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