How to Organize Your Stories in Your Speech

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 lifeblood of 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, and her own emotional life.  The speech builds both intellectually and emotionally.  Just beautiful.



Comparing Hillary’s Concession Speech and Trump’s Victory Speech

hillary-and-donaldWhether you are popping champagne or weeping bitter tears over Donald Trump’s recent election, there are things that can be gleaned about the way they wrapped this campaign up.  Let’s start by taking a look at Hillary’s concession speech.

What’s most important about conceding a victory is making sure that you don’t come across as too bitter.  I think Hillary found a really great, subtle balance in her concession speech between offering words of support for Trump, and veiled criticism too.  She was gracious in the way she congratulated Trump.  The way she encouraged girls and women to continue reaching for their dreams toward the end of the speech had a dual purpose; to reassure her supporters despite her loss, and also to subtly criticize Donald, and perhaps the electorate, for their attitude toward women:

And to all of the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams

Trump’s victory speech was very conciliatory and rather subdued.

Hillary has worked very long and very hard over a long period of time, and we owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country.  I mean that very sincerely.

What a change in tone!  Last week it was “lock her up” now it’s gratitude.  I guess that’s politics.  The remainder of the speech was the usual list of potential accomplishments, and acknowledgments.

Trump’s non-verbal communication, both the tenor of his voice and his gestures lacked its usual fire.  He was obviously reading off a teleprompter and did little to conceal this fact.  Staying on message aided him greatly, but he should endeavor to maintain eye contact with his audience while speaking.

What is most important about speech making is the change you affect in your audience.  Hillary used a concession speech to inspire her audience.  Take a moment to think about this.  She lost and yet she had the courage to use her speech to continue to inspire and persuade.  This is truly selfless, and brave.  For that, I give her the advantage in this contest.

The Third Debate Between Hillary and Donald Trump from a Public Speaking Perspective

The third presidential debate is now a thing of the past, and many are glad it is!  Interruptions, name calling, viscous allegations...this has been one of the most tawdry debates in recent history.  But let’s take a moment to put all that aside, and analyze the candidates on their debate skills starting with Hillary Clinton.

I think Hillary won this one.  One of the surest ways to win a debate is to consistently pivot difficult questions back toward a topic of your choosing.  A prime example of this was the way Hillary turned a question about her stance on open boarders to an indictment of Donald Trump’s cozy relationship with Vladimir Putin.  She does this time and again in the debate to excellent effect.  From a non-verbal perspective, I think she had mixed results.  She has an odd tendency of bringing her eyes down when answering a question.  It may be that she was looking at notes, but making eye contact with the audience and the camera is very important.  I would suggest she look up a bit more.  Additionally, she tends to use her left hand to gesture while speaking, and could probably benefit from using both hands a bit more.

I think Donald Trump did a good job of identifying when Hillary Clinton was evading questions and holding her feet to the fire, especially with her answer on open boarders.  He had a powerful delivery while debating, and used his voice to great affect.  His tendency, however, to talk over Hillary, and put her down outright, is, of course, outrageous.  We will see if it will happen, but the Donald would benefit from boning up on foreign and domestic affairs and limiting the personal attacks, which only aid Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.




How to Use Timed Gesture to Enhance Your Speech

Jim Hemerling gives a great speech here.  What he does most effectively is use pacing, breathing, word stress, and gesture to accentuate his points.  He pauses after each thought group, takes a nice relaxed diaphragmatic breath, and speaks with deliberate intention, often hitting content words (nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs) to make his points.  Notice how each of his gestures is timed with a content word.  This deliberate pacing really helps him pull out key concepts.

If I were to quibble, I would argue that Mr. Hemerling could benefit from keeping things a little more conversational while he speaks.  It’s possible to be both deliberate and easy in your delivery.  When speaking, it’s best to balance the two.

Test out timing gesture and word stress with a colleague.  Read a passage from your presentation with timed gesture, moving your hands in unison with your words, and then try reading without any movement or word stress.  Ask your colleague which is more impactful.

How Accurate is Your Perception of Your Speaking Voice?



At a recent presentations skills workshop I gave in New York City, I asked an executive with a thin voice to rate the loudness of his voice on a scale from 1-10.  He picked an 8, the rest of the room picked a 3.  I see this over and over again.  For some reason, most of us tend to imagine our voice is louder than it actually is.

Try rating the power of your speaking voice.  Ask a friend to evaluate your voice on a scale of 1-10 while you’re presenting.  Is their perception of your voice the same as yours?  If so, how is it different?  When you speak, does your voice “go to the walls”, but not beyond them?  Are you able to fill the room with sound?  Really engage the diaphragm?

If your perception of the power of your voice is an 8 and your colleagues think you’re at a 3, trust their feedback, and make some changes.  Try speaking at an 8, even if it seems like you’re shouting.  Again, test the results in front of your colleague.  If they feel that your volume is adequate, really challenge yourself to stay at an 8 while speaking.  It may feel awkward to you, but it’s likely fine for your audience.