Archives For public speaking

Give Better SpeechesThe best way to become a better speaker–to learn how to give better public speeches and presentations–is to make more mistakes.

It’s counterintuitive, I know.

You would think that reducing or eliminating mistakes would make you a better speaker. But you’d be wrong…for three reasons.

Reason #1: The Willingness to Make Mistakes Allows You to Practice, to Learn, to Improve.

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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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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.

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.

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?”

In 1933 Franklin Roosevelt, the newly elected President of the United States, faced a daunting situation. A fearful nation was four years into its worst-ever depression.

To win popular support for his proposed social and economic reforms, he gave a radio address to the nation in March of that year. He explained his ideas in a casual, but comprehensive way. He came across as warm and friendly.

His address became known as a fireside chat. It was so popular that his advisors recommended he repeat the format every week.

He refused. He reasoned that speaking so often would lessen his impact. He did not want people to grow tired of hearing from him.

Although Roosevelt is perhaps best known for his fireside chats, he gave only 30 of them in 11 years.

Lesson Learned:
To influence and inspire your audience – your employees, customers, constituents, the general public – invest yourself fully into your speeches, but give fewer of them to have a greater impact.

3 Common Public Speaking MistakesI’m offering three lessons I learned from mistakes I’ve made giving speeches in the hope that you don’t have to make them yourself.

Public Speaking Mistake #1: Trying to Be Something Other than Who I Am

When I first started out speaking, I tried to be like speakers I admired.

At that time I admired one particular speaker. He was charismatic and dramatic. He had a deep, rich voice. And he could move an audience from laughter to tears in no time at all.

The first time I gave a speech imitating his style, the audience was moved to laughter. Just not in the way I had hoped. They were laughing at me, because my performance was so, well, laughable.

My speech teacher got me back on track. He made it my goal to become the best speaker I could be, not to become someone else.

Lesson Learned: Learn from others, but don’t imitate them. Be yourself – your best self – when giving a speech. Bring all of who you are — your unique personality, interests, values, knowledge, life experience, humor – to your speaking.

Public Speaking Mistake #2: Thinking It’s All about ME

After one of my early speeches, my teacher asked me what I thought of it.

I was pretty pleased with myself and how I had done. I said something like, “My message was good. It was focused, clear, and persuasive. I remembered everything I wanted to say. I delivered it well. I didn’t use a lot of ums and ers.” And I went on.

When I finished, he said, “That’s a lot of I and me and my. What do you think the audience got out of it?”

I hadn’t even though of the audience at the time. I had only thought about what I wanted to accomplish, what I planned to say, how I hoped to come across.

Lesson Learned: Focus on your audience. A speech is about giving them information and insight they can use to their benefit. Be yourself (see above), but be yourself in service of others.

Public Speaking Mistake #3: Over-preparing Can Be as Disastrous as Under-preparing

I used to be so terrified of making a fool of myself in front on an audience that I over-prepared my speeches.

I spent hours and hours, sometimes days, doing research. I spent even more time cramming everything I learned into what was supposed to be a brief speech. Then I practiced it over and over again and memorized it word for word.

As a result, I presented too much information. And I came across as mechanical and aloof.

If you get up in front of an audience without being adequately prepared, you deserve to fail. Big time.

A speech requires research, thought, and planning. You have to understand your audience and their needs, the event itself, and your goals. You have to formulate a message. And you have to practice it.

But if you over-prepare, you risk coming across as packaged, self-contained, unreal.

Lesson Learned: Preparation is key, but don’t overdo it. Depending on your audience and on what’s at stake, prepare just enough – not too little, not too much – to be clear, persuasive, spontaneous, and real.

What have your mistakes taught you about giving a speech?

Evaluate a speechTo become a better public speaker, become a more discerning, informed, and insightful listener.

After listening to a speech, don’t simply say you liked it or you didn’t like it. Become more critical, not in a negative way but in an inquisitive way.

Ask yourself what the speaker did or did not do that caused you to feel the way you did.

10 Questions to Ask to Evaluate (and to Learn from) a Speech

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Photo Voice, which seeks “to create participatory photography programs that achieve meaningful improvements in the lives of participants,” defines public advocacy as:

Seeking to affect a change in public opinion or attitude and through doing so to prompt a change in behavior that will bring benefits for a community or group. Public advocacy can also increase pressure on decision-makers to take action or make policy change.

Over the years I’ve worked with any number of organizations involved in public advocacy, helping them create and implement a communications strategy and a message to further their causes.

I enjoy working with public advocacy groups. I’m often humbled by their dedication.

Because leaders speak — or should speak — primarily to influence audiences and to inspire them to take action, leaders can learn a lot from public advocates.

Three Public Speaking Lessons for Leaders from Public Advocates:

1. Speak about what matters to you.

Social advocates and real leaders speak about issues that they themselves deeply believe and care about.

Conviction and caring are the foundation of any compelling speech.

How can you convince others to care unless you first care…and care deeply. You don’t have to cry or shout or beat your chest, but you do need to let your passion show.

2. Tell stories.

Stories engage an audience’s imaginations and emotions. They make a cause personal and real and specific. They have the power to change people’s mindsets and, more importantly, to move them to action.

Find a story that illustrates the problem you’re addressing and the cause you’re advocating. Refine that story. And tell it again and again and again.

3. Take a stand.

As an advocate — whether you’re speaking for a cause or for a business — it’s not your role to be impartial. Yes, you have to be fair and factual and honest. But your job is stake out a position and to defend and promote it in every way you can.

Don’t be timid or shy. Leave no doubt in your audience’s minds what you want of them and why.

Real leaders, like public advocates, address issues that matter both to themselves and to a wider world. They seek to benefit that wider world. And they throw themselves heart and mind and soul into that effort.

Try it and see how it works for you.

Bad Advice about SpeakingThere are a lot of myths, misconceptions, and flat-out bad advice about public speaking.

Here’s my list of the Top Nine Myths and Bad Advice about Public Speaking

  1. It’s not what you say that matters, but how you say it.
    Delivery is important. An articulate, powerful, and charismatic delivery can make a mundane message seem more important than it is. And a really bad delivery can kill the best message. But it is the message that counts. It’s what will change people’s thoughts and behavior. It’s what they’ll remember.
  2. To develop confidence, look over the heads of your audience or imagine them in their underwear.
    There are better ways to develop confidence when giving a speech. (Check out “The Three Best Ways to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking.”) Looking people in the eye helps make a connection with them and gains their trust, which in turn will make you more confident. Imagining people in their underwear is disrespectful, and you never want to disrespect your audience.
  3. Start your speech with a joke.
    Never start your speech with a joke…unless you’re a professional comedian and the audience is already warmed up. Your odds of bombing are astronomical. (Check out Should You Tell Jokes or Use Humor in a Speech?) Humor — which is different from telling jokes — is almost always appropriate.
  4. End your presentation with Q&A.
    You can save Q&A to the end of your speech. But after you’ve answered the last question, don’t simply thank the audience and sit down. Take another half-minute or minute to end your speech: recap your main point and give your audience reason to act on it.
  5. Use PowerPoint because most people are visual learners.
    Making people read words is something entirely different from showing them images. As a matter of fact, people can’t read and listen at the same time. You have two alternatives. Use visuals (not words) on your slides: pictures, graphs, charts, and the like. Or tell stories and uses the type of words that engage people’s imaginations, where they create their own visual images.
  6. Some people are natural born speakers, some aren’t.
    Giving a speech is a skill, like learning how to read or ride a bike. Some people seem to have more of an aptitude than others (for speaking, reading, or riding a bike). But with guidance and practice most (not all, but most) people can learn how to give a good speech.
  7. There’s never any need to write out a speech.
    Writing out your speech or, at least, writing out parts of your speech can make it more powerful, compelling, and memorable. It will force you to clarify your thoughts and to hone your message. (Check out Should You Write Out a Speech?)
  8. Rehearsing a speech is a waste of time.
    Never give a speech or presentation without first rehearsing it. At least once, stand up and talk through your speech out loud. Do not think that thinking it through in your mind is enough. You have to get your mouth around your message before you stand in front of an audience. (Check out How to Rehearse a Speech.)
  9. Watching a videotape of yourself speaking is the best way to improve.
    Most speech coaches swear by videotaping their clients. I find that, at best, it makes people aware of their bad habits and allows them to improve them…temporarily. At worst, it makes people even more self-conscious and hyper-critical. I recommend practicing in front of a supportive audience. (Consider joining a Toastmasters club.) You can also work with a speech coach who will help you create a message you believe in and the confidence to deliver it.

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