Monday, December 29, 2008
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Sweaty palms, nervous laughter, a Brooklyn accent, panic-induced silences. These were just a few of the image blemishes addressed by Dorothy Sarnoff, an opera singer and Broadway star who had a much bigger second career as one of the first, and most influential, image consultants, coaxing stageworthy performances from business executives preparing a big speech, ambassadors on their way to foreign assignments and writers heading out on book toursSarnoff took an optimist's approach to training, focusing on bringing out the best in would-be speakers. Her three books on speaking are no longer in print: Speech Can Change Your Life, Never Be Nervous Again and Make the Most of Your Best: A Complete Program for Presenting Yourself and Your Ideas With Confidence and Authority , but you can find used copies of these classics.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
The legend that built up around the incident...was that Parks, a simple woman exhausted from a hard day at work, took her stand because she was tired. In truth, she had been moving toward that moment of defiance all her life. "The only tired I was, was tired of giving in," she explained later.Parks later was present for two key civil rights moments in which she was denied the opportunity to speak: The rally just before her own trial for the bus incident, and later, at the rally following the 1963 march on Washington, the site of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Collins notes, of the mass meeting held just before her trial, where the yearlong bus boycott in Montgomery was started:
Rosa Parks was given a standing ovation, but she was not given a chance to speak on a night in which virtually every black man in Montgomery wanted a moment in the spotlight. "You've said enough," one of the leaders assured her....[at the march] instead of marching with the male leaders, up front where the TV cameras and newspaper reporters were recording every minute of the event, [the women] were directed to walk with those men's wives. There was not a single woman scheduled to speak at the march, and when the lone woman on the 19-member planning committee protested, the organizers threw together a last-minute "Tribute to Women" in which A. Philip Randolph introduced Parks and other dignitaries...while they sat there silently..."Nowadays, women wouldn't stand for being kept so much in the background, but back then women's rights hadn't become a popular cause yet," said Parks later.Parks did go on to tell her own side of her story in Rosa Parks: My Story, and historian Douglas Brinkley tackles it in Rosa Parks: A Life. We're coming up on an important confluence of anniversaries that will resonate with her life, in the Lincoln bicentennial, the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and the inauguration of Barack Obama as president. Will black women have a voice in the speeches that honor those occasions?
Getting on the program has long been an issue for women, and one moment in Parks's story underscores once more the importance of having women involved in the programming decisions when speakers are being scheduled. Celebrate Kwanzaa--and Parks--by deciding to speak for yourself this year, whenever your story needs to be heard.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
- Get out into the audience: Walking into the audience accomplishes all sorts of things that can help speakers before they lose the audience. It puts you on their level, makes you more accessible and humanizes you. Better yet, it almost instantly forces people to follow you--especially if you walk around. Audiences tune out when they think they know what to expect; if you move out from behind the lectern and come down the aisle, there's no telling what will happen.
- Gesture: Judiciously used, a gesture that underscores a point can have the same effect in a smaller way. Look for the points of emphasis in your speech and determine whether a well-timed gesture can bring the audience back.
- Get the audience involved: Instead of lecturing at them, take an instant poll--don't tell them your point, ask them what they think and take the measure of the room. Audiences, more and more, want participation, not passive listening. Engage them by asking questions and commenting on the results, or ask them what their experience has been. You'll learn something about them and you'll get their attention.
Those all are better than overemphasizing your point, increasing your volume or showing your panic--unfortunate reactions I've seen from speakers who fear their audience is slipping away. The best technique? Plan a speech designed to do all these things from the start, and avoid the problem entirely.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
In the large auditorium where I teach one of my classes, I constantly stop my students midsentence so I can run up and down the aisles to get within hearing distance.Turns out, of course, that she needed hearing aids. The column takes a humorous and heartfelt look at what it feels like to go from not hearing much of anything to hearing even the smallest sounds, such a revelation that Lim began announcing her new aids to all and sundry. And apparently, she's not the only speaker in her department who needs them:
At my department’s holiday party, I sat between two longtime professors.Read this one if you--or a fellow speaker--complains about your audiences, and take Lim's advice: Be a healthy speaker and get your hearing checked!
“Look, I have hearing aids!” I greeted them. Then I told them how tough it had been to hear my students.
One of them nodded. “I can’t hear my students,” she said. “They all mumble.”
Friday, December 5, 2008
Thursday, December 4, 2008
According to the article, specific social anxiety is less prevalent than the more generalized social anxiety, and primarily an issue if your work requires you to perform in public, and the symptoms may include:
...a racing heart, dry mouth, shaky voice, blushing, trembling, sweating, and nausea. In specific social anxiety, fear that people will notice these symptoms may impair performance, leading to a downward spiral in which worsening performance reinforces worsening anticipatory anxiety.The article notes that about 12 percent of U.S. adults will go through a social phobia at some time during their lifetimes (near 28 million people currently) -- but 2/3 of them, or nearly 20 million, will be women. It's also "the third most prevalent psychiatric disorder, behind substance abuse and depression, and the most common anxiety disorder." So if you've been wondering whether women fear situations like public speaking more, here's your evidence.
The article goes on to recommend cognitive behavioral therapy -- to learn your fears and habitual thoughts, to help you face your fears, and to learn coping skills -- and/or anxiety medications. A speaker trainer can help you practice, but a therapist may be more helpful at getting to the root issues with this anxiety. You can find qualified therapists at the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, and information on support groups and other resources at the Social Anxiety Association. Chalk it up to protecting the health of the speaker!
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Mitchell--who says she became a confident speaker through Toastmasters--recommends the program, as I do, especially for people who want to build confidence, practice skills, and do so in a genial feedback setting at low cost. Mitchell makes the distinction, however, that Toastmasters doesn't go far enough for business presentation skills and message development (the latter is a core skill if you want to make your presentations memorable, and want to speak extemporaneously). And because she feels Toastmasters doesn't offer experienced speakers enough to further hone their skills, she offers tips for longstanding members who want to keep learning more.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
At the slightest interruption -- an irritating ring tone, an insistent email alert or the hushed conversation in the adjacent office cubicle -- our thoughts can plunge into the mental underbrush like hounds snuffling after the wrong scent...our inability to ignore irrelevant intrusions as we grow older may arise from a basic breakdown of internal brain communications involving memory, attention span and mental focus starting in middle age, researchers have discovered.The article notes that, while men's brains shrink faster than do women's, which affects your ability to learn and remember, it doesn't take a sustained amount of interruption for anyone's aging train of thought to get off track:
In experiments testing how well people of different ages could recall faces and landscapes, [researchers] found that among older people, the brain was slightly slower -- 200 milliseconds or so -- to ignore irrelevant test information.... During that momentary lapse, we can forget a new name, misplace our keys or lose our train of thought.What to do? Researchers in the article offer hope for retraining your brain as you age through "proper diet, cardiovascular exercise and formal education," and a sidebar points you to this brain-exercise from NPR on "Remembering Faces," which tests your distractability. It also recommends two books by Harvard neuroscientist Daniel Schacter: The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers and Searching For Memory: The Brain, The Mind, And The Past. Working on composing a memorable message helps, too -- if you're an older speaker, taking more time to practice and prepare makes sense. For the audience, while you can't control their rates of aging or mental distractability, you may need to focus on eliminating as many distractions as possible, asking them to turn off cell phones, closing doors to keep hallway noise from entering, and more.
Buy The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers
Buy Searching For Memory: The Brain, The Mind, And The Past
Monday, December 1, 2008
I'm a big fan of the American Rhetoric website, where you can search text, audio and video of famous speakers and find a host of other resources (like figures of speech and examples of how to use them). Now, Michael Eidenmuller, Ph.D., founder of the site and an associate professor of speech communication at the University of Texas at Tyler, shares secrets you can learn from great speeches in Great Speeches For Better Speaking. Two women are featured among the six major speeches analyzed in the book, which says you can:
- Maximize your delivery by studying the power of Barbara Jordan's voice, and
- Use Mary Fisher's special rhetorical tactics to sway even the toughest audience
Buy Great Speeches For Better Speaking