Archives For Speak

Leaders Speak too OftenA speech is one of the most powerful ways for leaders to advance their organization’s success.

Leaders give a lot of speeches, presentations, informal talks, and interviews. Sometimes they speak too often and, as a result, dilute their message.

The speeches that leaders give should align with their three primary responsibilities:

1)      To Advance the Mission, Vision, and Values of their Organization

Leaders help their organization formulate, promote, and achieve their mission (what we do/hope to accomplish), vision (where we are headed), and values (the principles and ethical standards that inform what we do).

2)      To Promote the Vitality of their Organization

Leaders tend to the internal workings of their organization to promote its ongoing health. They know that focusing exclusively on getting the work done can, ultimately, lead to the organizations’ dissolution.

3)      To Contribute to the Welfare of the Community/World at Large

Organizations thrive in the long run not only by doing well (achieving their goals), but also by doing good (benefiting their members, their customers/clients, and society/the environment).

Here’s the question leaders should ask when given the opportunity to speak:

Will this speech to this audience, at this time, in this venue promote my organization’s mission/vision/values, its vitality, and/or the community/world we live in?

Effective leaders know when to give a speech and, just as importantly, when not to give one.  

Making the Best of Q&A

When handled well, Q&A–questions and answers–becomes the most important element of a presentation.

A presentation is not an information dump. It’s not the opportunity for presenters to say everything they know about the topic at hand. It’s not a one-way transfer of knowledge.

That’s not how adults learn. Adults want to be involved in what they’re learning.

A presentation is like a focused conversation. They build on what the audience already knows. And they keep adding to it.

And presenters–effective ones, at least–give their audiences time to absorb and think about what they’ve said.

Q&A allow the audience to engage with the presenter and the content of the presentation. The more the engagement, the better the presentation.

Here’s how to make the most of Q&A

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Tell the truth in a speechIt’s hard for me to write about public speaking in the age of Donald Trump, as if speeches matter.

I believe that the two most important elements of a speech are 1) the speaker’s goodwill and integrity, and 2) a message that is supported by evidence and reasoning, that is wise and beneficial to the audience.

And yet Trump’s rhetoric—lacking in both of these elements—has proven successful.

It seems revolutionary these days to suggest that leaders, in preparing and delivering a speech, should be concerned about—passionately committed to—speaking the truth.

Because the truth is rarely plain and never simple, speaking the truth requires thoughtfulness and discrimination.

Speaking the Truth in a Speech

First, examine the evidence.

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speak to sell your bookIf you’ve published a book, you already know the sad truth: it’s entirely up to you to promote it.

Whether you’ve published your book yourself or had a mainstream publishing company put it out, you—and you alone—are responsible for marketing and promoting it.

There are ways to make people aware of your book, to make them want it, refer it to others, and buy it. Here are a few of the most effective strategies:

  • Create a website for your book
  • Write a blog and post material from you book on it
  • Be a guest columnist on other people’s blogs
  • Participate in online communities
  • Use social networking tools—Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.
  • Send out an email newsletter
  • Create and share podcasts and videos
  • Get articles (with a byline that mentions your book) published in print or online
  • Host webinars and teleseminars
  • Give speeches and presentations

The best strategy is, of course, to use as many different strategies as possible.

I’m a big fan of giving speeches to promote a book.

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persuasionWe can’t reason people out of beliefs, opinions, judgments, prejudices, and behaviors that they didn’t reason themselves into.

We can’t change people’s ways of thinking and acting simply by giving them new information and leading them step by step through a logical process of analysis and understanding.

We can’t, in short, persuade people to change by logic and reasoning.

There are two main reasons for this.

First, we form our basic beliefs and behavior patterns as children, when our ability to reason is underdeveloped, if not entirely lacking. For the most part we adopt, without thinking, the beliefs and behaviors of those around us.

When we question our beliefs and behaviors later in life—if we question them at all—we’re still inclined to give them credence. Reinforced by habit, they “feel” right, natural, proper.

And second, we aren’t rational beings. At least, rationality isn’t our primary way of understanding and relating to the world.

The process of reasoning—gathering and assessing information, questioning assumptions, forming opinions, analyzing them and revising them when necessary—doesn’t come naturally to us. It’s a skill we have to learn.

Reasoning takes time and effort. And in a world that comes at us like a Mack truck, at a thousand miles an hour, with horns blaring, demanding an immediate response, we tend not to reflect but to react.

We don’t say, “Whoa, hold your horses. Give me some time to think this through.” We don’t, in short, reason our way through each new situation. We fall back on our tried and true ways of understanding the world and of coping with its incessant and clamorous demands.

I’m not arguing in favor of abandoning reason and logic.

I am proposing that if persuasion is our goal—if we want to change how people think and feel and act—we have to develop strategies and techniques that build on something more than reason and logic.

The question, of course, is how? Any suggestions?

persuasionThe US presidential campaign dragged on seemingly forever. And it was–even by political standards–ugly, dirty, and mean spirited. I’m glad it’s over.

I wish I could draw some positive lessons about public speaking and persuasion from either of the candidate’s speeches, but I can’t. I was largely uninspired by Clinton’s speeches. I was appalled by Trump’s rhetoric.

What concerns me most–as a citizen and, more specifically, as a speechwriter–is how frequently and effortlessly misinformation, distortions, and flat-out lies were asserted, only to be refuted (by those pesky little fact checkers) and then repeated.

It’s no surprise that the Oxford English Dictionary selected post-truth as the international word of the year for 2016.

Post-truth: relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.

“Appeals to emotion and personal belief” have always played a key role in persuasive public speaking. Over 2,500 years ago Aristotle identified three proofs of a persuasive speech:

  1. Ethos: The character and knowledge of the speaker
  2. Pathos: Appeals to the audience’s emotions, interests, and imagination
  3. Logos: The clarity of the message’s logic and the evidence put forth to support it

In this recent election pathos was the clear winner. Ethos and logos were almost nowhere to be found.

In future posts I’ll examine why pathos was so dominant. I’ll draw some lessons about the use of pathos in public speaking and persuasion. And I’ll point out why in non-political arenas pathos, divorced from ethos and logos, is not only ineffective, but calamitous.

What makes a speech bad?A bad speech can be bad in two ways.

It all depends on how you define bad.

Bad can mean of inferior quality, or defective, failing to measure up to standards, unpleasing, or unable to perform as required.

Think of a bad wine, or a bad movie, or a bad performance.

A bad speech, using this definition of bad, is ineffective. It fails to accomplish its objective.

A speech can be bad for any number of reasons:

  • It lacks unity and cohesion.
  • It fails to address the needs and concerns of the audience.
  • It is confusing, illogical, or boring.
  • It relies on poorly designed visual aids or fails to use them when appropriate.
  • It is poorly staged and delivered.

Bad can also mean morally deficient, repugnant, evil, wrong.

We often shy away from using bad in this sense, afraid of sounding judgmental or ceding the term to preachers and pundits who see evil everywhere they look.

But I think that some ideas—many ideas—are bad and deserve to be labelled as such.

If an idea can be bad—immoral, reprehensible, worthy of censure—a speech that advocates it is, by extension, bad.

I hate to go there, but Hitler is the best example of what I mean.

His speeches were good in the sense that they achieved their objective. And they were bad—demonstratively and monstrously evil—because the ideas they advocated so effectively were bad.

To judge a speech in this sense—to weight its moral worth—requires us to clarify our values and the way we determine right and wrong.

When I think of a bad speech, in this sense, I think of one that distorts the truth, plays on an audience’s prejudices, focuses their attention on trivialities, justifies injustice, and targets the weak and vulnerable.

What do you think makes a bad speech bad?

 

Lincoln used long sentences in his speeches.I often hear it said that speakers should keep their sentences short.

Such advice is, in my opinion, a mistake.

It’s true that short sentences tend to be simple, and simplicity can be the servant of clarity. But clarity is the goal, not simplicity.

If you say speakers should keep their sentences clear—immediately comprehensible, able to be understood by their audiences on first hearing—I’m in total agreement.

But I believe in the value, beauty, and usefulness of long sentences in a speech.

Consider some of the masters:

Lincoln:
“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.” (75 words)

Churchill:
“We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.” (141 words)

Kennedy:
“Now the trumpet summons us again — not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need — not as a call to battle, though embattled we are — but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, “rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation,” a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.” (67 words)

Long sentences piled one on top of the other can grow tedious, so it’s best to intersperse them with shorter sentences.

But long sentences have several benefits.

1. Long sentences are better able to address complexity.

The world we live in and the problems we face are complex, and we do ourselves and our audiences little justice by reducing our response to them to short and simple epigrams.

2. Long sentences are more pleasing.

Short sentences have a certain pizzazz. (“Read my lips: no new taxes.”) But they quickly grow tiresome. And they lack the pleasure that longer sentences make possible, sentences that add detail and richness, step by step, sentences that have a rhythm and build to a satisfying conclusion.

3. Long sentences are more revelatory of a speaker’s character.

Long sentences provide more information, and in doing so give greater insight into the working of the speaker’s mind, into their reasoning, their values, their understanding.

Agree or disagree? (Feel free to respond in short or long sentences.)

 

Once again I was asked to help someone deliver a presentation using a PowerPoint slide deck prepared by another person.

And once again I found it a thankless, futile, frustrating task.

And I’ve come to this conclusion:

Don’t give a presentation using PowerPoint slides that you didn’t have a role in creating yourself.

It doesn’t work for any number of reasons.

First, most PowerPoint slide decks are a mess that need to be revised.

Individual slides are frequently poorly designed. Each slide on its own is usually crammed full of too much information and too many words. Individual slides don’t present, explain, and illustrate one central idea.

And individual slides frequently fail to build a coherent story. They are simply tacked on one after another, as if they are free-standing ideas.

PowerPoint slide decks often–almost always–need to be clarified, simplified, and rearranged. And you often only know how to do so when you’re rehearing your presentation.

When you’re presenting a slide deck that you’ve created on your own, you are free to clean up your slides or to rearrange them so they make more sense. But when you’re given a slide deck and told to present it as best you can, you’re left trying to make sense of a mess.

It’s okay for someone to create slides for you, as long as you are given the time, knowledge, and authority to change them.

Second, presenting someone else’s slides puts you in a subordinate role.

There is–or there should be–an intimate connection between you and the message you’re delivering.

Presenting someone else’s material makes you a mouthpiece, a marionette, nothing more.

If you can’t own the slides, you can’t own the message. Which is never a good thing.

Third, presenting someone else’s slides makes you focus more on the message than on the audience.

PowerPoint slides are not, nor should they be, a script. The words and images on the screen should be a prompt for what you are going to say. They should enable a conversation between you and your audience.

But when you’re given a slide deck that is created by someone else and that is a mess (see above), you have to figure out how to make sense of what you yourself don’t understand. (Sometimes you’re given a script in the notes page, which doesn’t clarify a thing.)

So you go over your script again and again to make sure you say what you think you’re meant to say. Your focus, too often, is on being true to the message created by someone else, when you should be trying to help the audience understand and accept your ideas.

Don’t give a presentation based entirely on slides created by someone else without your input. And don’t create slides for someone else to present without involving them in a meaningful way.

 

See also When Not to Use PowerPoint.

The Idea or the StructureWhen crafting a speech, do you start with an idea or with a structure, with content or with form?

Some Say “Start with an Idea”

There are those who argue, powerfully in my opinion, in favor of beginning the speech writing process with an idea.

They have a point: Any speech worth its salt is built around an idea.

One would hope that the idea being presented is coherent, insightful, supported by reason and evidence, emotionally engaging, and relevant to the audience. Which is, sadly, not always the case, especially in political discourse these days.

As a speech writer, after a preliminary conversation, I ask my clients, “What do you want to talk about?” And then I follow up with the more substantive question, “What do you want to say about it?”

The first question–what do you want to talk about?–simply defines the topic. It could be something like climate change, a recent threat to the company’s future, a new policy or procedure.

The follow-up question–what do you want to say about it?–lays out an idea about that topic: the content of the speech. For example, this is what climate change is, this is what it means for us, and this is what we should do about it.

A speech is nothing without an idea. It’s like a beautifully wrapped package that’s completely empty.

So it seems right to start with an idea.

Others Say “Start with a Structure”

On the other hand, there are those who argue–and I’m beginning to adopt their position–in favor of starting with a speech’s structure.

Speeches are a way of structuring an idea, of presenting it clearly and persuasively.

Most speeches–98.2% of them–follow a form, a structure: they begin with an introduction, proceed through the body, and end with a conclusion. (I made up that statistic, by the way, so please don’t ask me to cite my source.)

Within that basic structure, there are other ways of structuring a speech.

You can use the “They Say/I Say” structure, a variation of which I’m using in this piece. Or the “Problem/Cause/Solution” structure. Or the “Past/Present/Future” structure. Or the “Where We Want to Go/Why We Want to Get There/How We Can Get There” structure.

And certain kinds of speeches necessitate certain structures. A keynote address takes a different form, from example, than a panel discussion.

Knowing how to structure a speech shapes the idea being presented.

Structures may not generate a specific idea for a speech, but they do make possible the meaning of any idea.

A speech without a structure is, like a drunkard’s monologue, incomprehensible and tiring, or, like Macbeth’s view of life, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

So it makes sense to begin with a structure.

I Say “It Depends”

I favor starting with a structure. I agree with those who believe that you can’t even begin formulating an idea without structuring it.

But here’s where the it depends comes in.

Experienced speakers and speechwriters can begin by focusing on the idea they want to develop, because they intuitively think in terms of how they are going to structure it. They create a structure as they think about the speech’s idea.

But beginning speakers should start crafting a speech by choosing a structure that will work for them, a structure that forces them to formulate and express their ideas in a meaningful and moving way.

What do you think?

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