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Category Archives: Structuring Your Speech

News Flash: You are Always Fighting for the Attention of Your Audience

We have talked about this issue before but it bears repeating. Just because you think what you have to say is ‘off the hook’ important and maybe even life-changing, doesn’t mean your audience thinks the same. You have to give them a reason to listen, and then another, and so on.

Enter the three S’s of presentation design: structure, storyboarding, and storytelling. This post addresses the first S, structure.

There are several ways in which a speech can be organized. They all serve your goal of keeping the attention of your audience. Which one you choose depends on your subject matter and your purpose. Are you trying to inform, motivate, convince, or persuade? Once you know the answer to that question, then you are ready to work with one of the following structures:

Chronological – when a time sequence must take center stage

Topical – when your key topic is so broad that you must break it down into component parts

Compare and Contrast – when you are trying to convince your audience of the pros and cons of a particular issue

Proposal to Proof – when you need to take a strong position or make a proposal. First you explain your proposal and then you prove to your audience why it’s the best option

Cause and Effect – we’ve been using this structure since our 6th grade reports on photosynthesis and it still works as a method for explaining why your audience should, say, quit smoking.

Motivated Sequence – perhaps the most used organizing tool when your goal is to persuade. The Motivated Sequence was created by a professor at Purdue in the 1930s. The structure includes five elements:

a. Attention – we have a problem
b. Need – explanation
c. Satisfaction – here’s a solution
d. Visualization – just imagine what could happen
e. Action – let’s do something

Now you’re ready to complete the first step in the preparation process. It takes a lot longer than winging it, but a good structure will increase your chances of speaking to an audience who actually pays attention.

– Barbara

The Paradox of Cliches

This week we are focusing on cliches, those overexposed sayings and overused metaphors that we hear everyday. As I write this I am sitting in an office reception area that itself could be a cliche: neutral colored couch and chairs, ferns and greenery (some real/some not), magazines on glass tables,and framed colored photographs of sunsets on the walls. Seriously, what is more cliche than a photograph of a sunset ? On a wall in an office?

The paradox of cliches is that they are often profoundly true (love is blind) deeply human (there’s no place like home) and embarrassingly unoriginal (easy as pie). They are also occasionally offensive, so please NEVER ask to “pick my brain.”   While we have all witnessed the gasping pinks and blues of a summer sky (I took this photo on Martha’s Vineyard) and the physical rush of “falling in love”, to use cliches in speech or writing is to communicate in tired language that masks your vivid, original self. If, as you prepare a presentation, the familiar language of a cliche speaks to you, try to reframe and recast the idea in your own words, using vibrant color, characters, setting and story. This will make you more real and more memorable.

So when you think cliches, remember:  Avoid them like the Plague.

-Charlotte

P.S. Note to Bostonians: check out the Catherine Opie photography exhibit at the ICA for an interesting twist on sunrises and sunsets.

http://www.icaboston.org/exhibitions/onview/

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

Part One of a Two-Part Series on Ridding your Speech of Clichés

The debt ceiling debate has shed light on many problems, not the least of which is our penchant for speaking in clichés. After weeks of listening to politicians on both sides of the aisle sound like used car salesmen, we now have a list in my house of the Top Five sayings that should never be uttered again in this century:

 

  1. At the end of the day
  2. Kick the can down the road
  3. To be perfectly honest
  4. Robbing Peter to pay Paul
  5. Thinking outside the box

Thanks to the endless parade of talking heads, these expressions are plumb wore out (I just had to do that).  When you don’t have anything substantive to say, or you haven’t prepared, these clichés come in handy.  Many of our clients will respond to our feedback on eliminating clichés by saying that it’s important that they sound casual and conversational.  That’s fine.  You can still appear easy-going without uttering one of the five bizblabs above.  There is a difference between conversational speaking in which you avoid fancy, ivory-tower-sounding words and sleep-inducing catch phrases.

Do your audience a favor and delete these expressions from your memory.

– Barbara

Jane Fonda’s Autobiography: “My Life So Far”

I know I am getting older. And not only because of the number of times I have circled the sun, but because I find myself enjoying new interests like bird watching, peony-growing, and reading non-fiction.  Jane Fonda’s book was a revelation.

I admire and applaud her for writing with such intelligence and honesty. I was stunned by the duality of her life – what it looked like in pictures versus what was going on within. I was shocked that she shared so much about her very flawed parents, her fear, shame, disease to please, eating disorder and sex life. Fonda’s intellectual curiosity, transformation and journey to self are inspiring. Her true commitment to social and political change (especially for girls and women) is tremendous. This book is long, but it is very well structured, and filled with photos, celebrity insights, great quotes, and a comprehensive history of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

Jane Fonda studied acting with Lee Strasberg, who developed a style known as the Method. He became the artistic director of the Actors Studio and Fonda learned her most important acting techniques and lessons with him. Fonda quotes him as saying, “Tension is the occupational disease of the actor.”

Hmm…just the actor? Dare I say that tension is also the occupational disease of the public speaker? As Fonda explains it, relaxation is key for actors, so that “the body’s energetic flow is unimpeded and inspiration can rise and express itself through the actor’s spirit: in eyes, voice and movement…the body as instrument.” She continues, “ You can’t do most things well without being relaxed, not in sports, not in lovemaking, not in acting.”

We know in our heads that we need to embody this same relaxation when we speak in public, so that we make genuine connections and deeply feel that we have done our best.  For the speaker, this state of mind (and body!) is called “relaxed readiness.” Being relaxed and ready means we know where we are going, we’re ready to attend to the ebb and flow of unexpected people, questions, scenarios, and trusting that the ideas, the eyes, the voice and the movement will connect with our audience.  This is an occupational aspiration for public speakers.

-Charlotte

Do You Rehearse in Your Head?

Would you pay $200 for a ticket to see a Broadway show if you knew that the actors never once rehearsed their lines?  Of course you wouldn’t.  And yet, most presenters stand and deliver without ever practicing their remarks out loud.

The other day I was walking past a couple of guys having lunch and I heard one of them say, “My big presentation is tomorrow and I’ve had no time to practice.”  At this I slowed my pace so I could officially eavesdrop.  He continued, “Well, that’s not exactly true – I’ve rehearsed it in my head.”  To which the other guy said, “Then you’ll be fine.”  Now picture me forcing one foot in front of the other so I wouldn’t lean in and yell “Are you crazy?!  Think about your audience and their expectations.  Get back to the office and practice out loud!”

No, he will not be fine.  That presentation will be filled with ums, and ahs, and will meander here and there, all to the beat of the tentative drum in his head.  If he’s lucky, his PowerPoint slides will save him from a brain freeze, but odds are he’ll use them as a crutch.

Rehearsing “in your head” is not a rehearsal.  Unless you actually hear your voice saying the words you wrote down on your storyboard out loud (at a volume of 7 out of 10), you are not rehearsing.

I give myself this finger wag all the time.  For example, I worked all weekend on an upcoming presentation and I have yet to say any of the words out loud.  My handout looks great.  My slides are ready for their close-up (even spell-checked and proofread!), but in this particular case, that is insufficient preparation.  There are two big reasons why I need to find time to rehearse.   First, I just found out that eight people are attending the talk from my client’s office to “learn and observe.”  No pressure there.  Second, I want repeat business from this client, so being on top of my game is essential.

Factor in the time to speak out loud to yourself, your pet, or your significant other – it doesn’t matter who – and you stand a better chance of achieving your goal.  And as an added bonus, you will likely lessen the chances of getting asked a curveball question because you have honed your content to its essential messages.

Next up:  Extemporaneous speaking – how to sound prepared and intelligent without the chance to rehearse.

– Barbara

p.s.  If you like what you read in our blog, why not work with us in person at our upcoming SpeakWell Bootcamp on July 28th in Boston.  For more details visit our website:  www.speakwellpartners.com

My Love-Hate Relationship with Howard Stern

As a card carrying feminist, it’s hard to like Howard Stern. I can’t go so far as to call him a misogynist because I think he truly likes women, but the way he has objectified the female sex over the years makes it very hard to listen to his show for more than 10 minutes at a stretch. I have reached for the seek button more times than I can count.

But I respect his communication skills. Aspiring public speakers can learn a lot from him (did you hear that David Axelrod?). Here are a few skills and attributes that I think we can all learn from:

1.He rarely uses a word filler. His speech patterns are clear and easy to follow – even when you are in heavy traffic and trying to get to work on time.

2.He connects to his audience. Howard allows himself to be vulnerable. He shares his insecurities, his fears and his foibles. He’s willing to tell the truth while other pundits dance around the issue.

3.He doesn’t ramble on and on, but seems to know how to cut to the chase and bring out the most salient points of a particular topic, thereby maintaining the attention of his audience.

4.He makes people laugh, without telling canned jokes.

5.He was born with a great voice for radio, but he also knows how to use his resonators – the larynx, pharynx, soft palette, hard palette, sinuses, – all the parts that help us create a more pleasing and more interesting sound, and that makes people want to listen.

He may be a 15-year-old adolescent trapped in an adult body, but he has honed is speaking craft and for that he gets props from me.

– Barbara

On the Road Again

I love maps. I love figuring out travel routes and examining the terrain.  I have lived in Massachusetts for 33 years, yet I still continue to pore over New England maps whenever I get on the road.  I can’t relate to the “I have no sense of direction” people who look at me like I have two heads when I tell them to head east on Commonwealth Avenue.  And, for those of us who live in Boston (the mecca for road design that makes no sense…and makes us secretly proud insiders), we know that there are many paths that lead to our destination. As it goes with public speaking.

My client had an important presentation for a thousand people. Naturally, he wanted to be clear and moving, succinct and spellbinding. He had an insightful, intelligent, heartfelt story to tell.  We broke his presentation into three parts. (Remember, 3’s and their subsets are easy to remember). Each part had its own beginning, its path so to speak, that once set upon would be easy to follow and remember.  We developed opening sentences to the sections that would place him squarely on the road.  Easy, right?

Not so much. While we practiced he kept changing his opening lines, which led him deeply into the weeds.  I finally used the map metaphor.  Stop changing the route! Stay on the path we have created, it works and it will get you there. Stop thinking you can meander off into a side road, because inevitably you are going to get lost or take a much more circuitous route to get to your destination.  You will get there, but you will lose your audience in the process.  After a few stops and starts, he understood the power of seeing and staying the course.

Speakers need to map out presentations, to visualize and essentially memorize the route. All successful presenters do this.  One of the jobs of a good coach is to help you map the best route for your presentation.  So, think map metaphor when you design your next presentation.

-Charlotte

Next Post: GPS: Where do you stand?