Ciara Byrne of Fast Company has compiled several tips from speaker and author Nancy Duarte about helping speakers make technical material more engaging for their audience. While these tips are great for a class full of business or science majors, they would apply equally to any public speaking classroom where students are falling into a pattern of dull speeches.
Some of the tips I found most compelling:
- Avoid PowerPoints full of bullets. Tell a story with a hero — and the hero is not the speaker but the audience.
- The audience is there to hear you speak, not to have the slides speak for you.
- Create contrast. When something changes in your presentation, the audience is re-engaged.
The story also has some good examples to share with a technical-minded audience.
If you have a class of science or business majors, this could be a chance to create an in-class activity (or longer homework assignment) as well. Give students a transcript of a dull grant-request presentation, for example, and have them look for ways to apply some of these suggestions. A failed bid from a “Shark Tank”-type of television show could work.
My public speaking classes always included a few lessons about listening. Sometimes it was a tough sell to convince students about why it is necessary to take time out to talk about listening too.
This article from Avinoam Nowogrodski at Fast Company highlights some reasons that students will find compelling: not only does active listening help get the job but also to perform better on the job. The public speaking classroom is a great opportunity to improve listening skills, and to do so while listening to a variety of speakers on a variety of topics–some of which may be the important public issues of the future.
I tell my students this story: The best speaker that I ever had in class took notes on his classmates’ speeches. This is not something that I assigned, but something he did on his own. One day I asked to see his notes and realized how much they were improving his own speaking. He had two columns. In one, he made a brief outline of the speech to see if he could easily outline it. In the other, he made a note of what he and/or the audience responded best to from the speech and one thing he saw as a weakness. He used this information when planning for his own speeches. By the end of the semester, the other students actively looked forward to Joe’s name being on the board on speech days because he always impressed them. Because he listened to them.
If you want to bring in some historical speeches to show to students, Winston Churchill would be an excellent choice…inspiring, powerfully worded, and often witty, Churchill’s speeches stand up to the test of time.
The web site The Art of Manliness has provided an eight-part analysis of what made Churchill’s speeches so compelling.
This could be developed into an activity by showing clips of some speeches (the article lists several specific speeches) and then asking students what makes them work. Any part of the article’s list that did not come in during the discussion could then be brought in as a wrap-up.
(I would note, though, that writing out a speech is important when you’re a leader whose speech will be reported and re-read through history and exact wording is important, but writing a speech out is not recommended for more casual settings, especially as most of us lack the acting talent to make it look natural in front of a small audience. It is unlikely his brilliant double glasses trick would work with 15 people in a modern training seminar, for example.)
The blog at Ethos3 gives five tips for a more authentic delivery. These are the types of tips that I encouraged for students because they are perfect for the classroom setting, and are becoming more acceptable in other settings as well.
The article also links to a CBS Moneywatch article on the same topic with additional tips. Neither article is very in-depth on the topic, but they provide a nice list of suggestions and the rationale for why they work.
I like to have as much literature to back me up as possible when I tell students “Don’t memorize,” “Tell stories” and “Respond to the audience while you speak.” These articles back that up.
The CBS article also contains a list of references to Harvard Business Review. Unfortunately, the links are broken but it may be possible to find the articles (which will likely require a subscription or have a charge) and the book through another means by using the reference information.
Image courtesy Simpsons Wiki
The Simpsons: Season 12, episode 6
Early in this episode of The Simpsons is a brief scene that is a wonderful illustration of the problem of trusting unknown Internet sources. Homer wants to create a web page, but is having trouble coming up with material. He decides to rely on an unfounded rumor that the Bart has heard. (This scene happens shortly after the tire crashes through the window.)
The rest of the episode has other illustrations of problems that can be caused by relying on Internet sources.
The episode is available for free with a cable or DirecTV account number at SimpsonsWorld.com.
This brief article at the Smarta blog features five tips specifically for online presentations. This would be great to share with an online class or a business communication class (Smarta’s focus is advice for startups).
The article features advice from Spencer Waldron from Prezi UK, and has very practical suggestions like:
- when you can’t engage the audience in person, the part your voice plays becomes more important;
- consider the background, lighting and props — make sure you stand out.
This example appears in several places online and has several available graphics. It is attributed to Gary Provost from his book 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing.
It is a great example for speech students because while the rhythm of words is important in writing, we could argue that it is vital in speech. The variety of sentence length keeps the speech interesting and the audience tuned in — too many short sentences and the speech can feel rushed and unprepared, too many long sentences and the speech can feel written or memorized and out-of-sync with the audience.
This example could be used as a visual aid in class or developed into a demonstration by having students read the various portions of it and comparing their reactions as audience members to hearing the speech in various ways. For a longer activity, wait to show this example and instead have various groups of students write similar examples to compare and then follow up with this example in the debriefing.
This simple graphic from Hot Butter Studio is an excellent example of an effective use of visual aids.
I emphasize to students that visual aids should not just repeat what the speaker is saying (although their professors will often use them this way to simplify note-taking). However, most audiences for speeches are not taking notes because they expect to be tested over content, so visual aids should only be used when they can ADD something that the words alone cannot provide.
One effective use of visual aids is to help the audience visualize numbers. Simply listing the numbers will not be as effective as putting those numbers in a meaningful context, as this example illustrates.
In addition to showing the example in class for how and why to show data, it could also be part of a class activity where students analyze a series of visual examples for effectiveness — what does it get right, get wrong, or whatever your textbook gives as standards for good visual aids.
To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; to be credible we must be truthful.
— Edward R. Murrow, legendary news reporter