Saturday, January 30, 2010

Thesis Challenge!

The little video presentation below is about five minutes long. The woman speaker seems to have a clear idea in mind.

Does she state her idea in a clear, bold, and memorable thesis? If yes, what is the thesis? If no, can you put her idea into a clear, bold, and memorable thesis statement?

Watch the video. Pick out her thesis or write her idea in your own words. Try to make it simple, bold, and memorable. Leave the thesis as a comment to this blog or email it to me at I will give you 15 points of extra credit (enough to make up for one missed class period).

If the video clip will not play on your machine, try it at

Friday, January 29, 2010

Restore the Public Trust

On Thursday, President Obama gave his first State of the Union address. In spite of any political differences between you and the president, I hope you will agree with me that his speech was masterfully written and delivered. Based on the principles we are learning in our course, I'd give him an "A" for four reasons:

1 - The president nailed his thesis. I'm not exactly sure what he considered his thesis to be, but I'm betting it was something very close to this, "It is time to restore public trust in our government." If that was his thesis, it meets all three standards for a great thesis statement—simple, bold, memorable. He used the phrase restore public trust repeatedly and especially in his conclusion.
2 - The president consistently fostered a sense of identification with his broader audience. He brought the discussion back to the common man or woman time after time and touched on the interests of various groups of Americans—families who have lost jobs and homes, small business owners, educators, Wall Street, Main Street, the guardians of our peace, etc. These examples help us know who he was thinking of when he referred to the public trust.
3 - The president provided copious support—Numbers, Examples, Testimony, and Statistics to help us grasp what it would really mean to restore public trust.
4 - The president played to both his fans and his critics in a credible, even-handed fashion. Not an easy thing to do, considering that the legislature and the nation are about equally divided into fans and critics. His credibility was strengthened by acknowledging opposing points of view. All are responsible to help restore the public trust.

The only sense in which the president's speech fell short of the standards you and I are trying to meet is that he didn't cite sources for much of his support. Politicians typically don't. I guess they think we'll take their word for whatever they say. Truth is, we usually don't.

If these tried-and-tested skills are good enough for the president, they should be good enough for us. Go back to the speech you are preparing and see if you are meeting these basic standards.

I urge you to watch the final section of President Obama's speech. Reject his politics if you will. Hate him if you must. But learn from his impressive speaking ability if you want to succeed in school and your coming careers. (

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sharpen the Focus

Take a look at these two images. One is fuzzy. You can tell what it is, but the fuzziness is distracting. Right?

The other is sharp, clear, focused. Even though the image is just a hammer and nail, there is still a certain aesthetic beauty in the color and form. But, the beauty only comes out when the photo is sharply focused.

This analogy of sharpening the focus is one that we will use often as we learn to express our ideas in public. The first, and maybe the most important step in preparing to speak is to really sharpen the focus so that our listeners will know immediately and exactly what we are trying to say.

For example, suppose you hear a speech that begins with an emphasis on the benefits of exercise and includes information about nutrition, obesity, and other health concerns. If the thesis statement is not sharp, not tight, not focused, you'll leave with the general impression that it's important to take care of yourself. But that general, fuzzy impression won't have as much impact in your life as a message that says specifically, "Daily exercise is your best defense against obesity."

Learning Activity

To those of you who will still give your speech to develop an idea, I suggest that you sharpen your focus. Decide exactly what it is you want to say, with no ands, ifs, or buts. Say it, and make sure everything else in your speech supports that sharp, focused idea.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Few Grade-A Hints!

We heard the first round of speeches to develop ideas this morning. Very nice! Congratulations to all who spoke.

For those of you who are yet to speak, here are a few hints guaranteed to make your speech a success:

1. Present an idea in your thesis. Remember, an idea relates two values to help listeners clarify or prioritize their values. Some examples of thesis statements in this morning's speeches that presented ideas were—
"Steroids (drugs) are ruining baseball (sports)."
"Criticism is necessary to growth."
"Enough sleep makes us healthy, wealthy, and wise."
"Honest marriages (relationships) last longer."
"Making right decisions results in greater happiness."
"Ambition is the best gift we can give our kids."
"It is better to be wise than to be smart."

2. Tighten your thesis. Simple sentences are more powerful and memorable. Since criticism is necessary to growth, let me show you how a few of this morning's thesis sentences could be strengthened—
"An honest, healthy marriage will last longer in years than will a plain and lackadaisical marriage," could be tightened to, "Honest marriages last longer."
"Through overcoming our trials and challenges in life, we can learn and become better people," could be tightened to, "Overcoming trials makes us stronger."
"It is important for us to make the right decisions in our lives so that we can have happiness and joy," could be tightened to, "Right decisions result in greater happiness."
"All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them (quote)," could be tightened to, "Dreams can come true."

3. Give ample outside support. Though this assignment allows you to use personal stories and examples as one kind of support, be sure to give plenty of outside support. Outside means support from others, not your personal thoughts, experiences, or opinions.

Remember that every claim you make about your topic must be supported. If you say, "Families are important," that is just your opinion. However, if you say, "A 2005 survey from reports that 88% of Americans think families are more important than friends," that is no longer just your opinion. It is now a supported claim. Listeners who do not agree must argue with 88% of Americans, not just your personal opinion. This kind of support gives your claims greater credibility.

4. Cite your sources. When you give us that great support you have found for your idea, tell us where you got it. Also tell us who said it and when it was said. The formula for support is who-where-when.
Again, congratulations to everyone who spoke. If you haven't spoken yet, use these hints to strengthen your speech. Have fun.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Big week! Big ideas!

In some ways, the second week of class is the most important of the semester. If you missed a class this week, I suggest that you read this blog entry carefully and then read Essays 2-5 in your course packet. These are key concepts. They provide a solid foundation for effective speaking. If you still have questions after reading, please be sure to ask me.

Ethos - This term was coined by Aristotle, referring to the impression made by the speaker on her/his listeners. Listeners are more likely to listen and consider ideas if they feel they can 1) believe the speaker (credibility) and 2) like the speaker (charisma, attraction). See Chapter 3 in the text for more detail.

Values - Our values are the characteristics of people and conditions in the world that we prize or hold dear. We value them. They represent the way things should be. They are ideals. These values are not precise but we generally recognize them and share them. Values are either in-born or learned very early and are highly resistant to change. Furthermore, and this is important, values seem to be universal (or nearly so). Though there are some individual differences, most people have similar values. Such values include: love, work, compassion, achievement, fairness, honesty, loyalty, sacrifice, and so forth. There are many. Scroll down in the blog archive to posts in September 2009 to find more examples, or go to page 45 in your course packet.

Beliefs - Our beliefs represent the way things really are, as we see them. Our beliefs cause one value to ascend (become more important) and other values to recede (become less important). Values are hard to change but beliefs can often be changed by providing credible information.

Attitudes - An attitude is an inclination to act based on values and beliefs. Attitudes can change rapidly, and sometimes unpredictably.

Example of value, belief, and attitude: We value fairness. People should be treated fairly. We believe that some people are not treated fairly. For example, we are told that our prisons hold a disproportionate number of minorities. Therefore, our attitude is to work for more fair treatment of minorities. If we discovered that the information about the proportion of minorities in prisons was incorrect, it might change our belief and our consequent attitude.

Ideas - An idea is a statement that meets the following conditions:
1) The statement relates two values (compares, contrasts, or equates them).
2) The statement applies to most or all people.
3) The statement invites discussion, debate, or other consideration.
Ideas help us to clarify our values by deciding which value will ascend and which will recede in importance.

Example of an idea: Shakespeare wrote: "All that glitters is not gold." With a little effort you can see that his statement meets the three conditions for being an idea.
1) It relates two values. The two values are appearances and authenticity. We value a pleasing appearance. But we demand that things really be as they seem, authentic.
2) The statement applies to most or all people (students, teachers, actors, politicians, law enforcement officers, plumbers, med-tecs, etc.)
3) The statement could be debated. If something looks really good, who's to say that it isn't? Maybe good looks are enough. People in the cosmetic surgery industry claim that looking good will make you a better person.

Clearly, what Shakespeare intended to say was, "Authenticity is more important than mere appearance." He just said it more colorfully. His idea help us clarify or prioritize two values and answers the question, "Is beauty only skin deep?"

Learning Activity

As you prepare your first speech, take a careful look at the idea you are presenting to see if it is really an idea. If it is an idea, it will meet the three conditions above. If it doesn't meet those conditions, revise it until it does. If you're not sure, email it to me and I'll try to help. Good luck.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Play to Your Fans

To review the most important concepts from week one of our Public Speaking course, go to the Blog Archive in the side panel on the right and find the three blogs from August '09 (Demosthenes, Surfing the Adrenaline Rush, and Talk Your Way to Success). Read those. It'll take you less than five minutes.

I was bold enough to claim that the best advice you'll hear about speaking is this: "Play to your fans, and not to your critics."

I've spent the past hour Googling that as a quote. Can't find anything. Can you help me? Let me know. Even if no one famous said it, I stand by it. Works not only for public speaking but for most other aspects of life. Playing to our fans brings hope, courage, and determination to keep trying. Critics will rob you of all three.

Another key concept from this week is "trigger words." If you want to understand your listeners, you first have to understand yourself. Pay attention during the next week to those moments when you feel strong emotions (fear, love, hatred, enthusiasm, sadness, exhilaration, defeat). What words have sparked your feelings? Start to recognize the effect that words have on you and you'll be better able to judge the impact they will have on your listeners. Remember that words evoking strong positive emotions in one person can do the opposite to other people.

Thanks. Let's have a great time.