A member of a Vienna Toastmasters club who joined one of my ‘live’ masterclasses on Public Speaking kindly invited me to address her club when I was next in town. I warned her that I had opined bluntly on the subject of Toastmasters’ methods. I even sent her the links. Yet she and her club members were undaunted.
Thus it was that earlier this week in Vienna I swung by an unusually well attended gathering of this club to give them the benefit of my trenchant views on how properly to ‘evaluate’ a speech. Namely by drilling down into the content – the structure of the arguments, the underlying philosophical ideas, and the ‘signposts’ between different parts of the structure. Much better albeit much harder to focus on these aspects than superficialities such as ums and errrs and body language.
I also pointed out the horrible ubiquity in the international parts of Vienna oratory of Stupid Words. Get rid of them too.
I thereby drew their attention to two speeches by Angelina Jolie in her capacity as a UN special envoy for refugees and other frontline causes.
The first speech extract is here:
Note the passage where she talks about warzone rape survivors:
And almost without exception they ask for one thing – justice
The right to be accepted, not shunned, by society
The right to long-term economic and health support (my emphasis)
Above all, the right to see their attackers held accountable in a court of law
Plenty of intensity. But there’s something deadening if not unconvincing about the language. Yes, the speech is written for a formal senior occasion. But no normal person talks about ‘long-term economic and health support’. It’s clunky UN jargon.
Contrast that one with this:
It’s not just that here she comes across as talking as herself. The emphasis and tone of her words are far more engaging/touching and therefore powerful. Why? Because the language is natural. Direct. She sounds like a caring human being, not someone emitting soundbites drafted by bureaucrats who don’t know anything about speechwriting.
I also pointed them at the speed of a speech. How to use long, almost uncomfortable pauses to add emphasis and effect.
Either Mozart or Debussy or both said that music is the space between the notes. In a fine speech the meaning and tone can be found between the words. Such as in Eric Cantona’s magnificent short statement last year about the Manchester terror attacks:
I think deeply to the victims and to the wounded persons
Kids. Teenagers. Adults
To their families, to their friends
All of you
All of us
I think to this city, Manchester and Mancunians, that I love deeply
I think to this country, England, and the English, that I love deeply
I suffer with you
My heart is with you
I always feel close to you
Watch him say it:
This weighs in at just about 80 words per minute. Hard to find anything slower. You maybe would not want to talk for too long at this almost painfully deliberate pace. But here it works as nothing else. And marvel at the short sentences.
Note too that he makes various grammatical mistakes in English and that they do not matter even in the slightest. If anything they make the effect all the stronger.
Anyway, all this and plenty more was shared with Toastmasters, to no little acclaim. They even want me to come back and, perhaps, evaluate some of their speeches. To explain to them how to move on from good to amazing. That will be droll.
To be continued.
By the way, I helped someone give an evening speech last night about innovation and manufacturing. This is what he was sent today:
Thank you for a really excellent and carefully prepared talk. It was one of the best (best?) we have heard. Much appreciated.
Amazing? Not really. Just wily, energetic content. Get that right and the acclaim follows.