There are some well accepted essentials for good speaking. Any speaker keen on mastering the art of speaking would do well to meticulously follow the following Ten Commandments.
We have already discussed the importance of non-verbal aspects of oral communication. Even before the speaker opens her mouth to speak, the listeners start their appraisal. Audiences tend to size up the speaker from the speaker’s appearance, attire and posture.
The attire should convey the right message. Casual appearance in an otherwise formal occasion should be avoided. Any speaker creates a visual impact, positive or negative through eye contact, facial expression, posture, gestures, mannerisms and behaviour.
Good speakers cultivate their personality and demeanour consciously so as to make a positive impact. Eyes can be highly expressive. Confident speakers know how to make and sustain eye contact with their audience. Avoiding eye contact may be interpreted by the audience as lack of confidence. Further, eyes can also convey feelings and supplement the verbal message.
Faces being the index of mind, facial expressions also communicate the speaker’s feelings and intensity. A relaxed and friendly expression helps the speaker connect easily with the audience. And any good speaker must learn to smile.
It creates a positive impact. It breaks resistance, if any. Postures and gestures also create an impact on the audience. Posture relates to how one carries one’s body. An erect posture conveys confidence and alertness.
A sloppy posture or a bent posture conveys casualness. Gesture refers to any significant movement of limb or body. Gesture also includes gesticulation. Speakers can make deliberate gestures by moving their body, face, head or arms as an expression of feeling.
Postures and gestures are used by effective speakers to convey enthusiasm, conviction and intensity. Used effectively, they make the speeches and presentations lively, interesting and appealing.
Mannerisms and behaviour can also create a positive or negative impact. Mannerisms cover individual characteristics and body movements. Avoidable body movements and characteristics such as picking the nose, scratching the ear, feeling the face and such other distractions by the speakers do not go well with audience. Behaviour has to do with the speaker’s response to any stimulus. Good speakers know how to keep their poise and not get agitated or disturbed.
Any speech or presentation is for the audience. Like the reader in written communication, it is the listener or a group of listeners who constitutes the very purpose of the communication. Ultimately, the speech is good or bad depending upon how the audience receives it. Good speakers spare no efforts in learning about their audience.
Good speeches are those where the speakers attain the wavelength of their audience. Every speaker, to be effective, should connect with his audience. We have already discussed the importance of audience analysis earlier in this chapter.
Such an analysis helps in preparing the speech so as to connect with the audience. If need be, speakers also make it a point to reach the venue in advance and build up a rapport with the audience. Some informal interaction will help the speaker in understanding their expectations.
When we refer to connecting with the audience, it is not through the content alone. Contents of the speech should of course be audience relevant. Apart from that, the delivery of the speech should also be audience friendly.
The choice of words, the transmission rate, illustrations and stories, amplification of points, use of jargon and the level of interaction would be such as to ensure a proper connect with the audience.
Good speakers make improvizations or make modifications to their original plan if they find that they have not assessed the audience properly. Good speakers adapt to their audience expectations.
Good speakers take pains to prepare their speeches in advance. The time spent on preparation would depend upon the familiarity of the topic, nature of audience and length of speech. Good speeches are the result of hard work and meticulous preparation.
Even the best of speakers prepare their speeches, although not as elaborately as a beginner. Elsewhere in the exhibit ‘The long and short of it’, we have noted how President Woodrow Wilson needed a week for preparation when he had to speak for ten minutes.
Much advance preparation is needed if one has to make a brief yet memorable speech. Good preparation means that ‘the speaker must have his thoughts arranged to form a logically integrated thought process’.
Quite often, although the subject is the same, the audience may be vastly different. A classroom talk on ‘Leadership Qualities’ to a new batch of manager trainees will be very different from a speech on the same subject to a group of CEOs attending a refresher program in a business school.
The explanations given, quotes and analogies mentioned, empirical studies and factual details discussed and such other relevant aspects would vary significantly, both in terms of preparation and delivery.
As observed by the Alcuin of York, ‘the art of speaking is made up of five things: invention, arrangement, style, memory and delivery.’ Each of these five ingredients is equally important. Invention relates to ideas, creativity and innovativeness.
It relates to originality of ideas and conceptual clarity. Regular speakers and experts may speak on the same subject to ten different audiences. Every time they know how to vary the speech and bring in creativity and innovativeness suiting the audience.
Similarly, a speaker may be called upon to speak on a subject that is perceived by the audience to be drab and boring. Accomplished speakers know how to make even uninteresting subjects interesting and worthy of attention.
Arrangement refers to sequencing and order of presentation. It means avoiding going back and forth and speaking in a rambling “manner. Style refers to the stamp of individuality. It refers to a copious supply of words and using them with judgement.
It means developing a natural and confident manner of speaking that creates favourable impression on the listeners. Memory is important especially when the speaker is not consulting any notes.
Extempore or impromptu speakers depend much on their memory. While making long speeches, aide memoires or brief notes help in covering all the points in a well-organized manner.
The fifth ingredient of the art of speaking consists of delivery. It relates to the actual manner of speaking, which we will be covering in some detail in the following paragraphs.
Voice modulation determines the vocal impact created by a speaker. Good speakers are well aware of the need for voice modulation. They know how to vary the pitch and intensity of the voice.
They also know how to modulate the tone, quality and pace of the voice to suit the content and the force of the message. The tone will be harsh or soft depending upon the situation. The pitch may be high or low.
The quality of the voice may be controlled or uncontrolled. The pace may be rapid or slow. The intensity or force will again vary depending upon the message being delivered.
All the five features of voice, viz., tone, pitch, quality, pace and force can be varied to create the desired impact. Dull, monotonous voices put off the audience, even when the subject is otherwise interesting. Effective voice modulation helps speakers gain and retain audience attention.
Pauses and punches are to oral communication what full stops and commas are to written communication. Good speakers know how to use pauses and punches for greater effect. Pauses at the right places help in assessing the audience receptivity.
Good speakers also use such pauses to review what they have already covered and collect their thoughts about what remains to be covered. While short or brief pauses are acceptable to the audience, unduly long ones detract continuity and focus.
Speakers use short pauses to confirm that the audience has understood the message covered so far and may mention how they propose to proceed from that point.
Similarly, punches along with appropriate body language facilitate emphasis and reiteration. As Swami Chinmayananda noted, ‘From the platform, when he is delivering, he must be able to punch the ideas into the understanding of the listener.’
Good speeches and presentations necessarily have to be a participative activity. If the speaker goes on speaking, unmindful of audience participation, very little is achieved.
Unless the listener pays attention, actively listens and fully comprehends what the speaker is conveying, no speech or presentation can be termed effective. Good speakers, therefore, are keen on ensuring listener participation.
They make every effort to keep the audience attentive and engaged. This is done by establishing eye contact, modulating the voice, making gestures, moving around and involving the audience by asking questions. Illustrations, stories and rhetorical questions keep the audience attentive and engaged.
The speakers should use every opportunity to elicit responses from the listeners. Questions such as, ‘Are you with me so far?’ or ‘Shall we proceed further?’ or ‘Do you have any questions?’ provide opportunities to the listeners to respond.
Effective speakers make it a point to summarize and skillfully re-emphasize the key points at appropriate intervals. Like the emphasis at the end of a paragraph in written communication, in oral communication capturing the essence of the message at frequent intervals ensures clarity of speech.
Good speakers draw attention to ‘what we have learnt or noted so far’. At the end of the speech, they conclude by reiterating the essence or high points of their message for abundant clarity.
They stress on the important areas and make sure that the message is well received. Closing or conclusion is the last opportunity the speaker has to reach out to the audience. The closing should be strong and the speech should end on a firm note. That leaves a lasting impression.
Delivery relates to the manner in which the message is actually communicated. It is how the speaker says what he or she has to say. Great speakers attach particular attention to various aspects of speech delivery.
They practice their delivery and plan their talk. Whatever be the keenness of the audience and the force of the topic, they bring in body language, play with words, use pauses and punches and elicit better receptivity from the audience.
They keep the atmosphere lively and charged up. Their tone reflects enthusiasm and confidence. Good speakers learn to make their speeches animated and exciting. Listeners enjoy every minute of the speech when there is great delivery.
Just as routine or ordinary topics are made interesting by great delivery, very interesting topics are made dull and monotonous by bad delivery. Speaking without giving due attention to various aspects of delivery and ignoring audience response makes any speech tedious and lackluster.
There are speakers who are interesting no matter what the subject is. Similarly, there are speakers who are boring no matter what the topic is. Delivery makes all the difference.
Any good communication, be it oral or written, calls for a positive approach. A positive approach in oral communication includes many characteristics. It means speaking without hurting. It means not underestimating the listeners.
It means keeping your cool and not getting provoked by anything the listener says or does. Speaking with a positive approach means being considerate, warm and showing friendliness. Good speakers weigh their words and avoid anything that is hurtful and demeaning.
They do not make fun of the listeners and shun sarcasm. Sarcasm cuts people and alienates them forever. One wrong word uttered can certainly spoil the otherwise well-delivered speech.
Any derogatory references to caste, creed, community, religion or colour and sexist remarks should be scrupulously avoided. Wise cracks or remarks at the expense of somebody else do not always go well with the audience.
Good speakers show humility and admit their mistakes and shortcomings, if any. They apologize when they are late or say the wrong things and show their respect to the listeners. They use the right kind of wit and humour. They listen while others speak.
They smile and establish rapport with their audience. They do not ever consider the audience to be their adversaries or dim-witted or ignorant persons. Positive speakers do not show arrogance or a know-all kind of attitude.
They know that just as they are speakers on this occasion, they would be listeners or a part of the audience on other occasions. They treat their audience with dignity and respect.