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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.
- Overcome Your Fear of Speaking to an Audience by Learning to ... ›
- Public speaking course: How to conquer your fear - Big Think ›
A man's skeleton, found facedown with his hands bound, was unearthed near an ancient ceremonial circle during a high speed rail excavation project.
- A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during an excavation outside of London.
- The discovery was made during a high speed rail project that has been a bonanza for archaeology, as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route.
- An ornate grave of a high status individual from the Roman period and an ancient ceremonial circle were also discovered during the excavations.
Foul play?<p>A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during a high speed rail excavation.</p><p>The positioning of the remains have led archaeologists to suspect that the man may have been a victim of an ancient murder or execution. Though any bindings have since decomposed, his hands were positioned together and pinned under his pelvis. There was also no sign of a grave or coffin. </p><p>"He seems to have had his hands tied, and he was face-down in the bottom of the ditch," <a href="https://www.livescience.com/iron-age-murder-victim-england.html" target="_blank">said archaeologist Rachel Wood</a>, who led the excavation. "There are not many ways that you end up that way."</p><p>Currently, archaeologists are examining the skeleton to uncover more information about the circumstances of the man's death. Fragments of pottery found in the ditch may offer some clues as to exactly when the man died. </p><p>"If he was struck across the head with a heavy object, you could find a mark of that on the back of the skull," Wood said to <a href="https://www.livescience.com/iron-age-murder-victim-england.html" target="_blank">Live Science</a>. "If he was stabbed, you could find blade marks on the ribs. So we're hoping to find something like that, to tell us how he died."</p>
Other discoveries at Wellwick Farm<p>The grim discovery was made at Wellwick Farm near Wendover. That is about 15 miles north-west of the outskirts of London, where <a href="https://www.hs2.org.uk/building-hs2/hs2-green-corridor/" target="_blank">a tunnel</a> is going to be built as part of a HS2 high-speed rail project due to open between London and several northern cities sometime after 2028. The infrastructure project has been something of a bonanza for archaeology as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route that are now being excavated before construction begins. </p><p>The farm sits less than a mile away from the ancient highway <a href="http://web.stanford.edu/group/texttechnologies/cgi-bin/stanfordnottingham/places/?icknield" target="_blank">Icknield Way</a> that runs along the tops of the Chiltern Hills. The route (now mostly trails) has been used since prehistoric times. Evidence at Wellwick Farm indicates that from the Neolithic to the Medieval eras, humans have occupied the region for more than 4,000 years, making it a rich area for archaeological finds. </p><p>Wood and her colleagues found some evidence of an ancient village occupied from the late Bronze Age (more than 3,000 years ago) until the Roman Empire's invasion of southern England about 2,000 years ago. At the site were the remains of animal pens, pits for disposing food, and a roundhouse — a standard British dwelling during the Bronze Age constructed with a circular plan made of stone or wood topped with a conical thatched roof.</p>
Ceremonial burial site<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzMTk0Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NDgwNTIyMX0.I49n1-j8WVhKjIZS_wVWZissnk3W1583yYXB7qaGtN8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C82%2C0%2C83&height=700" id="44da7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="46cfc8ca1c64fc404b32014542221275" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="top down view of coffin" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
A high status burial in a lead-lined coffin dating back to Roman times.
Photo Credit: HS2<p>While these ancient people moved away from Wellwick Farm before the Romans invaded, a large portion of the area was still used for ritual burials for high-status members of society, Wood told Live Science. The ceremonial burial site included a circular ditch (about 60 feet across) at the center, and was a bit of a distance away from the ditch where the (suspected) murder victim was uncovered. Additionally, archaeologists found an ornately detailed grave near the sacred burial site that dates back to the Roman period, hundreds of years later when the original Bronze Age burial site would have been overgrown.</p><p>The newer grave from the Roman period encapsulated an adult skeleton contained in a lead-lined coffin. It's likely that the outer coffin had been made of wood that rotted away. Since it was clearly an ornate burial, the occupant of the grave was probably a person of high status who could afford such a lavish burial. However, according to Wood, no treasures or tokens had been discovered. </p>
Sacred timber circle<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzMTk0Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDAwOTQ4Mn0.eVJAUcD0uBUkVMFuMOPSgH8EssGkfLf_MjwUv0zGCI8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C149%2C0%2C149&height=700" id="9de6a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ee66520d470b26f5c055eaef0b95ec06" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="An aerial view of the sacred circular monument." data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
An aerial view of the sacred circular monument.
Photo Credit: HS2<p>One of the most compelling archaeological discoveries at Wellwick Farm are the indications of a huge ceremonial circle once circumscribed by timber posts lying south of the Bronze Age burial site. Though the wooden posts have rotted away, signs of the post holes remain. It's thought to date from the Neolithic period to 5,000 years ago, according to Wood.</p><p>This circle would have had a diameter stretching 210 feet across and consisted of two rings of hundreds of posts. There would have been an entry gap to the south-west. Five posts in the very center of the circle aligned with that same gap, which, according to Wood, appeared to have been in the direction of the rising sun on the day of the midwinter solstice. </p><p>Similar Neolithic timber circles have been discovered around Great Britain, such as one near <a href="https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/stonehenge-sarsens" target="_blank">Stonehenge</a> that is considered to date back to around the same time. </p>
Research reveals a new evolutionary feature that separates humans from other primates.
- Researchers find a new feature of human evolution.
- Humans have evolved to use less water per day than other primates.
- The nose is one of the factors that allows humans to be water efficient.
A model of water turnover for humans and chimpanzees who have similar fat free mass and body water pools.
Credit: Current Biology
Being skeptical isn't just about being contrarian. It's about asking the right questions of ourselves and others to gain understanding.
- It's not always easy to tell the difference between objective truth and what we believe to be true. Separating facts from opinions, according to skeptic Michael Shermer, theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, and others, requires research, self-reflection, and time.
- Recognizing your own biases and those of others, avoiding echo chambers, actively seeking out opposing voices, and asking smart, testable questions are a few of the ways that skepticism can be a useful tool for learning and growth.
- As Derren Brown points out, being "skeptical of skepticism" can also lead to interesting revelations and teach us new things about ourselves and our psychology.