Confusing an audience is always a mistake.

But being precise, definitive, and conclusive in a speech isn’t always a virtue.

Sometimes your goal as a speaker is to educate your audience. Or it’s to persuade them to take a specific action—to support your initiative, to green light your project, to implement your procedure.

In those cases—and in most workplace presentations—you’ll want to avoid any and all ambiguity. By the end of your speech, your audience should know exactly, in no uncertain terms, what your point is and what you want them to do.

But when you seek to inspire an audience, you need to take a more open-ended approach.

Sometimes, when you’ve finished speaking, you want the audience to have more questions than answers. More wonder, less certainty. More to think about, mull over, and investigate.

Sometimes you want to plant an idea in people’s imaginations and trust them to bring it to fruition.

Sometimes you want people to invest your words with their own wisdom. And you’re willingwantingto see where that takes them. Even if it’s in a direction you had never imagined.

Ambiguous can mean obscure, vague, or cryptic. Which isn’t what I’m advocating. It can also mean “open to more than one interpretation.” Which is a quality many great speeches share.

If everyone in your audiences ends up thinking exactly the same way, you may have given an effective speech. When they each have a different take on what you’ve said, a unique insight, you may—you may—have done them a better service.

interrupted story, speechEveryone knows by now—or should know—that telling a story is one of best ways to make a speech interesting, powerful, and memorable.

I’m not talking about fables or stories that are made up out of whole cloth simply to illustrate a moral. Or about stories you’ve found on the internet or heard from some other speaker or read in a business book.

No, I’m talking about true stories. Stories that involve real people, actual events, risks and struggles that have tangible consequences.

I prefer personal stories, stories that feature the speaker in some way without, mind you, making him or her the hero. But telling someone else’s story—as long as it’s not widely known and properly attributed—can also be effective.

One of my favorite ways of telling a story in a speech is what I call the interrupted story.

If you haven’t used this technique yourself, you’ve probably heard a speaker use it.

How the Interrupted Story Works in a Speech

Begin telling your story. Jump right in without preface. Avoid saying, “I’d like to tell you a story.” Just start.

Establish the context of the story and present the main character. Then introduce a wrinkle of some sort, a “disturbance in the force.” Not a major crisis. Just an event or thought or circumstance that gives you the opportunity to pause.

Stop telling the story. Step outside of it for a moment to comment on it, to look at what’s happening below the surface, to connect the main character’s concerns or feelings or problems to those of the people in the audience.

Then pick up your story again. Carry it forward until you get to a point where the audience wants to know what happens next.

And stop. Leave them hanging for a moment. Comment on something—an added piece of information, an insight, a question—that adds depth or resonance to the story.

And do it one more time. Tell your story right to the climax. And stop. By now your audience is hooked. They want to know how it ends. So what you say at this time—the main point of your speech—lands on expectant ears and hearts.

Then finish the story. And briefly, in one sentence, if at all possible, finish your speech.

You can  build an entire speech around your story, if it’s a good story. But why would you tell any other kind of story?

What’s your experience with this type of speech?

 

You might want to check out Hallmarks of an Effective Speech.

 

A good SpeechA good speech engages both the intellect and the imagination.

Which may explain why there are are so few good speeches today, in business, in politics, and in the pulpit.

When you’re giving a speech, of course you have to address your audience’s intellect. This is especially true in business and in academia.

The intellect demands reason and logic, information and ideas, evidence and proof. It expects facts and figures, explanations and definitions.

But you also have to engage your audience’s imagination, which is, in the words of Northrop Frye, “an intermediary between emotions and intellect.”

Imagination speaks the language of story and fable, of metaphor and simile, of symbol and myth, of dreams. It is the playground of curiosity, wonder, and fantasy.

Speeches pitched to the intellect may educate or inform, convince, or persuade. But they rarely move people emotionally or move them to action. They run the risk, if they are overly intellectual, of being arid, boring, and lifeless.

Speeches addressed to the imagination may motivate, influence, or inspire. But they will leave practical-minded people unmoved. And if they are lopsidedly imaginative, they will be at best entertaining, at worst woo-woo.

Good speeches please both the intellect and the imagination. They are logical and clear and, at the same time, intriguing and absorbing.

Use your gut instinctsOne of the best ways to improve your speaking is to learn from good speeches.

Over the years I’ve developed my own down-and-dirty methodology for evaluating speeches. There are more sophisticated ways to assess a speech’s merits, mind you. But this one works for me. It may work for you.

One caveat: I’m talking about how to analyze a speech for your own edification, not how to give someone else feedback about their speaking.

Step One: Trust Your Gut Instincts

Pay attention to your feelings during and immediately following a speech.

I’m talking about a simple appraisal of your visceral response that allows for only one of three possibilities:

  1. Love it!
  2. Hate it!
  3. Totally indifferent.

Or, put more simply, yay, nay, or bleh.

Don’t universalize your reactions. I’ve loved speeches that other people have hated. And people have raved about speeches that have left me cold. The same is probably true for you.

Be aware of your general emotional state. Sometimes our feelings have nothing to do with the speech itself. We may be in a foul mood to begin with—it happens—or preoccupied, depressed, or disengaged. In those cases, don’t blame the speaker.

Simply notice and accept your emotional reaction. Trust your feelings, your intuition, to provide useful information.

Continue Reading…

When giving a speech, business leaders today tend to choose one of two options: speaking from a written speech (a script) or from  a list of talking points.

The Plusses and Minuses of Speaking from a Written Speech or Script

A script for a speech is a written text: a word-for-word document that speakers read to their audiences.

On the plus side a script is carefully constructed. It has a beginning, middle, and end; a logical and persuasive flow; and the right balance of information, ideas, explanations, illustrations, and stories.

A script uses rhetorical devices—phrases and sentences that are both memorable and moving—to engage the audience’s hearts and minds.

And a written speech makes the speaker sound smart, articulate, leaderly. (Is leaderly even a word?)

On the minus side, writing a speech is time-consuming. It’s expensive, if you don’t write it yourself. And it’s difficult to get right. (Not many people have the training or experience needed to write one).

Also, few speakers have the ability to read a script without sounding stiff and overly formal.

The Plusses and Minuses of Speaking from Talking Points

Talking points are a list of the most important information and ideas—summarized in a phrase or short sentence—concerning the topic of the speech.

The biggest plus of talking points is efficiency. It takes several hours, sometimes many days, to write a speech. You can throw together a list of talking points in the morning and be ready to speak by lunchtime.

And when you speak from talking points, you sound, well, unscripted. Given todays political and cultural climate, audiences think they’re hearing the real you.

The main minus of relying on talking points is that, well, you should unscripted. Unless you’re an accomplished, articulate speaker, your speeches will sound like an ordinary, everyday conversation: rambling, unfocused, and lacking any clear direction.

What’s the alternative to speaking from a script or from talking points?

What if you don’t have the time to put into writing a speech but you want something more focused and purposeful than talking points?

I recommend using what I call “soft scripting.”

A soft script is hybrid. It has elements of a fully written script, but it looks like a list of talking points.

A soft script is a very detailed outline—maybe two pages long—with a very clear structure:

  • an introduction that captures people’s interest and gives an overview of what’s to come;
  • three to five main points that explain, substantiate, and illustrate the speech’s main idea; and
  • a conclusion that issues a call to and an impetus for action.

It captures in writing carefully crafted phrases and sentences that are meant to be spoken word for word.

A soft script takes more time to create than a list of talking points, but less time to write than a script. It makes speakers sound smart and spontaneous. And it presents a clear and persuasive argument without wasting time or an audience’s attention.

Can speeches provoke violence? In a word: yes.

The goal of a speech is to move people to action.

A speech may educate and inform, entertain and amuse audiences. But it does so as a means to an end. And that end is action.

The action inspired by a speech may be noble and ennobling.

Speeches have inspired people and nations to work on behalf of the abolition of slavery, women’s equality, the rights of labor, civil rights, resistance to tyranny, environmental protection, the peaceful resolution of disputes.

But the action inspired by a speech may be — and often has been — violent.

Speeches have roused audiences — en masse or as individuals — to riot, to rampage, to lynch, to bomb, to burn, to assault.

To provoke violence — either immediate and specific violence, or unspecified violence — a speech has to do three things:

  1. Demonize “Them”
    Violent-provoking speeches always identify an enemy: the cause of our suffering, the source of all that is wrong with this world. “They” are different from us: of a different race or ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. They are threatening our way of life, our jobs, our rights and prerogatives.
  2. Rouse Passion
    Violent-provoking speeches justify and inflame an audience’s anger, rage, and resentment. Reason and logic incline people to think more than to act; they are to be avoided. Passion moves people to action. And the more intense the passion, the greater the potential for violence.
  3. Justify Violence
    Violent-provoking speeches make violence reasonable and righteous. “They” have attacked us and all that we hold dear. We are the victims. We have the right — even the obligation — to fight back.

To deny that speeches can provoke violence, you have to deny the evidence of history, all the times that speeches have directly and indirectly roused audiences to violence.

And to deny that speeches can provoke violence, you have to deny that they can set people to work for a worthy cause.

On a related but separate issue, you might want to read Is Violent Speech a Right?

How Leaders SpeakLeaders give speeches all the time. They speak to promote their organization’s vision and mission. They speak when the stakes are high, in times of crisis and great opportunity.

Public speaking skills and leadership skills go hand in hand.

See also Leadership Speeches.

Tips for Leaders Who Want to Improve their Public Speaking

1. Take a Stand

Take a stand literally. Plant your feet squarely and solidly, balancing your weight evenly on both feet. Move with a purpose, not simply to pace. And take a stand figuratively. Don’t be neutral or disinterested. Stake out a position and make your best, your strongest case for it.

2. Keep it Short, Simple, and Strong

Brevity in a speech is always a good thing. It’ll help you hold your audience’s attention, and it will force you to focus on what matters most, eliminating all fluff. Simple is good, too, because it aids clarity and understanding. And strength is a sign of confidence and inspires confidence.

3. Be Big

Who you are — your character, reputation, values, vision — shapes how the audience hears and interprets what you say. So don’t hide off to the side of the stage in semi-darkness. Don’t cede center stage to a PowerPoint presentation. Demand people’s attention. Be yourself — your best self. And make your gestures bigger than usual.

4. Pause

One of the best ways to gain people’s attention while giving a speech is, paradoxically, to be silent. As you begin, take your place on the stage. Arrange the microphone and your notes, if you’re using them. Look up. Look people in the eye. And take a breath. Pause. When people settle down and return your eye contact, then and only then begin speaking. Frame your most important points with a brief pause.

5. Tell a Story

Avoid those cutesy teaching stories you find in books or on the Internet, stories that everyone has heard, stories that have an obvious moral. Tell, instead, a story from your own life, or a story about someone you know and admire. If it’s not meaningful and fresh to you, it won’t touch your audience.

See The Importance of Stories in a Speech.

What tips would you add about public speaking skills for leaders?

 

What Is a Demagogue?

Christopher Witt —  November 24, 2015 — Leave a comment

What is a demagogue?In ancient Greece a demagogue was a leader who championed the rights of the common people.

Today we think of a demagogue as a speaker who whips up people’s fears and anger, plays to their prejudices, and makes false claims and promises.

(Unfortunately, we have too many examples of demagogues both here in the U.S. and in Europe.)

In times of crisis and turmoil demagogues play an important, although not necessarily salutary, role.

  1. Demagogues define “us,” our identity, values, and basic beliefs.

They affirm who and what “we” are, primarily by distinguishing us from “them.” Demagogues do not fault us in any way, except perhaps for doubting ourselves and our unique destiny. We are the good people, common folk who are just trying to live our lives decently and in peace. But we and our way of life are under attack.

  1. Demagogues identify “them,” the cause of all our troubles.

“They” are, first of all, not us. They don’t look like us. They don’t act like us. They don’t believe like us. They are women; ethnic, racial, or religious minorities; immigrants; and gays. They say they want equality, but what they really want is what we have—our rights, prerogatives, and privileged status—and they are taking them from us. They are evil.

  1. Demagogues personify and praise strength.

We are, they say, at war. It may be a war of ideas and values or an armed conflict. But it a war nonetheless. They started it, but we will finish it, using any means necessary. Because of our overwhelming strength and the rightness of our cause, we will be victorious as long as we remain resolute. Weakness, hesitation, uncertainty on our part play into their hands, the hands of the enemy. What we need now more than ever is a strong leader. Better to be strong and wrong than weak and right.

  1. Demagogues advocate violence.

    Their speeches are verbally violent: laced with insults and put-downs, ethnic and racial slurs, and demeaning stereotypes. They spew lies and half-truths. They shout down opponents. They assure us that it fitting and proper—sometimes even sanctioned by God—to attack those who threaten us and our way of life.
  2. Demagogues pander to their audiences.

Demagogues look and sound strong. They get credit for saying what others are too timid or “politically correct” to say. But their message lacks substance. It offers no new insights, nothing that can stand up to logic or reason. They merely voice the worst fears, the sense of loss, and the rage felt by a certain segment of society. They repeat, reinforce, and amplify people’s established prejudices. They tell their audiences only what they want to hear.

We ignore demagogues at our own peril. Although they ultimately flame out, they can cause a great deal of damage before doing so.

And we would be wise to pay attention to their followers, to listen to their sense of alienation and loss and rage. It would be too easy, otherwise, to make them the new “them,” the cause of all society’s ills.

Donald Trump Public SpeakingYou can learn a lot of dos and don’ts about public speaking from observing Donald Trump in action. Not all of it is good, mind you, or worth imitating.

But it’s easy to pick up public speaking dos and don’ts from Trump because he is overblown in all that he does, even — or especially — in his public speaking.

I’ve grouped these public speaking dos and don’ts under three skills that Donald Trump exemplifies, sometimes to the extreme.

1. Donald Trump embodies his message.

You can’t separate who Trump is — a billionaire businessman with anger issues — from what he stands for and what he says. And that’s a good thing: what you see is what you get.

DO member that you are the message.

Everything that you are — your personality, reputation, experience, values, appearance, voice — shapes how people hear and whether they believe what you say. Don’t hide off in the semi-darkness, ceding center stage to your PowerPoint slides. Let everyone see you, front and center. Look them in the eye. And expect them to look back at you.

DON’T make make yourself the center of the speech.

The speech isn’t — or shouldn’t be — about you. It’s about the audience and how your idea can help them in some way if they adopt, support, or implement it.

DON’T be boring.

The only sin worse than boring an audience is confusing them.

If you’re not boring in real life but you are boring when giving a speech, you’re probably nervous. Don’t try to be exciting. You’ll probably only make yourself more nervous. Work, instead, on being confident. (Check out How to Develop Confidence Speaking.)

If you’re not excited about your message and about sharing it with your audience, don’t speak.

2. Donald Trump realizes the power of emotions.

Trump has mastered the rhetoric of rage. He is,himself, always in a rage or on the verge of flying off into a rage. And he gives his audiences permission to feel their rage, their anger over what they believe has been taken from them.

DO tap into your audience’s emotions.

You can convince people, by evidence and logic, of the rightness of what you’re proposing. But when you want to move them to take action, you have to engage their emotions. (There’s a reason why “motion” is 85% of “emotion.”)

DON’T rely on a single emotion, especially a negative one.

Rage will always get people’s attention. It will fire some of them up, but it will turn others away. And rage won’t sustain lasting action. Winston Churchill recommended appealing to pride, hope love, and — occasionally — fear.

3. Donald Trump uses lessons learned from reality TV.

Trump has hosted The Apprentice for 14 seasons. He approaches his speaking engagements — his appearances — the way he stages his TV show in three ways. First, he orchestrates the event, carefully selecting the venue and the audience. Second, he stirs up conflict. And finally, he speaks from a rehearsed “soft script,” from talking points, not from a written speech, which gives him the appearance of telling it like he sees it.

DO pay attention to the event.

Good speakers know their audiences — who they are, what matters to them, what they know and need to know, what they want and what they dislike, what problems they face. And they know the event — the reason people are gathering, where the meeting is held, how the room is set up. Exceptional speakers take part in shaping the event.

DON’T shy away from conflict.

Good speeches are, in part, about conflict. They propose one idea or advocate one course of action in opposition to another. Instead of downplaying the differences between your idea and another, between your product or service and that of a competitor, highlight it. Conflict is never boring.

DO prepare.

If you stand in front of an audience without being prepared and simply say whatever comes to mind, you will certainly be perceived as unscripted and, perhaps, as sincere. But you’ll also make a fool of yourself. You may not need a fully written script, but you do need a fully developed outline. And you need to practice it out loud a few times. (Check out The Benefits of Rehearsing a Speech or Presentation.)

Have I missed something? What do you think can be learned about public speaking dos and don’ts from Donald Trump?

See also Seven Rules for More Powerful Speaking.

How to prepare an oral proposalAn oral proposal for large contracts — government and commercial — goes by many names: a pitch, a sales presentation, an interview, or an orals.

Because a lot of money — millions, sometimes billions of dollars — is at stake, an oral proposal is one step — one of the final steps — in a long process. They are typically preceded by several conversations and exchanges of information and, of course, by a formal written proposal.

Your goal, when preparing and presenting an oral proposal is to win the contract.

You do so by showing the customer how your people, processes, tools and technology will provide better value than the competition: how you will give them more of what they want (features and benefits) and less of what they don’t want (costs, delays, risks, etc.)

Preparing a winning oral proposal is a complex process. It involves many players and considerations.

The Most Important Issues to Address when Preparing an Oral Proposal

Continue Reading…

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...