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Focus on Speaking

In the week that I took over the reins of Regional President of the Professional Speaking Association (PSA) in the South East, it seems fitting for the focus today to be on speaking. Speaking is an essential life skill that you acquire very early on. At school, I learned the importance of persuasive speaking when running for a school mock election, in my roles as Deputy House Captain and School Prefect and for my Drama and English courses. As part of my Linguistics degree, I studied all types of speaking elements: English Language Learning and Teaching, Sociolinguistics, Dialectology, Second Language Learning, Phonetics, Morphology, Speech Therapy, Semantics, Syntax, Phonology, Physiology and Child Language Acquisition particularly focusing on the theories of Noam Chomsky, David Crystal, Jean Aitchison and Jean Piaget. I find it curious that a skill we acquire so early on in life and continue to practice daily is the cause of such great angst in adulthood. Although it remains the case. A prerequisite to communicate effectively in our professional and personal lives, yet glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, plagues the masses causing anxiety, panic and even paralysis. Have you ever experienced sweaty palms, a dry mouth, shaking hands or legs or been struck with a total blank mind in the middle of your talk? I know I have! Public speaking is a fear that is believed to be more common than the fear of spiders, heights or even death. I interviewed Steve Bustin, Past President of the PSA, this week for Focus on WHY, (interview live on 4th February), and he even has a t-shirt which says ‘I make a living out of your worst fear!’ I love that! To improve my speaking skills I have read many books, interviewed many professional speakers and speaker trainers and listened to or read some of the best speeches ever performed. The Art of Public Speaking: Lessons from the Greatest Speeches in History by John R. Hale is a fascinating collection of 12 lectures talking about the most inspiring speeches delivered since 400 BCE. Speeches from Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, Abraham Lincoln, Marie Curie, Elizabeth I and Demosthenes rallying the citizens of Athens. Hale walks you through how to prepare for public speaking, how to craft a great speech and how to handle your audience. I currently attend Speech Club and Critique Club, both run by Steve Bustin, to improve my professional speaking skills and what strikes me is that the winning formula hasn’t really changed for thousands of years. Since the study of public speaking in ancient Athens began, a proficiency in speaking skills was essential in order for Athenians to progress in society, to debate issues or to defend themselves in court. Have times really changed that much since? Carmine Gallo, in Talk Like Ted, speaks of mastering the art of storytelling using Aristotle’s three pillars of persuasion to convince your audience. Gallo split these components of persuasion with ethos being 10% of a speech, pathos 65% and logos 25%. Ethos, Greek for ethics, establishes your personal credentials and character which helps you to build trust and respect with your audience. Pathos, Greek for suffering, pity or experience, is where you inspire or conjure an emotional response from your audience connecting with and influencing them on an emotional level. The final element, logos, revolves around logic and is where you encourage your audience to think. Tapping into their intelligence, you give them evidence to support your claims. Be a great storyteller and reach into people’s hearts and minds. Focus on WHY! Connection with the audience is paramount so your speaking needs to be emotional, novel and memorable. Make it your mission to inform, educate or entertain your audience using the rule of three. The brilliant and humorous Jeremy Nicholas fully endorsed the rule of three on his Talking Funny Programme. So with the rule of three, think three As: authenticity, awareness and attitude. Think three Cs: charisma, competence and confidence and think three Ps: passion, presence and practice. Deploying all these elements will ensure you get better at public speaking. However, remember the most crucial rule of three; three Rs – rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! ACTION POINT Don’t fear speaking, instead focus on speaking! What could you do today to improve your speaking skills?

Amy BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS* How to Talk to Anyone by Liel Lowdes - Talk Like Ted by Carmine Gallo - How to Own the Room: Women and the Art of Brilliant Speaking by Viv Groskop - Ted Talks by Chris Anderson - The Art of Public Speaking: Lessons from the Greatest Speeches in History by John R. Hale which is a fascinating collection of 12 lectures talking about the most inspiring speeches delivered since 4th century BCE - *As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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