uhs’, ‘ums’, and ‘ers’. For some, these distracting verbal stalls are due to lack of rehearsal time. For others, it’s the uncomfortable silence or the pause. A more intelligent and prepared speaker will use the silence or pause as opposed to the audible pauses. Taking the planned pause controls the pace of the speech. You’re able to create a rhythm. The more you practice, the more you’ll find it relaxing.
The rate of a speaker's voice depends on several factors. Geography may play a role on how fast or slow one speaks. Southerners tend to talk slower and have a bit of a draw while Northerners speak staccato and are more uptight.
The audiences’ level of education may determine how fast or slow a speaker presents their message. When Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech, his rate of speech was slower. The audience was less educated, requiring MLK to slow the pace. The estimated number of words per minute was 92. In contrast, President John F. Kennedy recorded a number of speeches at 180 words per minute. That’s some fast talkin’.
Speakers that use timing for theatrics may use speed to their advantage. As the drama heats up, so does the speed. If the speech is nearing the end, the pace may begin to slow as if a spotlight descended on stage and slowly faded until dim.
If you’re nervous, the rate of speech will automatically accelerate. It’s best to practice your speech numerous times and clock the time. If the words per minute are too fast, try to slow it down or add more content. Typically, speakers talk between 100 and 150 words per minute.
Pronunciation of words is only a distraction if there’s a word that causes a tongue-tie. The only way a speaker will know if a word is hard to pronounce is by saying it out loud. If you can’t pronounce a word, find another word.
Articulating words may only require some physical adjustment. Articulation is the physical act of using your tongue, jaw, teeth, lips and palate. If you mumble, you’ll need to practice opening your mouth, ‘saying your words’, as your mother might say. If you don’t have a speech impediment or a hearing problem, there’s no reason not to articulate your words.
Just as singers warm up their voices by singing the scales, so must a speaker practice the proper way to enunciate words. Enunciation is how clearly a person says a word and how clearly the sound is made. Anyone who can articulate can learn to enunciate.
Creating a more conversational tone while speaking increases audience’ attention, likeability, trust, and overall enjoyment. The connection is one of warmth and sincerity. The audience isn’t easily fooled, sincerity plays a huge role in building the kind of relationship needed to retain an audience. Sound your bullhorn and amplify your voice. It’s good to be ‘cheer captain’.
Public Speaking Attention-Getters
Fishing is one of those activities that’s considered a sport and a pastime. Whether you’re looking to win a tournament or simply enjoy the sunshine, both require patience and forethought.
As you begin to plan for a day of fishing, some things to consider might include scouting for the right fishing hole, organizing the fishing equipment, and figuring out what the fish are biting (bait). But, being able to snatch a fish ‘plum out of the water’ before it even has a chance to bite, that takes some talent.
It’s the first season’s first episode of the Andy Griffith Show. Aunt Bee isn’t much on fishin’ but Sheriff Andy Taylor wants to introduce his son Opie to Aunt Bee as more than just somebody to help around that house after his momma passed away, but as a friend and experienced fisherman.
While at the pond, Opie asks, “Paw, if she’s such a great fisherman like you’ve been telling me, how come she’s fishin’ with her bait out of the water?” Taylor explains that Aunt Bee is used to deep sea fishin’. He said, deep sea fish like porpoises and such jump out of the water and “come up and meet your pole half-way”.
Wouldn’t it be somethin’ if we could snag our audience without applying actual bait to the hook? That’s the intention of attention-getters. The ability to jiggle the line just enough to snag the fish. It’s a task speaker’s toil in as they prepare opening remarks.
There are four components required in the introduction of the speech. They include an attention-getter, establishing credibility, revealing the topic, and having a preview statement. For now, we’re exploring five different attention-getters speakers may use to get the audience hooked.
Grabbing the audience’ attention is challenging, no doubt. It’s the first impression the audience has of your ability to capture their interest. For those that have busy schedules, time is valuable and there’s no time to waste listening to a speaker without a good opening line.
Writers have a similar dilemma. They have to jiggle the line for the reader’s attention within the first few paragraphs or pages or lose them. With every article, book, or speech written, if the author doesn’t find a way to bait the audience into wanting more, you’re fish bait. For student speeches, there are five suggestions the speaker may use to grab the attention of the audience.
The first is to state the importance of your topic. The year 2020 will go down in the history books as a year fraught with life-altering events. It’s fair to say, the pandemic, presidential election, and the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg will change the course of history and hence change the lives of many.
The same may not be true of other topics. In a time when ‘big fish’ prevail, how does the casual speaker prepare a passionate speech with great significance?
If raising money for the local animal shelter is the goal, it’s essential to express the importance of funding your passion project. For instance, there are K-9 police dogs that ‘sniff-out’ illegal drugs at America’s borders and horses that provide equine therapy promoting human physical and mental health. If the speech topic is fish, it’s the task of the speaker to create importance.
Based on a survey and estimation, there are nearly 13 million households in the United States that own fish. That means over 10% of Americans have fish in their homes (based on 2.5 people per household). If you can effectively use statistics in your speech, it can improve the significance of your topic.
Asking a rhetorical question is a quick and easy way to begin a speech. The trick is the presentation. Once a question is asked, it’s necessary to give the audience time to reflect and respond mentally. For some speakers, an inserted pause is difficult and will take some practice.
Rhetorical questions are questions asked that don’t require a verbal or non-verbal response. The idea is for the audience to create a visual answer within the confines of their mind. Try to formulate rhetorical questions that encourage the audience to take a trip down memory lane. Try to avoid questions that are close-ended with ‘yes or no’ answers.
Another attention-getter designed to reel in the audience is having relatable openings. If the audience understands you’re trying to be inclusive, the speaker is much more likely not only to get a nibble but maybe a tug on the line.
Instead of discussing the time you went fishing with your partner, include the audience in the storyline. The events unfold as follows: Imagine you’re going on a fishing trip with your significant other. This trip, you’re going to use ‘live’ bait. As you head to an unfamiliar pond or lake, you need to decide: worms or crickets. It’s a question to ponder, so you decide to pick up both.
After buying the worms and crickets, it’s time to bait the hook. Think about your first experience threading a worm. Ugh. Maybe the time you stabbed a cricket with the hook and heard a ‘crunch’ sound as you pierced its body. At this point, the audience is fully invested and ready to listen to your next disgusting example.
Startling the audience is another technique used to get the audience’ attention. Using statistics is a great way to cast the baited hook and catch a fish. As a public speaker, evidence is your ticket to the Big Bass Splash, the world’s largest amateur's big bass fishing tournament. Information included in your speech from credible sources takes the speech to a whole new level. And surprising statistics will leave the audience wanting more.
An example might be the number of deaths in the United States due to COVID-19. As of September 2020, the United States has lost 200,000 people to COVID-19. According to John Hopkins University, the United States leads the way in total deaths and total infection rates. Brazil has the second highest death rate with approximately 50,000 fewer deaths than the United States and India comes in third with 86,000 total deaths. When the pandemic death estimates were first announced by the CDC in mid-March, American’s didn’t believe it would happen. It has and it is.
The fifth suggestion for jigging a lure to catch a fish is the use of quotations. Quotations are a group of words from text or speech that’s repeated by someone other than the original author. Be quoting experts or people celebrated in their respective fields, credibility is enhanced.
When choosing quotes for the introduction of your speech, it’s important to consider the length of the quote. Most introductions require 10 to 15 percent of presentation time. If you find a quote that’s too long, either find another quote or paraphrase.
Find quotes that move you. This particular quote contains few words but the message is big, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou.
As speeches are prepared and beginnings are written and rehearsed, remember, you aren’t locked into any particular introduction. The important thing to remember is write and rewrite the introduction until you find the perfect fit. Beginnings are hard and scary. The ‘big fish’ is out there waiting to be caught. Give a man a fish and they eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.
Basketball teamwork is admired for the functionality and collective sacrifice of five ball players working in harmony to achieve a common goal. In public speaking, the speaker and the audience are a team. One doesn’t function without the other. Take a moment and visualize the speaker as the point guard and the audience as the remaining four players.
The point guard is viewed as the ‘one’ that makes the team ‘tic’. They’re the ‘one’ that carries the ball forward in offense and takes responsibility for calling the plays. The point guard is usually fast, smart, and full of energy. They’re the ‘go to’ player on the team.
The audience' role is to follow the point guard's lead. They listen for the play, watch for a passing ball, and look to the player that will make the shot.
As a speaker, you control the content, the energy, and the mood of the presentation. Part of your job is scoring points with the audience to keep the game moving toward a favorable outcome. The responsibility is intense but well worth the effort.
Understanding the connection between the speaker and the audience is key. Since a speech doesn’t involve a verbal dialogue between speaker and audience, the non-verbal communication is the driving factor. If the audience is engaged...game on. If the speaker's message is clouded by an ineffective delivery, they’ll lose interest and call a timeout.
There’s no truer cliché than actions speak louder the words. Understanding the mechanics of behavior such as gestures, eye contact, posture, facial expressions, appearance, anything other than non-linguistic factors will determine if the team is ahead at half-time of if there's going to be a 'butt-chewing' in the locker room.
A recent study that analyzed TED talks speakers shared some positive feedback from people that used hand gestures. The study found that viral speakers tend to average 465 hand gestures per engagement. The study also found that people who talk with their hands tend to be viewed as warm and more agreeable.
Inserting movement into your speech is a bonus. When speaking extemporaneously or with just enough notes to jog your memory, gestures can be viewed positively. It’s when gestures become a distraction, that the added movement becomes a deterrent as opposed to an asset.
When using gestures, make sure they are purposeful. For instance, if the speaker wants to emphasize the main points of their speech, they may indicate each main point by simultaneously verbalizing the main point while holding up their hand and displaying one finger at a time: first, second, and third.
By practicing with planned gestures, the speech becomes more fluid and natural. The same holds true when moving around a stage. Incorporating a few steps toward the audience, will help create a more intimate setting. Recalling late night comic Jay Leno, once the stage moved closer to the audience, an instant connection formed.
Eye contact is another non-verbal behavior a speaker may use to connect with the audience. There’s a technique called the ‘z movement’ that encourages the speaker to be inclusive while engaging with the audience. The speaker moves his/her gaze from the left-front of the room, to the right-front, to the left-rear, and finally to the right-rear of the room. Using this particular pattern gives the illusion that the speaker is looking directly at each individual audience member.
By using good defensive tactics (like good eye contact), the speaker can detect if the audience is interested or drifting away. If it's the latter, the speaker can adjust the playbook before the audience completely disengages.
It's important to note that not all cultures view eye contact in the same light. For instance, Asian cultures don’t believe in the necessity of direct eye contact. Iranian cultures believe eye contact is rude. While Native Americans show respect by avoiding eye contact. As a public speaker, it’s good to be aware of social norms.
Another defensive tactic on the court is to stand tall with hands in the air to block the shot. Standing tall behind the podium or beside the podium is essential. No slouching, leg-crossing, or one-legged pelican stands allowed. The idea is to have a commanding presence...to be the tallest guy in the room (You may want to keep your hands to your side, though).
If there’s a podium and you’re not quite tall enough, bring something to stand on. It doesn't have to be announced that you require a lift. Bring a stool and set it in place before speaking. Many that are short, will opt to stand to the side of the podium.
One of the best assets a speaker has is facial expression. There are over one thousand micro-expressions at your disposal. If the mood of your speech is happy a smile is appropriate. If your content is more serious in nature, keep a somber face. Make sure the non-verbal behavior fits the content of your speech.
First impressions are vital. If you’re going on a job interview, dress appropriately or if unsure, overdress. The same goes for public speaking. The speaker should be more formally dressed than the audience.
The color of your attire as a public speaker is important. For light backgrounds, wear dark clothing. For dark backgrounds, wear light clothing. You want to be noticed on stage not blend into the background. There are many small details to review before speaking at a new venue. If possible, investigate the layout before committing to your wardrobe.
The rules are as follow: The speaker sets the pace of the game. You're the point guard, take control. Interact with your team, the audience, it's essential for success. If you want to be an above average or even a 'great' public speaker, incorporate non-verbal behaviors into your speech. It will separate the winners from the losers.
Pig or cow. Pig or cow. Pig! Giving a speech without taking the time to practice is very similar to Cristina Yang’s surgical conundrum on the medical drama Grey’s Anatomy. Yang extensively researched the procedures for the pig and cow valves that required two totally different surgeries. Yang’s patient couldn’t decide which animal valve felt ‘more like her authentic self.’ While waiting on ‘the Beatnik’s’ decision, Yang crammed for both valve procedures.
While in surgery, the two procedures started blending together. Yang experienced a ‘brain bleed,’ figuratively speaking, due to information overload produced by the ‘pig or cow’ dilemma. A patient almost lost their theoretical life because Yang planned but didn’t practice. If she had spent more time simulating the surgery (she was a surgical intern and simulating surgeries was part of how they learned), there may never have been the ‘pig or cow’ moment. The procedure was theoretical in practice.
Of course, the situation described is from a fictional television drama and, to be clear, medical doctors 'practice' medicine. However, the analogy between the Yang example and public speaking still applies. Studying for the ‘pig or cow’ replacement valve surgery represents time researching, planning and writing the speech. The ‘brain bleed’ or ‘pig or cow’ conundrum represents a lack of practice delivering a well-written speech.
A speaker may practice their speech within the confines of their brain, but until words are vocalized, the speech process is incomplete. And when words are uttered (no pun intended), they never come out the way you planned inside your head. Words and phrases seem disconnected and foreign.
A standard rule of thumb is for every minute of speaking time, there should be an hour's worth of preparation...this includes rehearsal. All the planning, research, pen to pad scribbles, and final drafts are futile unless the speech has been practiced out loud.
Delivering a polished speech is the difference between a good speech and a great speech.
Delivering a great speech is more than just 'mooing' words. Prior to the formal presentation, a speech requires rehearsal and a reset button. Quirks spoken and unspoken will only be uncovered during the dress rehearsal.
For instance, some people use hand gestures when talking. As a public speaker, gestures can be important to create interest and likeability. It’s the big movements that are cause for concern. Flailing arms and untimely motions can distract the audience from the message. The idea is to use gestures in moderation. It’s learning when and how to use them that’s important.
There are methods that are helpful in uncovering the good, the bad and the ugly mannerisms that may either enhance or detract from a speech. Let’s begin by taking a look at speaking in front of a ‘live’ audience.
A good case study in ‘the power of a live audience’ is The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. When Leno took over The Tonight Show from Johnny Carson in 1992, executive producers wanted Leno to be another Carson. The former late night host had been a staple of NBC for 30 years and after all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Carson and Leno had very different approaches to entertaining. Carson was ‘laid-back’ and ‘cool’. He didn’t mingle much with the audience or his guests and only laughed when something was really funny. He required little feedback. On the flip side, Leno’s roots were in stand-up comedy. He lived by the sword (laughter) and died by the sword (lack thereof). He needed audience feedback. The Tonight Show with Jay Leno needed a make-over.
NBC tweaked the show’s set in 1994 to move Leno closer to the studio audience. For years, Leno opened the show by walking out to the audience and shaking hands in order to absorb the audience’ energy. The show had more of a comedy-club vibe, which is where Leno was the most comfortable. Adjustments were made to fit the performer and the audience.
Before tackling a large audience that’s virtually unknown to you, find a few family members or friends to pose as the audience while you practice your speech. There’s no need for critique, unless you’re open to that. The main objective is to have eyeballs on you while working through the speech and make adjustments.
Another good tip to assist in practicing for a speech is to stand in front of the bathroom mirror. The idea is to find a mirror that’s large enough to capture body movements as well as facial expressions. If you see yourself speaking too much with your arms, adjust and try to incorporate planned gestures. It may seem awkward at first but the more you commit to the mirror, the easier it will get.
A tool that’s readily available today is the smartphone. Just click play and begin. Recording your voice, gestures, posture, all the elements that result in a ‘make or break’ presentation could be invaluable as a public speaker. It may be one of those insightful moments when you think, ‘I can work with that.’.
Having a well-written speech is half of the battle. And, if the words are yours and not someone else's, most of the content will come naturally. The tip is to practice out loud. Don’t be caught in a ‘pig or cow’ dialogue inside your head or screaming at the top of your lungs, ‘pig or cow’ “pig or cow’ Pig!