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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Public Speaking as Expanded Conversation

Public speaking retains three important characteristics of good conversation.First it preserves the natural directness and spontaneity of informal talk. Second, it is colorful. And third, it is tuned to the reactions of listeners.

Public Speaking Preserves Conversational Directness and Spontaneity.

Even though a speech has been carefully researched, thoughtfully prepared, and well rehearsed, it should sound conversational and spontaneous as it comes to life before an audience. Those words bear repeating; a speech comes to life before an audience. Consider the following opening to a self-introductory speech:

It may seem hot here today, but it’s not near as hot as Dhaka, Bangladesh, where I was born and reared. I almost said “roasted.” John has just told us about the joys of urban living. Now you’re going to hear about what you might call a “country-fried” lifestyle.

Compare that opening with

My name is Rashadul Islam, and I come from Dhaka, Bangladesh.

The first version seems fresh and spontaneous. The “us” and “you,” along with the casual humorous remarks, suggest that the speaker is reaching out to his audience. The second, unless presented with a great deal of oomph, will sound quite ordinary. The first opening invites listening; the second invites yawning.

Public Speaking Is Colorful and Compelling. We enjoy talking with good conversationalists often because their speech is colorful. Consider the following development of the “heat” theme from the above example:

That place was so hot it would make an armadillo sweat! It was so hot that rattlesnakes would rattle just to fan themselves!

Compare those words with the following:

The average summer day in Dhaka was often over a hundred degrees.

The literal meaning of both statements is not that different, but the first contains the kind of vivid conversational qualities that listeners usually enjoy.

Public Speaking Is Tuned to Listeners. Like a good conversation, a good public speech is tuned to listeners. As you converse with people in social situations, you learn to monitor their reactions. If they look confused, you try to explain yourself more clearly. You may even give an example or tell a story. If they frown, you may rephrase an idea or present evidence that supports your views. If they smile or nod, you may feel you have the green light to develop your thoughts.

If good conversations are interactive and audience centered, effective speeches are even more so. Speakers must be constantly aware of the reactions of listeners and make on-the-spot adjustments. But from the very beginning, a speech must be planned with the audience in mind. Your entire speech should be designed to answer the questions that audiences will instinctively ask:

  • Why should I be interested in this topic?
  • What do you mean?
  • How do I know this is true?
  • What can I do about it?

You must give listeners a reason to be interested in the introduction of your speech or you will lose them before you ever get started. Your speech must be clearly organize and your language simple and direct so listeners can understand what you mean. You must provide facts and fingers, examples, ad expert testimony to demonstrate the truth of your statements. If your speech is persuasive, you must give listeners clear directions concerning what they should believe or do.

It seems clear that public speaking – far from being a mysterious skill – is a natural expansion and application of an ability we develop from our earliest years. On the other hand, some features make public speaking distinctive.

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