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Tag Archives: Credibility

Larry Crowne and Public Speaking

Having taught undergrads at the college level, I believe that gives me license to critique the movie Larry Crowne.  Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts are back together again, but in no way do they deserve your hard-earned money.  I went because I wanted to see what Hollywood would do to the art and craft of public speaking.

Julia Roberts plays a cynical, disaffected community college professor who reluctantly teaches Speech 217: The Art of Informal Remarks.  In every classroom scene she conveys a palpable loathing for her students, except at the end, of course, when she has been transformed by the “life is good” energy of her star student Larry Crowne, played by Tom Hanks.  Did she have to hate her job?  Would the movie be less compelling if she jumped out of bed every morning with the anticipation of shaping young minds and developing the talents of her students?  Oh, wait, I get it:  Larry Crowne is competing with Bad Teacher for box office revenues.  But I digress.

Do not see this movie.  I think Rex Reed said it best in his review:  “In an endurance test of 99 minutes that feels more like running a marathon on the Equator, nothing ever happens in this movie. There is no conflict. The characters are dead on arrival. Somebody must be held accountable for clunky, unspeakable dialogue like ‘I was worked up and under the influence of the demon rum.’ I mean, who talks like that outside the pages of paperbacks for hyper-thyroidal teens sold in airport departure lounges?”  Wow. Harsh.

On the bright side, the movie did get a couple of things right about public speaking.  First, Mrs. Tainot (Julia) suggests to her students  that they find three focal points in the room – one on the left, one on the right and one in the center of the room.  And when you have an important point to make, look directly at the center point for full effect.  Correct. One point for Hollywood.

The second thing they got right was how to deal with nerves.  Toward the end of the movie when Professor Tainot is preparing her students for the final speech, she has them stand up and move their bodies in all sorts of ways while reciting tongue twisters loudly.  This is a great way to diminish nervous tension and it was a real plus in an otherwise wasted two hours of my life.

Sorry Tom and Julia – I love your work, just not in this particular instance.  But Rita Wilson?  Your cameo as the mortgage loan officer stole the show.

– Barbara


What Good Are Your Words if We Can’t Understand You?

Did your mother ever say to you, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”? That may be true if you are trying to maintain harmony in your household, but it’s bad advice for aspiring public speakers. How you say the words is just as important as the words you choose. Take for example the important skill of articulation. When you combine poor enunciation with a fast, nervous pace, it is easy to be misunderstood, and possibly even insulting to others.

The other day I was working out to an exercise DVD with my head down, shuffling side to side, not looking at the TV when the instructor yelled “Congressman Brown, Congressman Brown!” I stopped in my tracks and stood up. What?! Surely he didn’t just say that. I rewound the clip and this time I watched while I listened and it turns out that the words were “cover some ground, cover some ground.” OK, that made more sense.

The best way to improve your articulation skills is to speak into a tape recorder and listen back to it. Better yet, have someone else listen to it and tell you what they heard. It’s a better technique than videotaping because the only cue a listener has to understand you is your verbal delivery.

Do you want to hear a great example of verbal articulation? Listen to a clip of Anna Deveare Smith. She’s a master.

– Barbara

Are you a Credible Speaker?

I went to a fitness class yesterday with the intention of working up a good sweat after two days of sitting. Ten minutes into the class, the instructor said, “Now it’s time to do some dead lifts.” He proceeded to demonstrate your basic squat. I thought to myself, “It’s Saturday morning, his brain is still in bed,” and I joined him in the squat sequence.

Another ten minutes went by and he began to explain the importance of stretching the piriformis muscle, but he pronounced it “pirsiform.” OK, maybe he’s hung over. A few minutes before the end of class he turned to us and said, “One more rep!” But what he meant to say was “One more set.” The whole class did one last rep and set their weights down and he yelled at us –yes, yelled at us – to keep going.

That was it. Now I was frustrated. He had lost all credibility with me. Which means I will likely vote with my feet and avoid his classes in the future.

Of all the attributes of a successful public speaker, credibility tops the list. It’s even higher than making a connection, because what good is a strong connection with the audience if they don’t believe what you’re saying? Here are three tips to keep in mind about establishing credibility:

1. Don’t talk about what you don’t know. Before you get up to present, read through your notes and be sure there is nothing in there that could undermine your authority. Feeling confident that you are in command of your subject matter is essential.

2. Establish your ‘street cred” up front. Don’t wait until the conclusion to tell us you lived in London for ten years when your topic is Royal Weddings. Lead with the information that will help your audience settle in and give you their attention.

3. Put some energy into your words. Don’t memorize your speech or read from your text. Speaking is meant to sound different from the written word. The reason I overlooked the first error the fitness instructor made was because he was so excited to do 30 squats. That was more important than using the correct term, so we all just went right along.

In summary, consider this quote by Eliot Spitzer: ”I don’t care about motivation. I care about credibility.” Wiser words…..

– Barbara

Mike Huckabee and The Big Lie

Hard to believe that the 2012 presidential race has begun. Even harder to believe that the “silly season” is already upon us. I find presidential campaigns fascinating for a number of reasons, but mostly for the lessons they provide for public speaking. And we are off to a good start.

In case you were distracted by the Charlie Sheen debacle, allow me to provide the gist of what happened with Mike Huckabee last week. During a radio interview in which he was trying to appeal to the tea party voters, he claimed that Barack Obama grew up in Kenya and was influenced by his Muslim father and grandfather. He’s not the first politician to lie, but this one was especially grievous due to the fact that he knows full well that Obama lived in Hawaii, that he didn’t meet his father until he was 11,and that he didn’t step foot in the continent of Africa until he was an adult. By Sunday he had to dial it back and claim he misspoke.

The lesson for public speakers – and hopefully for Huckabee – is about the importance of credibility. When you establish credibility with your audience, you can then develop trust. Only with that relationship can you persuade others to consider your position. Whether you are trying to raise money, sell a product, or convince your Board to adopt a new policy, you must be seen as credible and trustworthy.

What happens when a speaker lies to his or her audience? Simple. Loss of credibility is like broken glass. You can glue it back together but it will never be the same. If I were Mike Huckabee’s advisor, this is what I would be telling him. But, as Norman Vincent Peale once said, most of us “would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.”

– Barbara