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Fox debateTonight ten men hoping to be the Republican candidate for President will face each other in a televised debate.

Of course, they won’t really be debating each other.

A formal debate requires 1) a clear understanding of and willingness to adhere to reasonable rules, 2) a skillful moderator who poses questions and enforces the rules, and 3) enough time for all participants to have their fair say.

A debate also addresses a specific question or orderly series of questions, expecting each participant to stay on topic and explain, justify, and champion his or her position.

None of that will happen tonight.

The rules of tonight’s debate — and the contentious nature of political discourse these days — will make it hard for candidates to explain their positions thoughtfully or completely (if they were so inclined):

  • The debate is limited to two hours.
  • There will be three moderators.
  • Participants will have one minute to respond to each question and 30 seconds for rebuttal if their name is mentioned.
  • They will not make opening statements, but they will get 30 seconds to make a closing statement, if time permits.

Those rules seem designed to heighten the entertainment value of the debate, not to allow for the thoughtful discussion of policies and positions.

Following the debate media analysts will focus primarily on designating the winner and losers.

I think it would be more profitable to sift through all the racket, quips, and comebacks — all that gets said and unsaid — to ferret out where each candidate stands on three basic issues.

Three Questions to Ask Following the Republican Debate

1. The first question is of identity.

Who are we as Americans? What makes us different from others? Who belongs? Who doesn’t belong? Who are we: our heroes, role models? Who are they: our enemies, pariahs? Who deserves our praise and emulation? Who deserves our contempt?

2. The second question is of values.

What do we value? And why? What actions, policies, and goals deserve our attention, respect, energy?

3. The third question is of vision or direction.

Where are we headed as a nation, a society, a people? Where should we be headed? What are we about? What is the task that lies before us? What will our legacy be? What kind of world do we want to create and sustain and hand on to those who follow.

These three issues — of identity, values, and vision — are the same issues that every leader should be expected to address. Why not the candidates?

Whether you love Donald Trump or hate him, you can learn a lot about public speaking from watching him. Especially about gaining an audience’s attention.

I, personally, find nothing appealing or attractive about Donald Trump. His appearance, reputation, ideas, lifestyle, and style of speaking annoy, even antagonize me.

And yet I find him fascinating.

He commands people’s attention. Whether you applaud his every utterance or shudder in revulsion, it’s hard to take your eyes off him.

That’s what it means to fascinate: to transfix and hold spellbound by an irresistible power; to command the interest of.

Donald Trump’s #1 Public Speaking Lesson: Get Attention!

If you’re not able to gain and hold your audience’s attention, you may as well stop speaking because your audience has stopped listening.

And Donald Trump has mastered the art of gaining an audience’s attention.

Lessons from Trump about Commanding Attention

  1. Be Yourself.
    No one’s going to mistake Donald Trump for anyone else. And that’s the way it should be. The first principle of public speaking is you are the message. Who you are as a person — your character and reputation, experience, values, likes and dislikes — shapes how people hear and interpret what you say. Don’t stand off to the side in darkness, ceding center stage to a screen. Don’t be objective or impersonal. Be yourself.
  2. Take a Strand.
    Do you have any doubt where Trump stands on any issue he addresses? Of course not. He’s taken Churchill’s advice to heart: “When you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time — a tremendous whack.” Don’t dilute your message. Don’t make people guess at what you mean or want them to do.Tell them.
  3. Don’t Be Boring. 
    Trump is — depending on your preferences — refreshing, blunt, arrogant, willing to buck the system, self-serving, or dead-wrong. But boring, he isn’t. And you shouldn’t be either. Not if you want to keep an audience’s attention. You don’t have to be an entertainer to be interesting. You just have to be interested in (maybe even passionate about) your topic and your audience.

Of course, it isn’t enough to command an audience’s attention

Getting an audience’s attention is the beginning point, not the goal of speaking.

The goal of speaking is to bring about a change in your audience. A change in the way people think and feel and act. A change for the better, not the worse.

“The wise speak because they have something to say,” Plato said. “Fools because they have to say something.”

Storytelling and SpeechesThere are two easy ways to introduce a story when giving a speech: 1) Don’t introduce it — just jump right in; or 2) Say, “Imagine…”

When beginning a speech with a story — one of my favorite techniques — it’s not necessary, helpful, or wise to say anything about it. Just begin telling it.

(As a rule: the less you have to explain a story, the better.)

When seguing into a story somewhere later in your speech, you may need to alert your audience that you’re shifting from cognitive content (exposition, explanations, evidence) to an imaginative element.

The easiest way to do so is by using one word: “Imagine.”

Say, “Imagine.” Pause. Then, without further elaboration, tell your story.

Check out How to Tell a Story in a Speech.

Take a StandYears ago I provided consulting and speech writing for a local politician. At one point he asked me how he should address an issue that was sure to be raised during an upcoming event.

The issue was a hot topic in his district. It was on everyone’s mind. It had been discussed and dissected in depth. It was also controversial.

“Tell me where you stand on the issue,” I said, “and I’ll help you fashion a position statement.”

Without pausing, the politician turned to his chief adviser and asked, “Where do I stand on it?”

That was our final meeting.

Where do you stand?

When giving a speech there is no neutral ground, no objective position, no noncommittal perspective.

Speakers worth listening to take a stand. They don’t just state the facts as objectively as possible and let listeners make up their own mind. They stake out a position and advocate it passionately.

There are three basic ways of taking a stand during a speech.

  1. We can stand with.
    We can align ourselves with people or with a particular group of people — with their concerns, values, welfare. When President Kennedy spoke to the people of Berlin during the height of the Cold War, he declared, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” staking out his solidarity with the citizens of the divided city.
  2. We can stand for.
    We can speak in favor or in defense of an issue, cause, policy,initiative or program. President Lyndon Johnson, a son of the segregated South, addressed Congress in 1965 and urged it to strike down laws that kept blacks from voting. “I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy,” he said.
  3. We can stand against.
    We can oppose something — a policy, an accepted attitude, a way of doing business — refusing to tolerate what we consider wrongheaded or abhorrent. In President Obama’s eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pinckney, he stood with the grieving congregation, for racial justice, and against bigotry and its accompanying violence.

We stand on our principles, on our deep and abiding beliefs, on our gut-level predispositions.

Our audiences should never have to guess where we stand. And we should never have to turn to anyone else and ask, “Where do I stand?”

you are the messageThe most important element of a speech is you, the person creating and delivering the speech.

Of course your content is important. The central idea of your speech. The evidence, stories, and images that explain, substantiate, and illustrate that idea. And the words and phrases that bring it to life.

And so is your delivery. The way you present that content with your voice (your volume, tone and pitch, pacing) and your body (your movement and gestures, your facial expressions, your stillness and silence).

The audience is equally important. Who they are and why they’re gathering. What they know and feel about the idea you’re addressing. How they hear and interpret what you’re saying.

But the vital element of any speech is first and foremost the person who has crafted it and is presenting it: you.

That’s not to say that your needs trump everything else. Or that a speech is all about you, you, you.

It does mean that who you are — your insights and wisdom, values, beliefs, fundamental outlook — are the sine qua non of a speech: the element without which a speech can never be.

One of the best ways to give better speeches is to become a better person: more thoughtful, wise, and compassionate.

How do you do that? It’s up to you, but here are my suggestions:

  • Read more. Don’t just skim and scan.
  • Have in-depth conversations with people who matter to you.
  • Take long walks untethered to a mobile device.
  • Be still and quiet at least once a day.
  • Do something kind for others without expecting anything in return.
  • Know when and how to forgive.
  • Ask yourself, often, “Does this matter? Why?”

Being a better person won’t necessarily make you a better speaker. But your speeches can never be better than you are.

Agree or disagree? Any additions to my suggestions?

How often do these little indignities repeat in your professional life?

  • You give a presentation about something important, but everyone ignores it.
  • You are asked to propose a solution, but shy away from doing it because you lack the skills or confidence.
  • You get overlooked by everybody — including your boss — because other people sound like they know more than you do.
  • You get passed over for a promotion, because people don’t understand what you’re talking about.
  • You watch a colleague get credit for an idea you proposed earlier but with less poise.

You may have great ideas. You may know more than other people. You may be an expert in your field.

But what good is your experience and knowledge if you can’t communicate it? If you can’t make people pay attention? If you can’t make them value what you’re talking about and want to do something with it?

Knowledge isn’t power.

Putting knowledge to use is power.

And communicating knowledge — in writing and in speaking — in a way that lets people understand and act on it is one of the most valued skills in business today.

Don't Give Dumb PresentationsI work with smart people. With people who run businesses or lead universities. With engineers and with senior researchers who have doctorates in subjects I’ve never heard of. With authors and small business owners.

And I frequently (several times a month) observe other smart people giving presentations.

And I’ve come to the conclusion that smart people give dumb presentations…frequently.

I define a dumb presentation as one that is disjointed and confusing. It lacks a central theme. It leaves people wondering, “What was that about?” or “What am I supposed to do now?”

A dumb presentation is a wasted opportunity both for the audience and for the speaker.

Why do otherwise smart people give dumb presentations?

Continue Reading…

Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of South Park, offer advice about storytelling that can help anyone creating a PowerPoint presentation.

Many Most PowerPoint presentations are ineffective, confusing, and/or boring because they lack cohesiveness and flow.

You know how it goes.

Presenters show a slide and discusses it. (You hope they don’t simply read it to you.) When they finish with that slide they say, “next slide.” Then they discuss it and say — you guessed it — “next slide.”

Entire presentations can be are a series of disconnected information and ideas: “There’s this and this and this and this and this…”

The unanswered question is: How does all of this hold together? How does one idea lead to another? Is there a logical connection?

The most important words in PowerPoint presentations aren’t on the slides: they’re between the slides.

The segues — the transition sentences — from one slide to another are what turn a series of disconnected information and ideas into an insight audiences can understand and use.

That’s where Parker and Stone come in.

In a lecture at NYU they describe how they create stories for South Park. On a large whiteboard they outline a series of “beats.” (A beat is the smallest unit of a story, a piece in which something happens.)

If the beats are linked by the words “and then,” Parker and Stone insist “You’ve got something pretty boring.”

They suggest eliminating every “and then” and replacing it with either “therefore” or “but.”

Not “this happened and then this happened,” but “this happened, therefore this happened” or “this happened, but then this happened.”

Try it the next time you prepare or practice a PowerPoint presentation. Every time you catch yourself saying “next slide,” substitute “therefore…” or “but…”

Figure out how the information or ideas on one slide lead into the information or ideas on the next. Do they build logically (“therefore…”)? Or do they logically raise an objection or another consideration (“but…”)?

As the expert you understand (I hope) how your material holds together. Don’t assume that your audience understands. Show them.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/barkbud/4906055297/

Courtesy of Bark at Flickr.com

The two deadly sins of public speaking are 1) confusing the audience, and 2) boring them.

Both are common. I’m not sure which is worse.

I’ve dealt with how not to confuse your audience elsewhere (7 Ways to Clarify Technical Material without Dumbing It Down). So let me suggest…

 

7 Ways Not to Bore Your Audience

1.Never talk about something that bores you.

If you’re assigned a topic that doesn’t excite you, either beg out of it or dig deep into it and find something interesting about it.

2. Never talk to an audience you don’t like.

If you don’t like the people you’re talking to, you’ll find them boring. And you’ll be boring in return, or peevish, which is just as bad. (Okay, you many not like everyone you talk to, but you can’t dislike them.)

3. Don’t give so many presentations.

A presentation is not the only way to communicate ideas or information. Often, it isn’t even the best way. Find other means of sharing what you know. Make people want to hear from you, not tire of listening to you.

4. Be brief.

It’s easier to maintain your enthusiasm and your audience’s interest in short installments. When’s the last time you wished a speaker had gone on longer? Exactly.

5. Use humor.

Laugh at yourself or at the absurdity of life as we know it or a peculiarity of your topic. Levity is always welcome, especially when it is least expected (as in a speech).

6. Tell a story.

I love stories. You love stories. We all love stories. So tell a story. It’ll help, of course, if it pertains to your topic and somehow illustrates it. But I’ve been known to tell a story just for the heck of it, and no one was the worst for it.

7. Promote a novel idea.

A speech is only as good or as interesting as the idea it proposes. So come up with a good idea, an original. Being original is hard work, especially in today’s business environment where everyone is too busy to think, which is one reason I suggest giving fewer presentations. If everyone already knows what you’re talking about, why talk about it?

What are your suggestions?

Check for comprehensinoCan you ever be sure people know what you’re talking about?

We often assume that people understand us – what we mean, what we intend, and what we want. But, sadly, it isn’t always the case.

People who are seemingly smart and good-willed all too frequently misinterpret what we say. And, to be honest, we aren’t always as clear as we think we are.

I learned this lesson from my parents. They were college professors. They were bright and articulate. They were married for 48 years, and even at the end they managed to misunderstand each other frequently.

So how can you know that you’ve got your point across and, furthermore, that people have understood you?

Continue Reading…

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