Every once in a blue moon, a speaker does everything right. Such is the case with Rita Pierson’s gem of a speech on the need for school reform. She has a powerful, expressive voice and an actress’ touch with language. She utilizes gesture effectively, effortlessly timing her movements with her content. But what works best in this speech are the stories. Well told stories are the lifebloodof any good speech.
I’d like to call attention to the way she builds her stories. Her initial stories are about her students, and the way she interacts with them, but the most powerful story, the story of her mother’s impact on the lives of her students, comes at the end of her speech, just before her call to action. With each story, she takes us deeper into both her thesis, andher own emotional life. The speech builds both intellectually and emotionally. Just beautiful.
There are 44 different sounds in American English. All are important, but some sounds are more important than others. Which sounds should you tackle first?
Vowel sounds play a very important part in language. We lengthen and intone vowel sounds when we emphasize certain words in a sentence. We also lengthen vowel sounds to indicate syllable stress. Vowel sounds play an important part in making words, and sentences, knowable.
Practice these sounds:
1.) The “Cat” Vowel Sound – This is a very common vowel sound. To make this sound, bring your lips into a smile. Keep the tongue flat. The sound is short.
2) The “Fun” Vowel Sound – This sound often gets mispronounced. Many executives, especially Russian speakers of English, make it more complicated than it is. This sound is made by keeping the jaw and tongue very relaxed. The sound is short. It sounds like a small grunt.
3) The “High” Vowel Sound – This sound is long and your lips, tongue and lower jaw move while you make it. To start, round your lips as if you are holding a small ball in your mouth. As you make the sound, move your lips into a slight smile, and arch the middle of the tongue high toward the hard palette. Count to two as you make the sound.
Richard St John has an amicable presence while presenting in the above TED talk, and a sharp delivery. He also has a way with one-liners, evident by the great joke he makes about motherhood halfway through the speech. However, there are some mistakes he makes while presenting that we can learn from:
He is rushing. This is made clear by the speed at which he clicks his powerpoint button. It feels as if he is trying to get to the end of the presentation rather than focusing on the audience moment by moment. Don’t rush!
He doesn’t have a PowerPoint remote. This may seem like a small issue, but it isn’t. He has to constantly look away from the audience to push his space bar on his Mac to forward his slides and this disrupts his connection to the audience. Keep eye contact with the audience, especially at the beginning of the speech.
No data – A good TED talk generally is backed up with interesting data. There are no hard facts here to prove his point.
No dynamic central idea – TED talks benefit from a dynamic central idea. One of the best TED talks I ever saw was about the need for independent, unsupervised play among young children. That is a radical idea to this helicopter parent! It’s a good idea to sit for a while with your central idea and try to come up with something very creative. I’ve seen a lot of speeches about what makes someone a success. I would have preferred to see a different spin on this oft-repeated theme.
Last night’s Republican debate displayed a number of jarring contrasts in body language. Let’s look at three examples:
First, Chris Christie:
Governor Christie is a strong debater. He has a firm command of policy and he answers questions with confidence and finesse. I think his non-verbal communication is not helping his cause, however. He has a tendency to lean on the side of the podium as if he was saddling up to a bar. Clearly, he is trying to play up his image as a maverick. His casual body language is inappropriate when he speaks about such weighty issues as nuclear proliferation or abortion rights. It reeks of arrogance.
Next, (of course) Donald Trump:
Ahh Donald. Of course, Mr. Trump has a commanding presence. But he can barely control his contempt for his fellow candidates. He often rolls his eyes and smirks while other candidates speak of him. He has terrible posture. He scowls. His body language suggests intense disgust for people and ideas that are foreign to him, and I predict this will eventually be his downfall.
Finally, Mark Rubio:
I like the way Senator Rubio projects himself on the stage. He has an upright bearing, crisp diction, and a confident delivery. He makes direct eye contact with the camera, and by extension, the home viewers. He also manages to smile on occasion! It seems ironic that this debate, with all its rage and righteous indignation, should take place at the Ronald Reagan Library, an institution named after a man who won debates with folksy charm. In any case, I think Rubio’s command of basic public speaking craft will propel him forward in the polls, and bode well for his chances at the nomination.
Rich Benjamin gives a wonderful speech here about a very difficult topic: racism. I think what makes this speech so successful is it’s surprising light touch, and its use of irony. Mr. Benjamin imagines himself a tour guide through “Whitopia” or some of the most segregated parts of the country. By creating a character, and taking a mock-documentary approach, he lightens up a difficult subject, and lines the audience up for some shocking statistics about institutional racism.
If I were to give some minor feedback, I would suggest that Mr. Benjamin resist the urge to emphasize structure words (articles, pronouns) and try to emphasize content words like verbs and nouns. This will help the flow of his speech. But overall, this is excellent speechmaking.