Thursday, November 10, 2011

We've moved!!!

We're consolidating blogs and websites, but don't want to miss your visits. Click on this link and you'll arrive safely at the new address. See you there:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Power Tips for PowerPoint

Effective PowerPoint presentations build on the successful techniques you've already learned. These techniques include: (1) a simple, bold, and memorable thesis statement, (2) main points in statement form, (3) preview and review of main points, (4) ample support in the form of Numbers, Examples, Testimonials, and Stories (NETS), (5) consistent source citations, and (6) transitions that tie all of the components together.

 The purpose for using PowerPoint or other presentation software is to make ideas visual with the assurance that listeners understand and remember more if they both see and hear the information.

Following is a sample PowerPoint presentation. In this sample, the thesis is presented on slide two. Notice that:
  • Each slide heading is a statement, one of the presentation's main points.
  • Preview and review slides highlight the main points.
  • Source citations are shown on the slides and are spoken by the presenter (i.e.,, 2007).
  • Background color is solid and dark, used consistently throughout the presentation.
  • Slides are kept simple and uncluttered (no more than 30-40 words per slide).
  • Type is large enough to be easily readable to viewers (text 32pt., titles 44 pt.).
  • The background and text colors offer contrast so that slides are easily read (white or yellow text, no red on black).
  • Slide transitions are kept simple to avoid distraction (nothing flying or roaring in, spinning, or tumbling).
(To see the presentation as a slide show, check out an earlier version of this blog post from 10.20.09.)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sample Speech for Assignment #4

Some students asked to view again the sample student speech I showed this morning. The speech was presented in a previous semester by Jodi. It's about 6 minutes long. As you watch it, try to pick out Jodi's thesis, her main points, and her support. Did she preview and review her main points for her listeners? Did she provide transitions between her main points? Her presentation aid was on the screen behind her and doesn't show in the video. What did she do well? What could she do better? What can you learn from her to strengthen your speech for presentation #4.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Getting to the Thesis

Early in my career with LDS Welfare Services, I was fortunate to have as my boss a firebrand named R. Quinn Gardner. While I had been kicking around in graduate school, the military, and elsewhere, Quinn had been making a name for himself. He'd been a product manager for Pepsico, and then a vice president. The Mormon Church lured him away from industry to make him head of their welfare program, the managing director. Quinn changed my way of seeing the world.

What's your point, Tiger?

I'd be making a presentation or participating in a management discussion and at about 30 seconds Quinn would interrupt me. "What's your point, Tiger?"

He'd tolerate no rambling. Every word had to count. Above all, he wanted to hear that all-important statement (thesis) that revealed the point, lesson, or idea underlying my presentation or comment.

I suppose I'm not the speediest learner in the solar system, but it didn't take me long to recognize this pattern. Like Pavlov's dog, about 30 seconds into my presentation I'd glance over at Quinn. If he was starting to squirm in his chair, I knew I had only a few seconds to get my thesis out before he interrupted me.

At first, I didn't know what to say, how to format a thesis that answered his question before he asked. I'd make my best effort. He'd shake his head. "Have to do better than that," he'd say. "What's your point?"

Determined to escape the jaws of death (Quinn was the real tiger), I worked at boiling my ideas down into  a single summary sentence that delivered the basic message. Gradually, as I got better at my trade, the interruptions grew less frequent. Once or twice, Quinn even nodded his approval.

You get thirty seconds to deliver.

Imagine how you'd feel if people actually walked out of the room instead of just drifting away mentally when their attention wanders. My bet is that they start drifting away after about 30 seconds, shaking their heads and muttering, "What your point, Tiger?"

Learning Activity

For your upcoming speech, trim your attention getter to take less than 30 seconds.

If you  have to come back to give final details of your attention getter, do it at the end of your speech as a wrap up. For example:

"After beating me up, Quinn went on to become president of U & I Sugar Corp., then a successful private business consultant. But for the rest of my career, I'd either get my thesis out quick, or I'd hear his voice in my mind. 'What's your point, Tiger?'

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Did I Wow 'em or Wound 'em?

Effective public speakers come in all sizes and shapes, both genders, and focus on a wide range of issues. What they all have in common is this: they learn from their speaking experiences. They realize that we are our own best fans and worst critics.

It's natural to do a quick self-assessment after we speak. We all do it. It's been said that our best speeches are given to ourselves in the minutes after we sit down. Unfortunately, our reflections on the speech we have just given can lead to agonizing endlessly about our mistakes instead of learning from the experience and moving on. Far better to have a structured approach to evaluating our performance against our aims.

The key to self-improvement is comparing what we did (performance) with what we intended to do (aims) and deciding what we'll do differently next time.

Learning Activity

After each presentation, assess your preparation and performance using the questions below. The assessment should be done soon after the speech and should be a thoughtful analysis of what actually happened. The purpose is to develop the habit of improving your performance by careful analysis of past experiences.

What was the purpose of my speech?

What was the thesis (big idea)?

What went well in the speech?

What did not go well?

What pointed feedback did I receive from others?

What will I do differently next time to be more successful? (List specific steps.) 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Beg, Borrow, Buy, or Steal - The Gentle Art of Getting Attention

When you have a great idea to share, you naturally want to gain a listener's attention and win good will in hopes that your idea will be accepted and acted upon. There are a variety of popular techniques promising to help you prepare listeners to receive and respond positively to your message. Some of those techniques work against you; some work for you.

Some attention getters work against us.

The two most often used attention-getting approaches actually work against the speaker:

Asking an engaging question - One of two things happens when you begin your speech by asking a question to get listeners mentally involved: (1) the question is lame and listeners groan inside thinking you're about to give them another run-of-the-mill pitch. Questions like, "How many of you have ever texted while driving," or, "How many of you ate breakfast this morning," are so predictable that listeners recognize them as attention-getting gimmicks; or (2) the question is actually engaging in some degree and listeners start thinking about their answer to your question. A question like, "How many of you have ever stopped to realize that you might become the victim of a serial killer," may give food for thought. Unfortunately, the consequence of having asked a good question is that your listeners are now thinking about a brother-in-law or step mom whom they've always suspected of being a serial killer. They go to the mental spot where they can think about things like this or search their mental data bases for any information they already have about such matters. If you ask a good question, listeners generally won't hear what you have to say next. Though some questions can be very intriguing, the best policy is to leave good questions to the end of your speech.

Telling a joke - We've all heard some great jokes. We love jokes. If they're truly funning, they buy good will for the speaker. However, there are two problems with jokes: (1) most jokes we hear are either tired or not truly funny and we give only a polite snicker as we wait for the speaker to say something important; or (2) the joke is funning but doesn't have anything to do with the speaker's message. We can see that the connection between the joke and the message is contrived. The speaker wanted to tell the joke, so he/she thought up some way to make it apply to the message. We see through the gimmick and forgive the speaker, but we're not impressed. True humor in a speaking setting is usually situational. The humor arises from something that is happening or has just happened and the speaker is quick enough to capitalize on the event.

The best advice is to avoid both questions and jokes in the effort to garner attention and prepare listeners for your message.

Some attention getters work for us.

The most effective attention getters take a piece of support for your message and bring it to the beginning of the speech. It gives listeners a taste of the information that will follow, sort of a preview. Such attention getters could include: (1) a startling statistic or fact, (2) a quote or testimonial on the topic of your speech, or (3) a story that illustrates your thesis.

Number (statistic) - "Seven million people are treated for sports-related injuries each year. That's the combined population of the states of Utah, Idaho, and Nevada. A lot of people."

Example (definition) - Wikipedia defines a serial killer as "an individual who has murdered three or more people over a period of more than a month, with a cooling off period between the murders, and whose motivation for killing is based on psychological derangement or gratification."

Testimonial (quote) - "Abraham Lincoln once said, "When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad, and that is my religion."

Story (narrative) - "James Chappel was simply walking past a junk yard when two pit bulls escaped the fence and attacked, ending Chappel's life."

Start with one of these varieties of attention getters and you and your listeners will already be on the road toward a life-changing (or at least life-enriching) experience.

Learning Activity

In the speech you are preparing now, select what you consider to be the most engaging piece of support for your thesis. Bring it to the beginning. You don't have to use the entire support item. You can go back and tell the rest of the story, give the rest of the numbers, or give a fuller account of the testimonial during your speech. Just give listeners a taste of something substantial to whet their appetites for your thesis which follows immediately.

As you practice, avoid all the lead-in comments. Don't tell us that you've had a cold and aren't feeling well. Don't remind us that you're nervous. Don't confess that you're not a very good speaker, and ask listeners to be nice. Just hit us with your number, testimonial, or story and then give us your thesis. We'll love you for it.

Have fun.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Impromptu or Teleprompted - Works both Ways

Last night, President Obama addressed both houses of Congress. He set forth a comprehensive jobs bill designed to "jolt" the economy back to life. As students of public speaking, whether you agree with his politics or not, you'd do yourself a favor to pull the speech up on the Internet and watch it (at least the first half).

I'm neither pushing nor bashing his policies, but I recommend him as an effective public speaker. What he did last night is far different from the impromptu strategies we're practicing in class. His speech was carefully written, scrubbed, polished, practiced, and delivered from a teleprompter. But the basic techniques would also work in an impromptu setting.

First, he had a simple, bold, memorable thesis. It was this: "This jobs bill is good for America. Pass it now!"

Second, he used the thesis to anchor the speech and tie the elements together. I heard him restate the thesis nine times. All of his reasons, examples, and support led back to the thesis over and over.

Third, he presented his message with conviction. I don't recall him ever saying, "I believe this will be good for America," or "I think . . .," or anything else that was tentative. He didn't try to sneak around opposing views; he simply made statements and left the listeners to decide.

You can, and should, use the same techniques when you have impromptu opportunities. Of course, the President used 4,000 words to deliver his message. In an impromptu setting, you'll often have only a minute (fewer than 100 words) to say what you must. Maybe two minutes, if you're lucky. So practice making simple, bold, memorable statements. Start your speech with one, end by restating it, and whatever you provide in the middle will be icing on the cake.

Have fun.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Impromtu Me

Your position as a leader, manager, or citizen may require you to take a position on an important issue without time to prepare and practice. This can happen in a staff, council, or executive meeting, in job interviews, talent competitions, classroom discussions, political debates or a variety of other settings. Getting caught totally unprepared and rambling through a statement without any plan can be disastrous, but knowing how to respond intelligently can be thrilling and place you ahead of the pack.

Live forever? I’d rather die now.

In the 1994 Miss America Pageant, Miss Alabama was asked: “If you could live forever, would you, and why?”

This was her response: “I would not live forever, because we should not live forever; because if we were supposed to live forever, then we would live forever; but we cannot live forever, which is why I would not live forever.”

Okay! Thank you, Miss Alabama.

If you’d like to see how one of these painful impromptu statements looks in video, watch Miss South Carolina (Miss Teen USA, 2007).

We shouldn’t be critical of Miss Alabama or Miss South Carolina for failing to make sense. Many of us have been in similar situations and have done no better. But, we can escape most of these painful moments if we learn to follow a simple pattern to prepare ourselves on the spot for such opportunities. This pattern is widely known as the PREP formula (Osborn & Osborn, Public Speaking, Houghton-Mifflin, 2006).

The PREP formula can save your bacon.

This simple recipe or pattern works this way:

P – jot down your position on the issue being discussed. Make it a clear and simple statement.

R – make a quick note of the reasons that you hold the position you do.

E – list any examples you can think of to support your reasons.

P – restate you position or main point in conclusion.

If you don’t have time to make quick notes, at least formulate the position statement in your mind and think of the best reasons for it.

As you speak, follow the PREP pattern in verbalizing the material you have thought of. You may not always feel like your comments are adequate to the topic, but you will be miles ahead of where you’ll be if you start talking with no plan in mind.

Here's a rough example.

Learning Activity

Look over the list of impromptu speaking topics listed below. Give yourself two minutes for each topic. Without further study, try to make a statement or take a position on each. Then either jot down or make mental note of any reasons for the position you take and try to think of examples to support your reasons. When you get the hang of it, try to stand up and do the same thing vocally. The more you practice, the easier this task will become.

Immigration reform
Border control
War on terrorism
Cosmetic surgery
Global warming
Smoke-free public places
Athletes as role models
Aid to foreign nations
Consequences of litigation
Parental discipline/permissiveness
Ethnic separation/mixing
Executive pay amounts
Welfare/aid to the working poor
Penalties to sleep-impaired drivers
Cell phone courtesy
Stem cell research
Health supplement industry
Increasing the minimum wage
Gun control
Music and rap lyrics as an art form
Animal combat
Space exploration
Television and video game violence
Reality television
School sports emphasis
Performance enhancing drugs
Privacy violations by paparazzi and tabloids
Drug testing
Government price regulation
Bailing out failing industries
Educational vouchers

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Week to Speak

"Practice makes perfect."
"Perfect practice makes perfect."
"The amateur practices until he gets it right; the professional practices until he can't get it wrong."
"The early bird gets the worm."

Wait! What? What do worms have to do with practice?

Actually, the worm bit does belong with this litany of aphorisms about practice. Get this. The key ingredient in practice is time. I can't prove it scientifically, but I've experienced it so many times and watched so many students and professionals preparing to present that I'll stake my flawless reputation on this rule of thumb: It takes a week to speak!
What does that mean? Simply this: If you want to sparkle, start early. Last minute preparation spells disaster.

This is what I know. If you practice until you've got your speech smoothed down in one session, you'll find that you can hardly remember anything the next day. It's gone. Vanished. Like you never even practiced the day before. And it comes back hard.

The third day, things start to fall back into place. By day five or six, things begin to feel natural.

What's happening as we learn? Obviously, I'm no neurophysicist, but I understand that much of learning and memory is a process of establishing connecting synaptic patterns within the brain (see this MNT article for a fairly simple explanation). Refining these neurotransmission patterns accounts, at least in part, for our ability to remember more quickly with additional repetition.

All of this is to say that it takes time for our brains to form the networks of association that enable us to quickly connect complex elements of information (like words and concepts) into a pattern that we can consistently send to the speech center for verbalization.

How long does it take? How many repetitions? Good questions. The process probably varies from person to person and with age and practice. But, having watched 600 students giving as many as 3,600 speeches over the past five years, I'm estimating that the average student will need five or six days of consistent practice to make things flow in a speech. Hence: a week to speak.

Those students who start early preparing and practicing their speeches will achieve the best performance, i.e., smooth and meaningful verbalization of their ideas.

So what?
So, if you want to become good at preparing and delivering knockout presentations, get in the habit from the beginning. Start early and practice over time. A week to speak. I'm betting your own experiences will prove the value of this simple rule. Try it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Me in 30 Seconds

Ever walk away from an unexpected encounter with somebody you'd like to work for, or somebody you'd like to win as a customer or client, wishing you could go back and have the conversation over again? Wishing you had known what to say, instead of trying to make it up while you were saying it?

That's what a"Me in 30 Seconds" statement does for you. This little jewel is prepared in advance and can be used at a moment's notice when you just happen to bump into somebody important on an elevator, in the restroom, at the water cooler, or standing in line at the book store. It's also a great way to begin a job interview.

It's a very brief introduction to who you are, what you're doing, and where you're going (in a professional sense). The statement is brief because 30 seconds is about all the time a listener will give you before he/she starts thinking about something else.
Your Assignment

Create, practice, and present your Me in 30 Seconds statement to the class. We'll hear these in class on Tuesday, August 30. Here are some suggestions.

1. Watch the sample video below. I'll show you how your statement can sound. We played around with this on the first day of class, so it won't be new to you, but could serve as a reminder.

2. Write out your statement. Three or four short sentences. Sentence one: what have you done to be proud of so far? Sentence two: what are you doing now that is important? Sentence three: how can your experience and abilities benefit your listener?

Important tip: Be sure that there is a clear connection between sentence one and sentence three. That will help your listener see how your past experiences have prepared you to benefit him/her. For example, if you plan to become a nurse, emphasize past experiences that will aid you in excelling as a nurse. Then finish with a clear statement explaining how your background and present pursuits can benefit the listener.

3. Time it. If it goes over 30 seconds in three or four recitations, cut it down. Remember, listeners will only stay with you that long. Anything else you say is wasted breath (unless you've got a story to tell that is truly gripping, gory, or bizarre, which might earn you another five seconds—but don't count on it).

4. Memorize it. Practice, practice, practice until it flows smoothly and conversationally. If it doesn't come out word-perfect, that's okay. It'll be close.

5. Try it out on everybody who cares about you (mom, dad, roomie, pet turtle). If you don't have a friend in the world (like me), record it on your phone and play it back (same with video). Then do it again. And again. And again.

6. Have fun with it. Nobody's going to be executed for stumbling on this assignment. go for it!

Watch the sample video below or on YouTube. It's what I would say if I were looking for work.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Changes in the Course for Fall 2011

We're going to try a few new things this semester that should strengthen the course and really pump up its practical value for students. The changes are based on student feedback from past semesters.

1. Less reliance on the standard text book. More reliance on pinpoint concepts in the course packet. The exams will feature questions taken from the course packet and classroom discussions. Students will not need to buy the text, though it is great supplemental reading.

2. More short speaking assignments to give students more opportunities in front of the class. We'll add a "Me in 30 Seconds" assignment to sharpen job interviewing skills and an Impromptu assignment to provide tools for "on the spot" speaking. These will help you in other classes and in the tight job market.

3. More in-class feedback for immediate learning from your own strengths and mistakes and from classmate presentations.

Again, don't buy the text until we talk in class. Be sure to pick up a course packet for Comm 1020, Richardson at the bookstore.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Welcome Students of Fall 2011

Yo! Hope you've had a great summer. School's not far off and you're about to embark on one of the most important learning experiences you'll ever have. Comm 1020! Principles of Public Speaking.

Really, I'm not putting your on. We're going to learn, practice, and master a few basic skills that will set you apart from the competition throughout your working life ahead. They include these:

Skill 1- State your idea as an unforgettable thesis (big idea, thesis, claim).

Skill 2 - Gather knockout support for your idea (NETS, transitions, citations, outlines).

Skill 3 - Visualize the idea and support for your listeners (word pictures, gestures, aids).

Skill 4 - Draw conclusions based on the idea (bring ideas home, answer unspoken questions, call listeners to action).

Skill 5 - Present your idea with style (voice, posture, contact, and flow).

You're gonna love this stuff. I do. If you want to see somebody who does most of it well, watch President Obama as he addresses the nation. Don't like him? Then watch Tom Hanks. Too much Hollywood? Watch Dieter Uchtdorf. Not into religion? Check out Diane Sawyer.

You can do the same thing . . . and will. Let's have a blast.

Visit me at:

Friday, June 17, 2011

Idea: A Topic and a Claim

Ideas are the stuff of life. We live by them. We look for them in all our entertainment and discussion. They’re the conclusions we draw that help us make sense of this crazy, mixed-up world.

You can move to the head of your class (company, firm, social group, foursome) by learning to recognize, create, and manage ideas.

Here’s a hot tip that will help. Every great idea relates two universal human values.

Example 1: All men are created equal. The two values are mankind and equality.

Example 2: We learn to succeed by overcoming failure. The two values are success and overcoming.

Practice until you can identify the two values related (equated, compared, or contrasted) in every idea you can find.

Now, notice that every idea has two parts, just as every sentence has two parts (subject and predicate). The two parts of an idea are the TOPIC and the CLAIM.

If my topic is education and the claim I am making about education is that it is key to career success, then my idea statement might read: Education is key to career success. Of course, there are many other claims we could make about the topic education. As examples: Education is expensive. Education opens windows to the world. Education satisfies the hunger to learn. Each statement makes a claim about the topic education.

Learning Activity

Find the two values related by the idea statements below. Mark the value that is the TOPIC of the idea, then the value that presents the CLAIM.

For example: Love (topic) makes the world go ’round (claim).

Children mimic parental behavior.

Pets help to educate our children.

Career ambitions can enslave us.

When we’re miserable, we know we are alive.

Fitness is like icing on the cake.

Failure leads to success.

Extreme fashions may draw unwanted attention.

Visit me at:

Bringing Home A Story

We all love a great story. In public speaking, it’s not uncommon for listeners to remember a well-told story, even when they can’t remember why the speaker told it.
Here are some keys you will want to remember:
1. Anchor your presentation or speech with a great thesis statement. The thesis sentence ties all the parts of your presentation together in a memorable way.
2. Be sure that any stories you use are directly related to the thesis.
3. Bring the story to life by, (a) acquainting us with the characters in your story, (b) letting us see the characters, and (c) letting us hear the characters own words.
Take a few minutes and watch this young speaker tell the familiar biblical story of Jonah. Notice especially how her quiet energy brings the characters and the moral to life. Note how she distinguishes one character from another by changing the tone and pitch of her voice. She’s young, but she’s already very good at this art. We can all learn a few things from her.
Here’s the link:

Pay The Price in Practice

(originally published nov 30, 2010)

It’s been a busy semester. I didn’t carry through with weekly blogs as I intended. I’m sorry about that. My loss as well as yours. There’s one concept I want to hit hard before we part. It’s this:

Practice, Practice, Practice.

Having taught a couple of public speaking courses each semester for five years, it’s been my good fortune to watch nearly 500 students work at learning how to build great presentations and give great presentations. That means I’ve watched about 2,500 presentations. It’s been great! I’ve seen many talented students. Talented or not, every student has improved. That’s been especially rewarding for me, and I know it will pay valued dividends in the future lives of these impressive young people. Watching that many presentations, one thing has become obvious: some students practice, others don’t. If students don’t practice, that doesn’t make them bad people. But, they’re missing a great opportunity.

Practice aloud, standing up.
This is the best advice you can receive if you want to become a person of influence in your world. Success doesn’t come free. You don’t stumble into it. You will have to work at it. When you have built what you think will be a solid presentation of your ideas, you must practice presenting it.

This is how you practice:
Stand up! In front of a mirror, if possible. In a secluded place where you can speak as loudly as you are able without having to worry that someone will hear your initial attempts.
Speak it aloud! It takes a few run-throughs to get accustomed to hearing your own voice. This will also help you judge the timing of the presentation.
Smooth the flow! Repeat the entire presentation often enough that it flows for you. This is like any other skill you try to master. The first few times through, you’ll have awkward pauses, moments when you can’t remember what you wanted to say, goofy moments, etc. But, they’ll smooth out with practice. If you can’t get through the entire presentation without any major stumbles or meltdowns, you haven’t practiced enough.
Capture the meaning! Practice giving emphasis to important ideas. Refine the wording. Use pauses to capture attention. Try out hand movements and facial gestures as you speak. Work at getting the message into the listener, not just getting it out of your mouth. Experiment with volume, pitch, rate. Go over the top. Get crazy. See how it feels to turn yourself completely loose.
Practice to perfection! Of course, perfection is relative. Every effort can be improved upon. But, remember that the big giveaway as to whether you’ve practiced enough is whether the meaning of your presentation comes through. This is how it works: No practice—repeated stumbles, reading from notes, rough or jerky flow, listeners have no clue what the speaker intended. Some practice—flow smoothes out, presenter rushes through just trying to get the message out, listeners get bits and pieces of the message.Fully practiced—Smooth flow of ideas, speaker is comfortable leaving her/his notes, speaker can pause, vary the voice, watch the listeners for nonverbal feedback, etc.

How much practice?
If you practice to perfection once, you’ll know the answer to this question. But, know this: it takes more than one practice aloud and standing up. Five times? At least. Ten times? Depends on the presentation. Twenty times? Not uncommon. Good speakers pay the price in practice!!

Learning Activity
Find a fairly short piece (poem, song lyric, selection from a great speech). Read it until you’re familiar with it. In fact, memorize it.
Now, stand up, speak it aloud, smooth the flow, capture the meaning, and practice to perfection.
If you’ll do this, just once, it’ll take you to a completely new place in your ability to express ideas in public.
Here’s to the new you!

© Frank Richardson, 2010