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Public speaking: 7 ways to master speechcraft
If the only advice you've heard on public speaking is to imagine the audience in their underwear, this article's for you.
- Whether it's at school, a funeral, a wedding, or work, most of us have to make a speech at some point in our lives.
- However, public speaking can be anxiety inducing, and giving a bad speech can make it difficult for your audience to understand your message.
- By using these 7 speechcraft tactics, you can improve your public speaking skills, feel more confident, and become a more competent orator.
There's acrophobia, or a fear of heights — this one makes sense since falling from a great height can genuinely hurt you. Thalassophobia, or fear of the sea, also makes sense. Swimming is difficult, and drowning is a real risk. But glossophobia? What possible advantage could there be to a fear of public speaking? Why does delivering a presentation to a large crowd produce the same effect as being charged by a bear?
Fortunately, speechcraft is a skill that can be improved with practical, concrete advice, and confidence in your abilities will hopefully cure your glossophobia. Here's 7 tips to become a master in speechcraft.
1. Turn your anxiety into excitement
If you've ever had the jitters prior to giving a speech, you may also be familiar with how frustrating it is to hear a well-intentioned friend tell you to "just calm down." As it turns out, calming down might be the exact opposite of what you should do prior to a speech.
Instead, you should try what researchers refer to as "anxiety reappraisal." Anxiety is a holdover from our past when we needed to get amped up and ready to fight or flee from the jaguar stalking you through the jungle. Anxiety is just an unpleasant form of arousal, so it's far easier and more effective to channel that energy into a more positive form of arousal: excitement.
Numerous studies have confirmed this effect. When study participants said "I am excited" rather than "I am nervous," for instance, they performed karaoke better and felt better about their performance; they were seen as more persuasive, confident, and persistent when giving a speech; and they performed better on a math test.
2. Be concise
There's a reason why the Oscars play music when an actor's speech drags on a little too long. Some people don't seem to suffer from a fear of speaking, but rather an excessive love of it. If you focus too much on the act of speaking itself rather than the message, how can you expect your audience to hear your message? When asked what makes for a great speech, John F. Kennedy's famous speechwriter, Ted Sorenson, gave much the same answer:
Speaking from the heart, to the heart, directly, not too complicated, relatively brief sentences, words that are clear to everyone. I've always said a model of a statement by a leader were the seven words uttered by Winston Churchill on the fall of France — 'The news from France is very bad.' That's how he opened his speech to the country. Very direct, honest, no confusing what he's saying, but very moving at the same time.
3. Follow Aristotle's advice
Aristotle formulated what are known as the modes of persuasion, or three ways to convince your audience of your point: ethos, pathos, and logos.
Ethos refers to one's character, or credibility. If you're an established figure in a field or an expert, your audience is more likely to listen to you. If you or somebody else introduces your credentials, then you're appealing to ethos to convince your audience.
Speeches relying on pathos make the audience feel something, whether that's hope, love, or fear. It's a powerful rhetorical tool, but relying solely on pathos to convince your audience can be seen as manipulative.
Appealing to logos is the practice of supplying facts and logical argument in your speech. Although logos can be used in a misleading way, it's usually the strongest and most direct method of persuading an audience.
Though some speeches feature one of these three modes more heavily than others, most speeches tend to be composed of a mixture of the three.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Presidential speechwriter James Humes describes this as "strategic delay" in his book Speak like Churchill, Stand like Lincoln. Not only does pausing during a speech give you time to collect your thoughts, it also adds weight to your words. "Before you speak," writes Humes, "lock your eyes on each of your soon-to-be listeners. Every second you wait will strengthen the impact of your words. Stand, stare, and command your audience, and they will bend their ears to listen."
5. Speak with a natural rhythm
Widely regarded as one of the best orators of all time, Winston Churchill understood the importance of rhythm when giving a speech. In his article, The Scaffolding of Rhetoric, Churchill writes:
The great influence of sound on the human brain is well known. The sentences of the orator when he appeals to his art become long, rolling and sonorous. The peculiar balance of the phrases produces a cadence which resembles blank verse rather than prose.
It's difficult to listen to somebody who speaks in a monotone; not only is it boring, but it's also lacking crucial information. Natural speech contains a variety of notes, paces, and rhythms that tell the audience what's important, what's not important, when a new topic has begun, when one thought is coming to an end, and so on.
Image source: Evening Standard / Getty Images
6. Compare what is with what could be
In her TED Talk, author and CEO Nancy Duarte described a hidden pattern she found in history's greatest speeches. Great speeches repeatedly describe the current reality and contrast it with a desired outcome, and then end with a call to action:
At the beginning of any presentation, you need to establish what is. You know, here's the status quo, here's what's going on. And then you need to compare that to what could be. You need to make that gap as big as possible, because there is this commonplace of the status quo, and you need to contrast that with the loftiness of your idea. So, it's like, you know, here's the past, here's the present, but look at our future.
7. Follow the rule of three
People like to hear things in groups of threes. In Max Atkinson's book on oratory, Our Masters' Voices, Atkison says that three-part lists have "an air of unity or completeness about them," while lists with two items "tend to appear inadequate or incomplete." Winston Churchill (who is going to be all over any list that has to do with great speaking) once said, "If you have an important point to make, don't try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time — a tremendous whack."
In an interview with Big Think, Alan Alda — who became well-known for his gift for public speaking in addition to his acting career — also expressed how his public speaking approach revolves around the number three.
Public speaking can be a daunting task, but these seven tactics can improve your public speaking skill, thereby improving your confidence. After all, feeling confident in your abilities is a far better way to feel comfortable when in front of a microphone than imagining the audience in their underwear.
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These alien-like creatures are virtually invisible in the deep sea.
- A team of marine biologists used nets to catch 16 species of deep-sea fish that have evolved the ability to be virtually invisible to prey and predators.
- "Ultra-black" skin seems to be an evolutionary adaptation that helps fish camouflage themselves in the deep sea, which is illuminated by bioluminescent organisms.
- There are likely more, and potentially much darker, ultra-black fish lurking deep in the ocean.
The Pacific blackdragon
Credit: Karen Osborn/Smithsonian<p>When researchers first saw the deep-sea species, it wasn't immediately obvious that their skin was ultra-black. Then, marine biologist Karen Osborn, a co-author on the new paper, noticed something strange about the photos she took of the fish.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I had tried to take pictures of deep-sea fish before and got nothing but these really horrible pictures, where you can't see any detail," Osborn told <em><a href="https://www.wired.com/story/meet-the-ultra-black-vantafish/" target="_blank">Wired</a></em>. "How is it that I can shine two strobe lights at them and all that light just disappears?"</p><p>After examining samples of fish skin under the microscope, the researchers discovered that the fish skin contains a layer of organelles called melanosomes, which contain melanin, the same pigment that gives color to human skin and hair. This layer of melanosomes absorbs most of the light that hits them.</p>
A crested bigscale
Credit: Karen Osborn/Smithsonian<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"But what isn't absorbed side-scatters into the layer, and it's absorbed by the neighboring pigments that are all packed right up close to it," Osborn told <em>Wired</em>. "And so what they've done is create this super-efficient, very-little-material system where they can basically build a light trap with just the pigment particles and nothing else."</p><p>The result? Strange and terrifying deep-sea species, like the crested bigscale, fangtooth, and Pacific blackdragon, all of which appear in the deep sea as barely more than faint silhouettes.</p>
David Csepp, NMFS/AKFSC/ABL<p>But interestingly, this unique disappearing trick wasn't passed on to these species by a common ancestor. Rather, they each developed it independently. As such, the different species use their ultra-blackness for different purposes. For example, the threadfin dragonfish only has ultra-black skin during its adolescent years, when it's rather defenseless, as <em>Wired</em> <a href="https://www.wired.com/story/meet-the-ultra-black-vantafish/" target="_blank">notes</a>.</p><p>Other fish—like the <a href="http://onebugaday.blogspot.com/2016/06/a-new-anglerfish-oneirodes-amaokai.html" target="_blank">oneirodes species</a>, which use bioluminescent lures to bait prey—probably evolved ultra-black skin to avoid reflecting the light their own bodies produce. Meanwhile, species like <em>C. acclinidens</em> only have ultra-black skin around their gut, possibly to hide light of bioluminescent fish they've eaten.</p><p>Given that these newly described species are just ones that this team found off the coast of California, there are likely many more, and possibly much darker, ultra-black fish swimming in the deep ocean. </p>
Using machine-learning technology, the genealogy company My Heritage enables users to animate static images of their relatives.
- Deep Nostalgia uses machine learning to animate static images.
- The AI can animate images by "looking" at a single facial image, and the animations include movements such as blinking, smiling and head tilting.
- As deepfake technology becomes increasingly sophisticated, some are concerned about how bad actors might abuse the technology to manipulate the pubic.
My Heritage/Deep Nostalgia<p>But that's not to say the animations are perfect. As with most deep-fake technology, there's still an uncanny air to the images, with some of the facial movements appearing slightly unnatural. What's more, Deep Nostalgia is only able to create deepfakes of one person's face from the neck up, so you couldn't use it to animate group photos, or photos of people doing any sort of physical activity.</p>
My Heritage/Deep Nostalgia<p>But for a free deep-fake service, Deep Nostalgia is pretty impressive, especially considering you can use it to create deepfakes of <em>any </em>face, human or not. </p>
How long should one wait until an idea like string theory, seductive as it may be, is deemed unrealistic?
- How far should we defend an idea in the face of contrarian evidence?
- Who decides when it's time to abandon an idea and deem it wrong?
- Science carries within it its seeds from ancient Greece, including certain prejudices of how reality should or shouldn't be.
Plato used the allegory of the cave to explain that what humans see and experience is not the true reality.
Credit: Gothika via Wikimedia Commons CC 4.0<p>When scientists and mathematicians use the term <em>Platonic worldview</em>, that's what they mean in general: The unbound capacity of reason to unlock the secrets of creation, one by one. Einstein, for one, was a believer, preaching the fundamental reasonableness of nature; no weird unexplainable stuff, like a god that plays dice—his tongue-in-cheek critique of the belief that the unpredictability of the quantum world was truly fundamental to nature and not just a shortcoming of our current understanding. Despite his strong belief in such underlying order, Einstein recognized the imperfection of human knowledge: "What I see of Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility." (Quoted by Dukas and Hoffmann in <em>Albert Einstein, The Human Side: Glimpses from His Archives</em> (1979), 39.)</p> <p>Einstein embodies the tension between these two clashing worldviews, a tension that is still very much with us today: On the one hand, the Platonic ideology that the fundamental stuff of reality is logical and understandable to the human mind, and, on the other, the acknowledgment that our reasoning has limitations, that our tools have limitations and thus that to reach some sort of final or complete understanding of the material world is nothing but an impossible, <a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01K2JTGIA?tag=bigthink00-20&linkCode=ogi&th=1&psc=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">semi-religious dream</a>.</p>