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Speaking Inspirationally: Aim for the Heart!

February 25, 2014

Lloyd George“I have a dream…”,  “we shall fight on the beaches…”, “yer get oot there – and knobble ‘em” – that last was Alex Ferguson, by the way, delivering one of his haircuts!

How do you inspire an audience?  Here, I suggest, are three key elements: establish your credentials, involve the emotions of your audience and harness the power of repetition.

Ferguson didn’t need to establish his credentials – his select audience of footballers knew exactly who he was.  But we do.  We don’t have a mansion full of silverware to give us credibility. So when we give a speech we need to set out why our opinion matters.  When I give my son’s football team a motivational talk before the match, I sometimes remind them that I am a former international player – for the British Virgin Islands!  Yes – when I used to live there in the 1970s, we once played a team from a visiting Royal Navy warship – and I came on as a sub – in the last three minutes!

Second, inspiration is all about emotion, not fact.  An inspirational speech speaks to the heart, not the head.  Here is one example, quite appropriate during this centenary of the Great War.  In April 1917, the USA finally declared war on Germany, fighting alongside the British, rather than against them, for the first time since before the war of independence.  The British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, gave an address to the US Ambassador in London and used the occasion to inspire the American people on the worthiness of the cause and their decision.  Here is an extract:

“I rejoice as a democrat that the advent of the United States into this war gives the final stamp and seal to the character of the conflict as a struggle against military autocracy throughout the world. The United States of America have the noble tradition, never broken, of having never engaged in war except for liberty.  And this is the greatest struggle for liberty that they have ever embarked upon.”

The third factor is repetition.  Martin Luther King used “I have a dream” a dozen or so times in that famous speech. In his address to the US ambassador, Lloyd George used the words free, freedom or liberty twenty five times.  He praises the American people for having fought for their own freedom and for having inspired the subsequent revolutions in France and Russia.  Through this conflict, they could do the same for Germany.  Here’s another extract:

“When France in the eighteenth century sent her soldiers to America to fight for the freedom and independence of that land, France also was an autocracy.  But Frenchmen in America, once they were there – their aim was freedom, their atmosphere was freedom, their inspiration was freedom.  They acquired a taste for freedom, and they took it home.  And France became free.”

So, should you wish to give an inspirational speech, remember three things: establish your authority, speak to the heart and hammer the message home through the power, the emotional power, the inspirational power – of repetition.



The Tale of the Twin Tall Tale Contest…!

February 2, 2014

‘Twas Chairman Barrett who first took stage

And got some things right, despite his age

Richard the Brave – he kicked off the quest

Miss Oxon ’89 did he contest

Then Dave and Francois, Barrack and all

For Keiran’s cake did world leaders fall

Mind loss is surely no laughing matter

Learnt Mr President when with his Mata

But we always knew that our V.P.E

Was M.I.5 not M.W.P

Jeremy, that rogue, that master of zen

Took his edible clingfilm to the Dragons Den

And Jones there he stood with finger in eye

Mourning in mime that Madiba did die

Agent McCracken signed up in a trice

To spy on the hapless Ginger Spice

While Sean he revealed a sinister side

If cat snatching’s your thing, he’s your guide

Should we clap or climb, or stand and stare

At tiger or rhino, or Glen’s big bear?

Last up was he, but Westy’s no slack

Forth he did leap to present from back

Of these gallants, just five through the gate

To tell us impromptu of achievements great

First up was Glen, with a masterclass

On finding a mermaid and grabbing her… tail

Laura she told us of those great lies

When girls want their way and out pour the cries

Ignatius he rose amidst cheer and great clap

But megalomania in the playground? I say, old chap!

Westy on pogo the Andes did jump

And fall from his condor with one big bump

The mood turned ugly when Jones took to stage

Fighting dirty when trapped in a cage


The judges conferred, now so scared they could cry

And bade trophy to Jones – ‘twas that… or die


Our Twin Tall Tale Contest is This Thursday…!

January 27, 2014

This is it.  The time has come.  London Corinthians’ inaugural, innovative, intriguing Twin Tall Tales Contest is here – this coming Thursday, 30th January 2014, at The Cadogan Hotel, 75 Sloane St, SW1 (7 for 7:30pm).

We have a terrific line-up of speakers – club members, alumni and three stellar guest speakers.  All in all, 15 or so fabulous, fearless, far-out contestants!

To remind you, the format is a prepared 5 minute tall tale in the 1st Round, followed, for the five winners of the 1st Round, by a 3 minute impromptu speech.

If you’re not competing, please come along anyway and enjoy the show! All are welcome – members, alumni, members of other clubs and guests!

Corinthians' Twin Tall Tales Contest Flyer.30Jan14

Telling a tall tale: Think big fish, think COD!

January 20, 2014

Corinthians' Twin Tall Tales Contest Flyer.30Jan14At a meeting last month in the Cadogan Hotel I sang one line of a song. The last note was a perfect baritone top E, which penetrated the back wall of the room, through the adjacent meeting room and right into the bar.  There it cracked a small, elegant chandelier.  A shard of glass fell down and struck an Iranian gentleman on the top of his bald head.  All he had been doing until then was work his way harmlessly through a chilled bottle of Dom Perignon, ably assisted by a blonde dressed in a faux fur coat, fish net stockings, stiletto heels… and not much else. She rushed shrieking to the reception saying that her ‘friend’ has been the victim of an assassination attempt.  The receptionist immediately called the Iranian Embassy, the ambassador called the Ayatollah and the Ayatollah pressed the red button and launched a missile strike… on Russell Brand.

It all started right there, in that room, with one note, from one line, of one song, but what a fortuitous ending.

That was a tall tale, not a great one, but, believe me, I’ve told worse.  Nevertheless it had all the right constituents of a tall tale speech: it was credible, organised and deadpan.  That’s C.O.D., cod, as in fish and chips.

First, the tale needs to be credible, or at least credibly incredible.  You might choose a credible character who can do unlikely even incredible things, like a super-hero.  Or you might find yourself in a credible situation or facing a credible problem and resolving it in an unlikely even incredible way.  Thus it is credible that a musical note can crack glass.  It is also credible that the Ayatollah has a red button to press.  Indeed the whole tale was credible: it happened.

Second, keep the tale organized.  Have an opening that sets the scene and describes the character or the situation.  Have a body that develops the tale clearly and shows how the situation is resolved.  And then end with a bang, preferably humorous and, best of all with a twist.  You may have thought the Ayatollah would strike on Israel, but, no, he was smart – he knew that the real threat to global sanity and security came from an insufferably irritating comedian, Russell Brand.

Finally, you can only carry off a tall tale speech if you convey the impression that it happened.  And that means a straight face.  Think Jack Dee.  I’m not sure his face is even capable of a smile.  Your face must be deadpan throughout.  If I had laughed and joked through my Iranian tale, you wouldn’t have believed me.  But I didn’t – and you did.

In summary, for a tall tale speech think credible, organized and deadpan: think C.O.D., think cod – as in the cod that took off in the North Sea, flew over East Anglia and Greater London and crash landed in my suburban garden pond was THIS BIG!


Conquering the Fear: Be Pac-Man…!

January 5, 2014

PacmanHere’s some some good news and bad news.  First the bad: I’ve been speaking for 23 and a half years and the fear is still there, not very different from what it was all those years ago.  It never disappears.

Now the good: being nervous is good for speaking, it builds adrenaline and helps you sharpen up your act.  You just need to control it and work around it.

There are three ways you can conquer that fear.  Practising, Attracting and Chilling.  That’s P.A.C.  You too can be Pac-Man.  Like Pac-Man, you can chew up your fear, one pac-dot at a time.

First, practising.  There is no substitute for rehearsal.  Think of stand-up comics – very little is impromptu, virtually every line is scripted and rehearsed a hundred times.  You need not do the same.  There is no need to remember every word – the odd stutter or stumble makes a speech seem more authentic.  But it is best to memorise your opening – that’ll help calm your nerves as you get going.  Practice makes perfect, they say.  In the words of Woody Allen: “the reason I became such a good lover is that I practiced; a lot; on my own”.

Second, attracting.  No, you don’t have to look like Angelina or Brad.  But it does help to smile.  If you smile, you attract the audience onto your side.  And their encouragement will make you feel more wanted, less nervous.  Think on George Elliott: “wear a smile and have friends; wear a scowl and have wrinkles”.

Finally, chilling. Don’t rush your speech.  Enjoy being on stage.  Relax, take your time, build in plenty of pauses – so if you do forget your lines, the pause will seem natural and once the lines come back you can pick up where you left off without the audience being any the wiser.  As Mark Twain said: “the right word might be effective, but no word was ever as effective… [PAUSE] as a pause”.

In summary, we all feel the fear, we all get nervous.  But nerves are good.  And you can control them by thinking of Pac-Man – by practicing, attracting and chilling.  Then, as has been said elsewhere, you can embrace those butterflies and make them fly in formation.


Lightening the Speech: Give Us a Break…!

January 3, 2014


Have you ever considered accountancy as a career option?   It offers stable employment, a comfortable standard of living and, above all, it trains its members to become the world’s best… lovers!

This is of course no secret.  It has been known for two and a half thousand years, ever since Brahmin priests first published a book on love, the Kama Sutra.  There they advised that the secret to the art of love was to keep the woman happy.  And the best way to do that was for the man to count to 1000… and who better to do that… than an accountant?!

There are two main reasons why you should use humour in almost every speech – even one on accountancy.  Especially one on accountancy!  Your audience needs it.  And you need it.

First, your audience needs it.   Scientists have measured the human attention span at 49 minutes.  But that says nothing about the human enjoyment span.  In my experience, that is measured at around one, maximum two minutes.  We need a break, a laugh, an anecdote, virtually every paragraph – unless your speech is a sad or poignant one. Without the light relief, your speech runs the risk of becoming a lecture.  And you know the definition of a lecture: when the audience becomes anaesthetizised at both ends!

And you need it.  Humour transforms the speaker.  It makes you come alive – the eyes twinkle, the voice gets more vital, the face more expressive, the hands more activated, the body more mobile.  You become a more engaging speaker.  The audience will warm to you and your message will be communicated more effectively.

Think of Boris and Dave.  If you wanted to know anything about Tory party policy (why?!), who would you prefer to listen to?  Boris, who will entertain you, as well as inform you? Or Dave, who will anaesthetise you?

Love him or loathe him, Boris is a character.  The other day he strode into his office, looking full of himself and announced “I now have my own Boris bike!”, whereupon his secretary burst into tears, sobbing “I do have a name, you know!”

So try and inject some humour into (almost) every speech.  Your audience needs it.  And you need it.  Especially if you are an accountant!  By the way, do you know the main reason why someone decides to pursue a career as an accountant?   When they realise they don’t have the charisma to make it as an undertaker!


Structuring Your Speech II: Guide Us, O…!

January 2, 2014

LlanfairPG1I know, any old excuse for a Welshman to open his vocal chords…, but these words are actually relevant to my theme here!

It is all about guidance. My last post was about structuring a speech, how each speech should have an emphatic, perhaps dramatic opening and a memorable, perhaps rousing finale. Now I want to say something about the bit in the middle, the body.

This is the meat of a speech. It is where the real content lies. It should best be sliced into two, three or four sections. Best of all is three – psychologists have proven that human beings can best process things in threes.

But most important are the connections between these sections – what is called signposting. There is a standard old maxim in speaking and presenting: tell us what you are going to tell us, tell us and then tell us what you told us. In this way the audience is always given guidance on where you are – and where you’re going – AND it reinforces your message.

Let me give you an example: suppose I am giving a speech on why, in this feminist-dominated world, we men still have our uses.

I could open my speech with, say, a song, like Gerry Halliwell’s: “It’s raining men, hallelujah, it’s raining men, amen…!” Then I could move into the body by saying we men still have our uses and here are three: we tend to the garden, we take out the rubbish and, in comparison to the alternative of artificial insemination, we make the act of procreation more aerobically beneficial.

I then go into detail on how useful we are in the garden. Well, it’s best to keep us away from the flower bed, but we are ok with stuffing the compost heap. Once I finish that section, I say: we men are useful not only in the garden, but in the house too, like in taking out the rubbish. Well, we can’t be bothered with all this recycling business, a box for this, a bag for that, but we are ok with stuffing the rubbish bin. Once I’m done with that, I say: we’ve seen how indispensable we men are in the garden and in the house, but there’s another area where our stuffing abilities can be put to good use…!

In summary, carve up the body of your speech into three and “Guide us, O,…” through it with signposts. Let me sign off on a personal note. I must confess I am hopeless in the garden and I moan incessantly about sorting out the rubbish, but, with regard to the third area of male usefulness, I do offer complimentary evening classes at weekends…!