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Stand Up Straight & Don’t Pace

Platform movement and posture are essential elements of nonverbal communication. Like gestures, they should look and feel natural to reinforce the message and not distract. The stance and movement of the body involve the total person, mentally and physically. Thoughts and feelings can be expressed in movements and gestures. These two rules should be remembered when on the platform: move when there is reason to move and stand still when there is no reason to move.

One of my (Rhonda) doctoral professors roamed back and forth in front of the classroom without making any eye contact with the students during his lectures. He paced aimlessly in front of the class as he taught. As a project in a behavioral modification course, several students attempted to alter his distracting behavior. Students on the right side of the class paid careful attention to the professor as he paced—looking interested, nodding heads, taking notes, and asking questions. Students on the left side of the classroom ignored the professor as he taught—disinterested yawns, hands on desks, no notes, and no questions. Within a few minutes, the professor only paced back and forth on the right side of the room. While his pacing behavior was modified, his poor eye contact remained unchanged. I learned the impact of the speaker’s body movement and positions by observing a negative model as a student.

Posture is noticed immediately, and opinions are made about a speaker based on stance and carriage. Posture is the position of a person’s body when standing or sitting. Many different organs, muscles, and nerves in the body are used to stand. While physical conditions may inhibit good posture, most people can control posture with conscious actions. A public speaker needs good posture to support vocal projection, to display confidence, and to enhance movement.

In No Sweat Public Speaking, Fred Miller suggests four ways that posture helps communicate a message. (1) Good, straight posture indicates leadership and confidence. (2) Leaning forward toward the audience shows concern and care. (3) Slouching the body conveys disinterest and boredom. (4) Hunched shoulders suggest low self-esteem and lack of confidence. Posture is more important than many speakers realize. Evaluate posture in a mirror or on a videotape. Remember to stand up, then speak up!

There are some cardinal rules about posture and movement that a good speaker should follow. Try not to break the following posture principles:

  1. Do not fidget with your hands or fingers.
  2. Do not jingle change or keys in your pockets.
  3. Do not cross your hands in front of your body (“fig–leaf stance”) or behind your body.
  4. Do not rock on your heels or toes.
  5. Do not sway back and forth.
  6. Do not lean on the podium.
  7. Do not cross your arms across chest.
  8. Do not look down for too long.
  9. Do not bob or shake your head too much.
  10. Do not be stiff or tense.

Zig Ziglar was a dynamic public speaker and powerful Christian communicator. Though small in physical stature, he had a “bigger than life” presence on the stage. He projected energy and enthusiasm as he moved confidently around the stage. His speech content was filled with knowledge and wisdom, and his delivery style was passionate, purposeful, and powerful. His sales experience and personal faith provided the foundational principles for his speaking and writing. A master of verbal and nonverbal communication, Ziglar said it this way: “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.” Stand up and speak out like Zig Ziglar did for many years.

Correct posture is an important part of nonverbal communication in public speaking. Practice these principles and avoid these pitfalls.

  1. Walk deliberately to the stage; avoid rushing onto the platform.
  2. Stand upright keeping the body core tight; avoid tension or tightness.
  3. Place feet firmly on the ground and slightly apart (about shoulder width); avoid stiff legs and locked knees.
  4. Face the audience directly; avoid turning the body away.
  5. Position body behind podium with hands to the side or resting on lectern; avoid gripping the podium.
  6. Hold head and chin up; avoid looking down.
  7. Square shoulders with the audience; avoiding drooping shoulders.
  8. Keep chest up and stomach in; avoid tightening abdominal muscles.
  9. Relax the body; avoid tension and stiffness.
  10. Breathe deeply to relax; avoid short, shallow breaths.
  11. Pause to look at the audience; avoid rushing into the speech.
  12. Watch the posture of others speakers; avoid awkward imitation of others.
    Improved posture adds strength and authority to a spoken message.

Dale Carnegie, known as the father of modern public speaking, said: “A person under the influence of his feelings projects the real self, acting naturally and spontaneously. A speaker who is interested will usually be interesting.”

When your name is called and you walk to the stage…
rise up slowly,
stand up erectly,
walk out boldly,
pause—breathe—look—then
speak out confidently.

Good posture makes a good impression on the audience and gives good support to the speaker. Outstanding public speakers develop a platform posture to reflect their attitudes and gain the audience’s attention. Body posture can reduce nervous energy and relieve physical tension. As you speak, make your body talk.

The Warmth of the Soul

“Warmth is the soul of the voice.” [1]

In Psalm 149, the psalmist called for God’s people to express praise to Him in words and actions: “Hallelujah! Sing to the Lord a new song…let the exaltation of God be in their mouths.” Exaltation or praise is to be reinforced by a joyful shout. The sound of the voice conveys the emotions and feelings of the heart. A Christian should offer praise to the Lord with her whole self.

Haddon Robinson explained the influence of the voice in his book, Biblical Preaching:

Speech consists of more than words and sentences. The voice conveys ideas and feelings apart from words. We make judgments about a speaker’s physical and emotional state—whether he is frightened, angry, fatigued, sick, happy, confident—based on the tenor of his voice, its loudness, rate, and pitch.[2]

Chapter 21 of our book establishes the importance of nonverbal communication to express emotions and feelings, focusing on three aspects of vocal tone which project meaning: volume, variety, and vibrancy. For the purpose of this blog, we will focus on vibrancy.

Vibrancy refers to the enthusiasm and passion communicated in the tone of a speaker’s voice. An animated and energetic voice adds emotions and feelings to the spoken words. Public speakers should desire vocal vibrancy and lively delivery in speech delivery. Vibrancy in the voice should make the listener want to hear the speech.

Energy is expended physically when speaking. Verbal and nonverbal communication involves energy and effort. Public speakers need to maintain physical as well as mental health to communicate more effectively. Proper nutrition, regular exercise, and adequate rest are essential ingredients of energetic speaking. Fatigue and illness hinders enthusiasm and vibrancy in speaking.

Warmth is an aspect of emotion which can be expressed verbally or nonverbally. Tender feelings can be communicated through choice of words or tone of voice. A softer, lower voice typically conveys warmth. Warmth should be a vocal quality desired by public speakers.

In an etiquette book written in 1942, Margery Wilson suggested that the voice reflects emotions as surely as a mirror reflects an image.[1] Warmth is the “soul” of the voice. Sweetness, generosity, and love of humanity are personal qualities of the inner person that produce warmth in a speaker’s voice. Wilson recommends that people build character and virtues to speak with vocal warmth.

Excitement and eagerness should be experienced and expressed by the speaker. If the speaker does not sound excited about the topic, the audience will not want to listen. When possible, a speaker should select a topic of personal interest. If the assigned topic is less than stimulating, the speaker can express enthusiasm verbally. Vocal vibrancy depends upon energy, warmth, and excitement.

Consider these principles about vocal vibrancy when delivering a speech.

  1. Determine the presence or absence of vibrancy in your voice.
  2. Compare your vocal vibrancy to that of other speakers.
  3. Prepare physically for speaking with proper sleep, nutrition, and exercise.
  4. Work to soften the tone of your voice to convey warmth.
  5. Expand your interest to be enthusiastic about the topics for your speeches.

The voice provides insight into the speaker’s emotions and feelings. The vocal characteristics of volume, variety, and vibrancy combine with words and other nonverbal cues to communicate the meaning of the speaker’s message. A simple sentence such as “I have had a good day” can change meaning drastically when the voice is used differently. Soft volume may raise doubt in the listener; loud volume may cause belief in the statement. Vocal variety may keep the interest of the listener; limited variety may lose attention. Vocal vibrancy may convey passion to listeners; flat, monotonous tone sounds unconvincing. Tone of voice is the nonverbal code for expressing emotions and feelings in public speaking.

The sound of the voice conveys the emotions and feelings of the heart.

[1] Margery Wilson, The Woman You Want to Be: Margery Wilson’s Complete Book of Charm (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1942), 58-59.

[2] Haddon Robinson, Biblical Preaching (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1980), 202-203.

Putting Meat on the Bones

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Supportive material is any information which will strengthen the points of the speech. It comes from many different sources and could include Scripture, illustrations, examples, research facts, transitional statements, and more. A variety of knowledge is a great benefit to a speaker. Therefore, thorough and diverse research is recommended.

In Principles of Speech Communication, Bruce Gronbeck and the other authors suggest that there are six pillars of supporting material.[1] These are sources of data which can be used to clarify, amplify, or justify the central ideas of the speech. They support the central theme or main idea. These different types of supporting materials include:

  1. Explanations – descriptions that make a term, concept, process, or proposal clear or acceptable. Example: To clarify a message about bearing spiritual fruit (John 15:1-8), describe the process of a gardener pruning her plants.
  2. Comparisons and Contrasts – verbal devices that point out similarities and differences. Example: Galatians 5:19-21 and 5:22-23 may be used to distinguish between the “works of the flesh” and the “fruit of the Spirit.”
  3. Illustrations and Narratives – detailed examples which describe a concept, condition, or circumstance. Example: The biblical account of the Samaritan Woman who met Jesus at the well may be used to illustrate the concept of forgiveness (John 4:1-26).
  4. Specific Instances – undeveloped illustrations or examples usually grouped into a list to drive the point home. Example: To emphasize the biblical truth that Jesus Christ is Lord, build on the descriptors such as He is Savior, Redeemer, Sustainer, Master, and King. He is Lord.
  5. Statistics – numbers that show relationships between or among different information which emphasize size, magnitude, or trends. Example: To support the statement that more than half of all women work outside the home, reference a documented report such as this finding of the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, showing 59.2 percent of women in the United States are in the labor force.[2]
  6. Testimonies – citations of the opinions or conclusions of others which add weight or impressiveness to an idea. Example: To strengthen the message that prayer has power, cite author Jennifer Kennedy Dean in her book, Power Praying: Prayer That Produces Results: “God’s specific and intervening power is released into circumstances and lives by prayer.”[3]

Illustrations from real life are ideal supportive material. L.P. Lehman discussed the nature of illustrations in his book, How to Find and Develop Effective Illustrations. He stated: “An illustration is a basic, identifiable, everyday idea in which a listener may find himself related to the speaker and to the message.”[4] It is literally a slice of life, which connects an audience and speaker. He compares a speech to a house and an illustration to a door: “A message without an illustration is like a house without a door.”[5] Descriptive examples are not simply extra features of a speech, they are literally the access to a speech. The audience has no way to enter the house or understand the speech without an entryway. Illustrations are essential to supportive material.

Information that is included as supportive material must be accurately reported and documented. Carol Kent provides these guidelines in Speak Up with Confidence:[6]

  • Be sure of the facts. Verify your numbers and details before speaking them aloud.
  • Don’t present a fictional story as if it were true. When you share another person’s story, give them credit over and over again.
  • Be certain the story fits your aim. Avoid using a story simply to have a story unless it is serving as an icebreaker at the beginning of your speech. The story should enhance the overall point being conveyed to the audience.
  • Get permission from family members or friends before sharing an illustration about them. It is important to ask permission before talking about someone else—permission not forgiveness.

I (Rhonda) love talking about my husband when I teach or speak. Because I love him, I want others to get to know him. Chuck knows when I have told stories about him in my student wives class because when the ladies see him on campus, they giggle. I love to share Chuck’s insights when I write because he is so wise and perceptive. I have tried to convince him that marriage means what is his is mine. So, I share his stories and write his insights, but I always give him credit.

  • When possible, give credit to the originator of the story or cite the source. It is best to give credit where credit is due and protect yourself in the meantime. Listeners will often pay more attention when you include an outside source.
  • Never use another speaker’s story if you are speaking in his or her territory. Be considerate of the source, allow her to share the story and receive credit. Using another person’s story in an area where she lives may cause confusion to those who know her or under mind the spirit of surprise when she tells it.
  • Adjust the length of the illustration to fit the time you have to speak. Include an introduction, body, and conclusion in your speech. Try not to let the illustration become the entire message. Connect it with the main theme and make its application, but don’t let it be the only memorable thing about your presentation.
  • Write out your illustration word-for-word when developing a new story. Practice will help in clearly communicating the illustration to the audience. Present it spontaneously for maximum effectiveness.
  • Carefully work out your transitional statement so it leads into the application of your story. What point are you making? Work toward smooth transitions. You can say “first, second, and last.” Try to make transitions obvious.

A speech is not a speech nor a message a message without content and supportive material. Help your audience engage with the purpose of your speech through effective and interesting illustrations and stories!


            [1] Bruce E. Gronbeck, Kathleen German, Douglas Ehninger, and Alan H. Monroe. Principles of Speech Communication 12th Brief ed. (New York: Harper Collins, 1995), 73-83.

            [2] “Women and the Economy 2010: 25 Years of Progress But Challenges Remain,” http://www.jec.senate.gov/public//index.cfm?a=Files.Serve&File_id=f9f3a9b8-2f54-4e83-9029-477a3fc73cd5 (cited 3 March 2013), Joint Economic Committee United States Congress (Joint Economic Committee, 2010).

            [3] Jennifer Kennedy Dean, Power Praying: Prayer That Produces Power (Mukilteo, WA: WinePress Publishing, 1997), 14.

            [4] L.P. Lehman, How to Find and Develop Effective Illustrations (Grand Rapids, MI.: Kregel Pubns, 1985), 27.

            [5] Lehman, How to Find and Develop Effective Illustrations, 9.

            [6] Carol Kent, Speak Up with Confidence: A Step-by-Step Guide for Speakers and Leaders (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2007), 80-83.

So You’ve Got Your Topic…

With the general topic determined and the overall purpose decided, it is time to delineate the objectives. The dictionary defines an objective: “something toward which effort is directed; an aim, goal, or end of action; a position to be attained or a purpose to be achieved.”[1] Objectives in a speech are specific learning goals to be accomplished by the speaker. They indicate knowledge, skills, or attitudes a learner should exhibit following instruction. Objectives should flow out of the purpose and be described in specific, measurable terms. They should guide the presentation of information and the application of material.

In a public speaking class for women, the purpose of the course might be to provide information, observation, and application of public speaking techniques to enhance the communication skills of women in life and ministry. The objectives could include the following:

  1. The student will understand basic principles of the total communication process.
  2. The student will learn public speaking techniques for a variety of contexts.
  3. The student will practice various aspects of public speaking.
  4. The student will assess the public speaking of others in order to improve personal communication.

Specific objectives guide the course of instruction. These four objectives flow directly out of the purpose statement. Information will be presented by the teacher and from the textbook about the basic principles of communication. Observation will occur during classroom presentations and outside speech evaluations. Application of speech principles will be offered through student presentations in class.

The four objectives are specific and measurable. Students will be graded on their knowledge of the basic communication process through a book review of the required textbook as well as a final examination. They will learn about different types of presentations in classroom discussion and in the presentations of their classmates. They will practice various types of public speeches when they read a Scripture aloud, make announcements in class, introduce a student speaker, and give a personal devotional. These four public presentations will be evaluated by the professor and all class members. The students will submit their assessment of classroom presentations and complete a speech evaluation outside of class. These course requirements will help the student fulfill the course objectives.

In a biblical message, the objectives should also flow out of the purpose and be related to the topic. I (Rhonda) have a message entitled “Mary, Martha, and Me.” It focuses on the narrative account in Luke 10:38-42. The purpose of the message is to challenge Christian women to worship and work. The three objective are to inspire the listeners to…

  1. worship like Mary;
  2. work like Martha; and
  3. worship and work like Me (Jesus Christ).

When a message flows from Scripture, the objectives can be connected to the purpose with greater ease. So, the next step in preparing your speech and before outlining your message is to identify the objectives!


            [1] “Objective,” http://www.thefreedictionary.com/objective (cited 19 March 2013), American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed. (Houghton Mifflin, 2009).

God SPOKE the Earth into Being

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Human communication is a creation of God, an innate ability to convey thoughts to others. The process of human communication is very complex as people attempt to create meaning by using symbolic behavior in a specific situation to achieve understanding.

Communication is essential to life and relationships. It has been said that most of us spend up to 70% of our waking hours engaged in some form of communication. A person’s waking hours are filled with words!

Communication skills have the power to help people achieve their goals and accomplish their dreams. In his book, Secrets of Great Communicators, Jeff Myers suggests there are six ways communication skills can help dreams come true. He believes people with excellent communication skills will have a tremendous advantage over those without them. It has been said that seven out of ten jobs require good speech skills!

Consider these factors which support the impact of good communication on life and work:

1. You will find a stronger sense of purpose.

2. You will become aware of the world around you.

3. You will become a better learner.

4. You will become a better thinker.

5. You will develop greater poise in social situations.

6. You will relate better to others.

Queen Esther is an excellent biblical example of an effective communicator. She had many serious concerns to express, grace information which necessitated an audience with the king. She discreetly planned the appropriate time to pour out her deep burden and reveal the planned plot to kill her beloved Mordecai (Esther 4:15-5:8). Her conversation with the king literally saved her people!

In the beginning, God spoke the world into being. His divine communication accomplished His creation. For Christians, communication is more than an exchange of ideas. It is sharing faith with others through God-given speaking abilities. God empowers His children to communicate with Him through prayer and with each other in many different ways. So you see – learning how to SPEAK truly is a gift.