In my blog post of 21st August 2013, I revealed what I believe to be the three ultimate secrets of public speaking. They were 1) structure the speech with an opening, body and conclusion, 2) look the audience right in the eye and 3) speak with passion.
The latter was agreed by a Corinthian audience to be the most important, so here are three tips on how to do just that. They are easily remembered through the acronym: Z-I-P, zip!
Let’s start with the last tip: P is for personal. Whether your speech is about you, or an issue you feel passionate about, bring plenty of you into the speech. The more of you in it, the more emotional and resonant it will be. There can be no doubt that the most memorable speech in this club over the last year was Margaret’s haunting speech about the Nazi occupation of Poland. But it was not just the horrors of the story that touched us, but the way Margaret personalized it, by telling us that this awful story was the first time her father had ever spoken to her about the war. And the last.
The next tip is the I – for inspirational. The more you try and inspire the audience in some way, the more likely you are to inject passion into your delivery. Think back on Keiran’s speech the other day about how proud he was to be in the police force, to work amongst people who put their bodies on the line on a daily basis for the security of each and every one of us citizens. It made me think about if only I could be as passionate about my own profession of management consulting. It could have been worse, I suppose. I once tried to be a politician. The electorate knew better.
And finally, the third tip: the Z. Yes, you guessed, it is the word zip itself. If you want to speak with passion, inject some zip into your speech, some oomph, some pizzazz! Whatever your normal speaking style, accentuate, exaggerate the oomph – double, treble, quintuple it! Think back to Nela’s wonderful tale about falling off a bicycle and not making it to her rural Czech rave. It was full of props and action, with her helmet, her pedaling and her breathlessness. It was full of oomph!
In summary, if you want to speak with passion, make it P for personal, I for inspirational and Z for zippy. In short, let it ziiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiip!
One of my standard ways of opening a meeting is to berate the audience for not replying to my ‘good evening’ with a ‘good evening, Mr President’! Why do I do that? Well, it’s one way of interacting with the audience, of engaging with the audience, right from the off. Does it work? Can’t say, it may irritate some, but it does wake and warm them up!
The most common form of audience interaction is to ask questions. It is the device of the teacher, the lecturer. They know that if they don’t keep asking questions the class will fall asleep. Questions keep the students alert and engaged.
Here are three common types of questions: the hands-up, the Q&A and the loaded. Most common is the hands-up: who here likes kissing? Then there’s the Q&A: what makes for a good kiss? Finally, there is my favourite, the loaded question: Who here agrees that lovers kiss better than spouses?!!
Asking questions is the most basic level of audience interaction. More advanced is when you get the audience to do things which are more active: to stand up, or talk to the person sitting next to them, or write down their thoughts. This can be very powerful. Suppose if I were to give each member of the audience a number, as follows: 1234, 1234…
Then I tell them that this year is the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War. This is an event which on occasions still overwhelms me with grief. No, I didn’t fight in it, thank you! But my grandfather did and he was severely and ultimately mortally wounded in it. What I can never get to terms with is the sheer catastrophic enormity of the loss of life – and all for no meaningful purpose, none whatsoever.
Six years or so ago, I took my son to see the battlefield sites in Picardy, which are humbling and immensely moving. Most moving of all is the Canadian memorial and museum at Beaumont Hamel in honour of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. There they have kept many of the trenches in good condition and you can get a genuine feel for the conditions experienced by the soldiers – especially chilling when we were there as the ground was covered in snow. The trenches are extraordinarily close to each other – barely a hundred yards away – that’s under ten seconds to the likes of Usain and me!
Now I ask the audience to stand up. I tell them that at 7:30am on the 1st of July 1914, the 1st day of the battle of the Somme, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment went over the top of their trenches and charged the enemy lines. I then ask all those with the numbers 1, 2 and 3 to please be seated. The Royal Newfoundland Regiment lost 75% of its men that day. In half an hour. Only one in four was left standing. Those who remained standing did so not because they were braver, tougher or smarter than those who fell. On the day they were just luckier.
I ask all to sit down. Interaction can be a highly effective way of engaging an audience – and indeed forcefully making a point.
Seduction is an important art, a manifestation, if perhaps extreme, of the art of persuasion. In the words of the 18th century writer/philosopher Voltaire: “Eet ees not enough to persuade, one must learn to seduce”!
So here are three tips on persuasive speaking taken from the art of seduction: you need to be believable, emotive and demanding. Strangely enough, that happens to spell the acronym B-E-D!
First, believable – you and your storyline have to be credible. You need to have both the facts that support your case and the experience that gives your interpretation of the facts credibility. In seduction, the essential fact you need to convey to your audience, typically of one, is that he or she is particularly pleasing on the eye – and in this matter, given your wealth of experience, you can claim to be a veritable authority.
Second, emotive. You cannot expect the audience to follow you unless you appeal not just to their head, but to their heart. In the art of seduction, the 18th century Venetian philanderer Giacomo Casanova speaks not of lust, but lurrrve. He doesn’t say ‘ti desidero”, he says “ti amo, mia bellissima.”
Third, demanding. You must conclude your persuasive speech with a demand, a rousing call to action. Whatever it is you are espousing, be it recycling your waste, voting for UKIP or both – aren’t they the same thing? – you must conclude with a call to do something about it. In seduction, the process can only conclude with a coruscating crescendo and a cacophonous, calamitous, cymbal-clashing climax!
So in a persuasive speech just remember these three things: be believable, emotive and demanding. B, E, D. Your aim is to BED the audience. Finally, here are some words of wisdom on this theme by the sensational Swiss siren, Ursula Andress, who said: “I don’t use my body to seduce, no. I just stand there!”
Let me tell you what I love most in public speaking… … … … … … the pause! Yes, it is the simplest and most dramatic way in which you can draw the audience into your speech. It adds that frisson of excitement, that element of tension.
Varying the pace of a speech is the third main tool of vocal variety, along with volume and pitch, which we have discussed in earlier blogs. You can speed things right up in passages of excitement and slow things down in passages of seriousness. And you can use the pause in both. In either case the pause magnifies the effect – in an exciting passage, it can be the prelude to a punchline and in a serious passage it can help amplify the gravity of the situation.
This club was founded 24 and a half years ago by an American couple, both highly experienced speakers, but with entirely different styles. Lee Wagner was tall, slim and elegant, with a fluid, eloquent, articulate, lively, textbook American speaking style. Her husband, Bob, was short, bald and possessing of the kind of paunch sported by middle-aged cowboys in checked shirts and baggy Levis leaning on the fence at the county rodeo. She looked like a TV presenter, he looked like her chauffeur!
But when Bob spoke he captivated the audience. He spoke………. liiiiiiiike…… thiiiiiiiis. He took his time. He was never in a hurry. In a seven minute speech he got through about one third the number of words of his wife. He made you wait, and wait some more, and when he got there you were seldom disappointed. Then every now and again he would double or treble his pace – and you were almost leaping out of your seat in excitement!
So try and play with pace. Speed things up, slow things down, vary things – and don’t forget the pause. Which reminds me – did you hear about the huge grizzly bear that escaped from London Zoo a few weeks ago. After a few hours he was discovered ambling along Sloane Street. He pushed his way through the front door of the Cadogan, padded through to the bar and asked the barman for a scotch and, after a long delay, soda. “Fine”, replied the barman, “but why the big pause?” “I don’t know”, replied the bear, “I was born with them!”
Have you been fortunate enough to enjoy the delights of a teenage son? He comes back from school and you say: “Hi, lad, how was your day?” [A GRUNT] “All right”. “So what did you do today?” [A GRUNT] “Stuff”. You go for something a bit more specific. “That maths test was today, wasn’t it? How did you get on?” [A GRUNT] “Ok”. And then the phone goes. He rushes over and picks it up: [ANIMATED, HIGH PITCHED!] “Hey, Charlie, how you doin’, bro?”
Is this the same person? Are there two distinct human beings involved here? There are certainly two different voices – one animated, one devoid of any animation. One deliberately pitched at the bottom of the barrel, the other having drunk it.
Pitch is one of the three main ways of conveying variety of voice – along with volume, which we looked at last post, and pace, which we shall look at next time. Vocal pitch is one of the main ways to animate a speech and engage the audience.
Contrast that to John McEnroe and ”His commentating pitch is also up and down the whole time, just like his temperament of old on court.
Who would the gallery prefer to watch? Who would an audience prefer to listen to?
Rugby players, coaches, managers and commentators are even worse. They seem to consider it un-cool to vary their pitch. Perhaps it is considered effeminate in the most macho of worlds. They all set a tone as low as that of my teenage son – and stay there. Only one commentator can vary his pitch and that is why he is so sought after. Jonathan Davies is as lively a commentator as he was a fly half. He is the exception which proves the rule.
So, set yourselves a standard pitch which is at the middle of your range and vary it as you speak. Run it up a bit for variety or a bit further for something exciting or light-hearted, even a gag. Run it down for more variety or a bit further for something serious or solemn. It is as simple as that. Run it up and down. Avoid the monotone.
Now, just because both my examples were Celts, don’t think that if you’re not a Celt you can use that as an excuse. Think of David Attenborough’s wonderful use of pitch, as well as pace and volume, in his nature documentaries. Or, perhaps less glamorously, Monty Don on Gardener’s World, who is one of the most vibrant communicators on television. And they are both stiff upper lip English!
So, next time you speak, yoyo that pitch up and down, up and down. Think McEnroe, not Murray!
How loud should you speak? Too loud and it’s uncomfortable for the audience. Too soft and it’s irritating – especially if it’s a humorous speech and the people in the front are all creasing up and you in the back row haven’t even heard the gag, let alone get it!
The answer is simple. Imagine you are having a one on one conversation with someone sitting right at the back of the room. If he or she can hear you, so can everyone else.
Here’s another way of thinking about it. Take your voice and roll it out along the carpet in stages until it gets to the back of the room. Like this: hello, hello, HELLO!
Once you have found your normal speaking volume, next you need to think about varying it. Vocal variety is the very essence of public speaking and volume is one of the three main ways of achieving it, along with pitch and pace.
Suppose you open a speech with Mr Chairman [NORMAL], ladies [LOUD] and gentlemen [SOFT]. A bit weird, I know, but you get the point. Merely by varying the volume you are giving a different emphasis to the message. You are clearly not interested in talking to the blokes at all. You’re hoping they’ll clear off and leave you with the gals!
There are times when varying the volume has a specific purpose. If you want to draw the audience in, to make a point that is sensitive or secretive, lower your volume. If you want to rouse the audience with a call to arms in your conclusion of a persuasive speech, raise the roof!
But don’t be stingy with your volume variety – try varying it throughout the speech. Imagine a knob with a range of 0 to 10. Start at 5 or 6 and run it up and down during the speech, for emphasis, mood or simply variety.
Variety is the key – in speech as in love. Some disreputable old philosopher once said: the only true aphrodisiac is variety. So too in speaking!
“Thank you very much for your report, Charlie, but, to be frank, there is room for improvement, to put it mildly. You handed in the report a day late, there was no logical flow leading up to your conclusion… and your grammar was appalling. In short, I shall expect much better next time.”
Have you ever received feedback like that from your boss – perhaps not as damning as that, but similarly soul destroying? Have you ever delivered feedback like that? Tut, tut!
Here are three things you need to remember in giving feedback: encourage, praise and limit – EPL, as in the English Premier League. Yes, imagine you are a football manager giving feedback to a player after a match.
What is the purpose of giving feedback? Yes, to ENCOURAGE the recipient to improve performance. If your feedback comes in the form of unmitigated criticism, will the recipient’s performance be improved? Unlikely – they will be more likely walk out of the door and not come back.
Second, your feedback should be in the form of a speech, and the body of the speech should be in the form of a PRAISE sandwich – namely praise/suggest/praise or, in the rather confusing Toastmaster parlance, commend/recommend/commend, or CRC.
Finally, in that crucial sandwich filler, the suggestions, do not give a whole long list, from A to Z. LIMIT it to three, maximum. Any more will not be retained.
Here’s an example. I gave a speech in the tall tale contest a few weeks ago, which I thought was a cracker. But the judges clearly thought otherwise! Let’s do a one minute evaluation of it. “The third speaker was Vaughan Evans, with a speech about his former mistress, who could read his mind. The speech was credibly incredible, as a tall tale should be, and it was delivered in Vaughan’s usual lively, animated manner. I have one recommendation for Vaughan: he should take greater care to know his audience, and especially the judges, one or two of whom might have found his material rather, shall we say, bloke-ish. But it was a rollicking speech and ended with an excellent punchline.
Now let’s evaluate the evaluation, via the English Premier League guidelines. Was it Encouraging? Yes. Was there a Praise sandwich? Yes. Did it Limit the number of recommendations? Yes, just the one – hence easier to remember and more likely to be put into effect. Well, we’ll see about that…!