Throughout history, the height of human effectiveness has been the ability to persuade others. As such, the aim or goal
Of public speaking is to cause an action to take place that would not have taken place in the absence of the words of the speaker. For example, when Demosthenes spoke, people said, ‘‘what a fine speaker he is.’’ But when Alcibiades spoke, they said, ‘‘Let us march!’’
Your job as a speaker is to motivate and impel your listeners to think, feel, and act differently as the result of your words. It is to make them take action of some kind. It is to motivate them to ‘‘March!’’
Fortunately, becoming a master speaker and business communicator is a learnable skill. If you can learn how to drive a car, type on a keyboard, or use a cell phone, you can become an effective speaker and change not only your life, but the lives of your listeners.
The Three Elements of Persuasion
Aristotle was the first major philosopher to recognize the importance of rhetoric as an essential tool of the leader. He broke down the essential elements of persuasion into three parts: logos (logic), ethos (ethic), and pathos (emotion). Let us take each of them in turn.
Logos refers to the logic, the words, and the reasons in your argument. It is important that everything that you say fits together like links in a chain or pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to form a coherent statement or argument. When you think through and plan your talk, you organize your various points in a sequence from the general to the particular, from the start to the conclusion, with each point building on each previous point to form a persuasive argument.
The second aspect of persuasion is ethos. This refers to your character, ethics, and your believability when you speak. Increasing your credibility with your audience before and during your speech increases the likelihood that listeners will accept your arguments and take action on your recommendations.
The third aspect of persuasion is pathos. This is the emotional content of your argument and is perhaps the most important. It is only when you connect emotionally and move people at a fundamental level that you can motivate them to change their thinking and take a particular action.
All three elements—logos, ethos, and pathos—must be woven together if you want to move people and persuade them to your point of view.
The Three Components of Your Message
Albert Mehrabian of UCLA conducted a series of studies into effective communication some years ago. He concluded that there are three components of any spoken message: the words, the tone of voice, and the speaker’s body language.
Surprisingly, according to Mehrabian, the words count for only 7 percent of the message conveyed. Of course, the words you use are vitally important and must be selected with care. They must be organized in a proper sequence and be grammatically correct. But everyone has heard a boring, academic speaker whose words were brilliant but whose message fell flat. The words alone are not enough.
The second element of communication that Mehrabian identified was the tone of voice. In his calculation, 38 percent of the message is contained in the speaker’s tonality and emphasis on various words.
Recite the sentence ‘‘I love you very much.’’ By putting the emphasis on any one of those words or by making the sentence a question rather than a statement, you can change the entire meaning of the sentence. Try it. Make your tone reflect a sincere statement or a question. Notice how the meaning can be completely different just by focusing on a single word.
Every man has had the experience of arguing with the woman in his life over a simple subject. Because men tend to use words as tools and women tend to use words for understanding and relationship building, they hear the same words differently. For example, she might become angry or hurt at something he said. He will respond by saying, ‘‘But I just said such and such.’’
She will reply angrily, ‘‘It wasn’t what you said; it was the way you said it.’’
By deliberately changing your tone of voice and being aware of how important it is, you can change the entire message and the subsequent effect it has on your listeners.
Mehrabian also found that fully 55 percent of the message is contained in the speaker’s body language. This is because there are 22 times as many nerves from the eye to the brain as from the ear to the brain.
For this reason, visual impressions are very powerful.
Be Aware of Your Style of Communication
Excellent communicators always pay attention to the effect their body language has on the level of acceptance of the message they are trying to convey.
When your arms hang loosely at your side, with your palms outward and open, and you look directly at the audience with a smile as you speak, your listeners relax and absorb your message like a sponge absorbs water. If your face is serious and unsmiling, with your arms folded or gripping the lectern, your listeners respond as if an angry parent is scolding them. They close up and become defensive, resisting your message and your attempt to persuade them to think and act in a particular way. Body language is very impo
Because I have given so many talks to so many audiences, speakers continually ask me for my comments on a talk or seminar that they have just delivered. I am always reluctant to give critical feedback because people in general seem to be hypersensitive to comments that are not glowing and positive. Nonetheless, it is amazing how often I give the same piece of advice: ‘‘Slow down, pause, and smile between points and senten
It is equally amazing how many speakers take this advice and notice an immediate and positive difference in the way their Audi- fences respond to them. When you slow down, your words are clearer and you appear more articulate. Your tone of voice is more pleasant and enjoyable. And when you smile, you radiate warmth, friendliness, and acceptance. This causes your audience to relax and become more open to your message.
A Simple Structure for Short Talks
There is a simple three-part structure that you can use to design any speech. You can use this model for a one-minute talk or for a 30-minute talk.
Part one is the opening. You simply tell the audience what you are going to say in your speech. For example, you could say: ‘‘Thank you for being here. In the next few minutes, I want to tell you about the three problems facing our industry today and the actions we can take to turn them to our advantage in the months ahead.’’ This opening sets the stage, prepares the audience, and gives your speech a track to run on.
The second part is to tell them what you promised in the opening. This can consist of one, two, or three points. If it is a short speech, it should only include three key points developed in a sequence. For example, you might say: ‘‘we are facing increased competition, shrinking profit margins, and changing customer tastes. Let us look at each of these, in order, and consider alternative ways of dealing with them effectively.’’
The third part of speaking is a summary of what you just told the audience. You should never expect your listeners to memorize everything that you have said the first time they hear it. Looking back, summarizing and repeating is helpful and enjoyable for your audience. For example, you could say:
To summarize, to deal with increased competition, we must improve the quality of our offerings and the speed at which we deliver them to our customers. To deal with shrinking markets, we must expand into new markets and increase our product offerings to at- tract new customers. To deal with changing customer tastes, we must develop and market products and services that our custom- ers want today, rather than what they may have wanted in the past.
With our joint commitment to these three goals, we will not only survive but thrive in the exciting times ahead. Thank you.
You Have a Job to Do
Peggy Noonan, speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, once wrote,
‘‘Every speech has a job to do.’’
One of the most important things you must do, before you speak, is start with the end in mind. Determine what you want your talk to accomplish. Ask yourself what I call the ‘‘objective question’’: ‘‘If they interviewed people after my talk and asked them, ‘What did you get from this speech and what are you going to do differently as a result?’ what would I want them to say?’’ Everything in your speech, from your opening through the body to your closing remarks, should aim at achieving this goal.
When I work with corporate clients, I ask them the ‘‘objective question.’’ I also ask them why they are inviting me to speak and what objective or objectives they want me to accomplish with their audience. We then discuss and agree on exactly how we want the audience to think, feel, and act after the talk or seminar. Once we are both clear, I will then design the talk or seminar, from be- ginning to end, to ensure that we achieve that result. You can do the same.
A Complex Structure for Longer Speeches
In designing a longer talk, there is a more complex structure that you can use. It consists of the following eight parts, each of which I will develop and explain in the pages ahead.
1. The Opening. The purpose of the opening is to get the audi- ence’s attention, build expectations, and focus listeners on the speaker. There is no point in talking if no one is listening or paying attention.
2. The Introduction. This is where you tell the audience what is coming and why it is important.
3. The First Point. This is where you transition into the body of your talk. Your first point sets the stage and begins to deliver on your initial promise.
4. The Transition into the Next Point. You must make it clear that you have finished with one point and are now moving on to another. This is an art in and of itself.
5. The Second Key Point. This point should follow logically from your first point.
6. Another Transition. Here you make it clear that you are move- in onward to another subject.
7. The Third Key Point. This flows naturally from the first two points and begins moving you toward the end of your talk.
8. The Summary. This is your conclusion and call to action.
Speaking with Power and Presence
The popular author Elbert Hubbard was once asked how one be- came a writer. He replied, ‘‘The only way to learn to write is to write and write and write and write and write and write and write.’’
Likewise, to learn the art of speaking, the only way to learn is to speak and speak and speak and speak and speak and speak and speak. Learning to speak is like learning any other skill. It requires practice and repetition until you have mastered the ability to communicate and persuade.
One of the best ways to improve your speaking style and ability is to recite poetry aloud. Memorize a poem that you enjoy, one with a great story and wonderful lines, and then recite it over and over again. Each time you recite this poem aloud, put energy and passion into your voice. Vary the rhythm and tone and emphasis on the various words. Imagine that you are auditioning for a major role in a big-budget movie that will make you rich and famous. Deliver the lines of this poem as though it is extremely important that you connect emotionally and enthusiastically with the listener.
When you read good poetry, you not only learn how to develop sentences, but you also learn how to use a wider variety of words to make your points more effectively. The rule is this: People will forget what you said, but they will remember how you said it. As you change the emphasis from word to word and from sentence to sentence, you develop an almost musical ability to speak in such a way that listeners are caught up in your message.
Another great exercise is to read Shakespeare, especially the famous monologues from Hamlet, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, and Romeo and Juliet. When you read these wonderful monologues and soliloquies, you expand your command of language and your competence in rhetoric and persuasion.
Learning from Others
One of the very best ways to become a better speaker is to listen to as many other speakers as possible. Take notes. Observe how they walk, talk, move, and gesture. Observe how an experienced speaker opens a talk; transitions into the body of the talk; uses examples, illustrations, and humor; wraps up the talk; and concludes her time with the audience.
Make a list of the points you want to observe, from the opening to the close, and give the speaker a grade from 1 to 10 for each of those points. Think about how he or she could have done each thing better and how you could do it better yourself.
Listen to some of the best speeches ever given, many of which are available on CD. Play them over and over and notice how the speaker uses logos, ethos, and pathos to persuade the listener to think, feel, and act differently.
The wonderful thing about communication is that you cannot get worse at it by doing it. To master the arts of speaking and rhetoric, you must be prepared to learn and practice, over and over again, for months and even years. There are no shortcuts.
It is also important to remember that preparation is what separates mediocrity from greatness. So spend time developing your logic, planning your words, and working toward your goal for your audience. And practice. Every new line of poetry that you remember and recite, every monologue that you deliver aloud, every speaker that you observe and critique increases your ability to be- come an excellent speaker yourself. There are no limits.