THE HEADLINE PRINCIPLE
The first 30 seconds of any speech are the most important: In those crucial seconds, the audience forms an opinion about the speaker. Therefore, speakers should not waste that precious first half minute stating what they plan to say or how long they plan to speak, thanking a long list of people, or babbling about how excited they are to be at a particular event or addressing a particular audience.
Good communicators approach the beginning of their speeches the way a journalist approaches the beginning of an article. They begin with their most compelling information and deliver it in a way that has the audience wanting more. An effective opening will be concise to convey information quickly, will feature a story or a provocative statement, and will possibly surprise the audience. It should contain the kind of information that the speaker would share with a friend when he or she says “You will never believe this” or “Did you know …” Speakers may wish to try out their headlines on friends or family to be sure the information grabs their attention before using the headlines in a public setting.
THE SCORSESE PRINCIPLE
The best speakers are storytellers who are able to paint pictures with words. Like renowned director Martin Scorsese, they create interesting visuals. They give the audience lots of detail, but they keep the story tight and concise. For most speakers, telling a story means relating an anecdote that illustrates the main point. In a speech, good stories follow a formula. During the build, the speaker sets the scene, introduces the characters, and hints at the conflict to create a sense of anticipation in the audience. The speaker then delivers the payoff for the audience, and pauses briefly to let the audience digest it.
Adding verbal imagery to a presentation might take a little imagination, especially when speakers are working with dry, number-laden material. One method is to use an analogy, such as following a statistic of how many people die from a particular disease annually by comparing that to how many people fit in a particular stadium or live in a city the listeners know. Not only can an analogy keep the audience interested, it also adds context and helps people better understand the message.
While having good stories is important, so is a speaker’s delivery. To improve a story, a speaker should:
*Practice the story with family and friends, gauging their reaction.
*Vary the pitch, pace, and projection while telling it.
*Eliminate needless information and know how to shorten or lengthen the build in response to the audience.
*Believe the story is interesting in order to tell it with conviction.
THE PASTA-SAUCE PRINCIPLE
To have the most impact, messages should be boiled down to their essence, not watered down with extraneous words to fill time. The speaker should have a definite start and ending in mind and be able to expand or contract what comes between those as needed. Practice and editing are the keys to keeping messages rich but succinct.
McGowan offers advice on using the pasta-sauce principle in several situations:
*When giving a speech, the speaker should keep the presentation to a maximum of 18 minutes and create mini-segments within the speech to keep the audience’s attention.
*When answering questions in a panel discussion or media interview, a speaker should be prepared with a punchy statement and a story or data to back it up for each topic he or she expects will arise.
*When pitching a new client, people should spend three times as much time talking about the client’s needs as they do talking about themselves.
THE NO-TAILGATING PRINCIPLE
Verbal tailgating is the practice of speaking so quickly that the brain cannot stay ahead of the mouth when a person is deciding what to say next. As the analogy suggests, the results can be a crash with embarrassing or even painful results. Speakers must slow down and think through what they intend to say before saying it.
Speaking slowly has several advantages:
*Silences and pauses help hold an audience’s attention.
*Slower speech makes a person sound more confident, while rushed speaking sounds apologetic.
*A slower pace indicates that speakers are engaged with the conversation, and are listening to what others say and pausing to consider it before commenting.
*Speaking slowly prevents speakers from having to verbally backspace and clear up what they intended to say.
People have a tendency to talk too fast, particularly when nervous. To counteract that tendency, speakers should be careful to slow down when they are working with new ideas or presenting important information. When individuals are unsure of what to say, they should pause while they search for the right word. People should also learn to listen more and talk less, as this makes others feel valued and gives a speaker time to think before continuing on.
THE CONVICTION PRINCIPLE
Good speakers convey conviction for their messages, no matter how uncomfortable they are speaking in public. Individuals can show enthusiasm for a message through their voices, tones, and body language. Their words cannot indicate any sort of equivocation, so speakers should avoid phrases such as “I think,” “kind of,” or “I will only take a few minutes of your time.” Speakers should also avoid clichés and using too much industry jargon. While being straightforward and clear is a good way to convey messages, speakers must not oversimplify them as if they are speaking to children.
In an interview or panel discussion, speakers might be challenged in a way that can shake their confidence. In such a situation, speakers should validate another person’s opinion but not let themselves be bullied into agreeing with it. Finding some sort of common ground, however, even if it is just a small point, can help ease the tension.
Because body language is such an important component in showing conviction, speakers must learn the correct way to sit or stand with conviction. The standing power position, for instance, requires individuals to stand straight with their shoulders back, their arms bent at the elbow, and their hands resting near their belt. In this position, speakers keep their hands under control, limit their gestures, and keep their feet still.
THE CURIOSITY PRINCIPLE
Someone involved in a conversation should be interested in what the other people present have to say. Being a curious, active listener is crucial to being a good conversationalist. Individuals who display curiosity are better able to find common ground with others, and people are drawn to those who are generous in listening to them.
When meeting with someone for the first time, such as a potential client, it is a good idea to learn as much about that person as possible beforehand. That way, a speaker can be prepared with topics to discuss as ice breakers and have some idea of what questions might generate additional conversation. During the conversation, there should be lots of give and take, with the speaker listening and asking questions of others at least half the time.
Body language is important for conveying active listening. Because people often appear bored even if they are paying attention to a conversation, McGowan recommends developing a listening expression. A person should have a quarter smile on his or her face while listening; that expression makes a person look confident, honest, likable, and curious. A smile that is too big looks like it is being faked.
THE DRAPER PRINCIPLE
Don Draper, a character on the TV series Mad Men, frequently says “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” The trick for speakers is to subtly change the topic so it plays to their strengths. Some speakers (including many politicians), are far too obvious and appear to read from a script, give a non-sequitur answer to avoid a question, or swerve widely from one topic to another. The best way to detour a conversation is to widen the topic, guiding it away from the danger zone to safer territory that is still related to the subject.
With proper preparation, speakers should be able steer the conversation fluidly. Whether individuals are preparing for a job interview or a meeting with the media, they should try to determine what questions or topics are likely to arise. During the interview, a speaker should pay close attention as the interviewer begins talking, because the introduction to the question gives contextual clues about what is coming. While the interviewer is finishing the question, a speaker should be mentally framing his or her answer by determining:
*The point he or she wants to make.
*The story or data that will illustrate that point.
*The first five words he or she wants to say. Having the first few words in mind increases a speaker’s confidence.