Thursday, March 26, 2009

Address the Individual

This week on Slate, John Dickerson comments on Obama's second press conference:

Obama returned to the theme of togetherness to buy time. We will "travel that road as one people," he said in his opening remarks. "We are all in this together." Lovely sentiment, but the times seem to call for a stronger pitch. Why should people join together when bailouts are rewarding people who didn't act in the common interest?...

Obama may be popular enough to make the case. But to bring about collective action in this environment, Obama may have to return to a lesson he wrote about in Dreams From My Father: the power of self-interest in helping to create community.

Good point. Truly connecting to an audience means addressing individuals - not the collective group. In Obama's case, he could have spoken to each individual, without losing his call for people to join together to get our nation back on track. Obama could have stated that we travel that road - not just as one people - but as a community of individuals, each with something to contribute.

From the Green Room: When you speak to an audience, imagine you are having a one-on-one conversation with each individual present.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Stop the Tone Drone

Ever wonder how you can maintain concentration when you listen to talk radio?

The answer is that you never have to listen to any one voice for too long.

Note how one person gives the traffic report, another talks about weather, and a third gives the financial update - all in under a minute.

We maintain our attention because of this vocal variation. If the same person were to speak for all three, we would have a much harder time digesting the information.

This is why someone can have no problem listening for an entire hour to talk radio while driving, but will drift off during a 15 minute lecture.

So how can you achieve this kind of vocal variation in a speech?

Change tones!

Divide your speech into several mini-speeches, each with a different, contrasting tone. Each tone should have an emotional intent - how you want the audience to feel when they listen to you. The tones should be completely distinct from each other.

For example, you might begin your speech with the goal of making the audience feel frustrated and then immediately switch tones so they feel hopeful.

And it goes without saying that tone changes should reinforce and support your content - that, of course, is the point in the first place!

From the Green Room: End vocal monotony. Change tones.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The First Speech Coach

As my family gets ready to celebrate Passover, I am reminded that the fear of public speaking is as old as...well, Moses.

When God tries to convince Moses to speak to Pharoah and argue for the slaves to be freed, Moses responds, "Please, my Lord, I am not a man of words...for I am heavy of mouth and heavy of speech.

Does God respond by giving Moses a pep talk about his underated speaking abilities? Nope.

God says, "Who makes a mouth for man or who makes one dumb or deaf, or sighted or blind? Is it not I, God? So now, go! I shall be with your mouth and teach you what you should say."

What can the non-prophets among us learn from this interaction?

Sometimes it helps to see yourself as an emissary. Rather than worry whether the audience will like you, focus on delivering your message.

Friday, March 13, 2009

G-dcast: The Power of Visuals

What is G-dcast?

As defined on their site (, "G-dcast is a place to watch cartoons based on the story Jews are reading in the Torah this week."

This week, I am the lucky narrator. I discuss the story of the Golden Calf, and my words are animated by the incredibly talented Nick Fox-Gieg.

Parshat Ki Tisa from

More Torah cartoons at

In my discussion, I talk about the power of sight. The seriousness of the sin of worshipping the calf is only truly recognized when God and Moses see it with their own eyes.

This message about sight really hit home for me months after the initial recording, when I actually saw my words come to life through the animation!

A famous study at UCLA tried to answer the question, "What makes the most impact on an audience?"

The study revealed that only 7% of the impact comes from the words you say.

37% is the sound of your voice.

And a whopping 56% is what the audience sees when they listen to you. (stance, movement, visuals, eye contact, etc.)

So the key to making your content stick is to reinforce it with your body and your visuals - and especially with eye contact.

What makes G-dcast so powerful is the simultaneous audio and visual expression. Each reinforces and enriches the other.

From the Green Room:
Synchronize what you say with what you do with your body. Watch

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Afraid of Public Speaking? Try Crossing a High Wire

What can the seemingly fearless teach us about fear?

Take a look at an interview with Philippe Petit, the tightrope artist who crossed a high wire linking the Twin Towers. (His story is the plot of Man on Wire, the 2009 Oscar winner for Best Documentary Feature):

Given Mr. Petit's steadiness at 1,500 feet and his entrepreneur's resilience, it's fair to ask what does rattle him.

"I am very human and full of little stupid fears on earth," Mr. Petit says. "I have problems with big dogs showing their teeth. And centipedes and tarantulas. But up there, I have no fear. And I have no fear, I feel, out of working on it, knowing my subject, not out of not wanting to know."

"That," he said with characteristic seriousness of purpose, "would be death in my profession."

(New York Sun, July 2008)

This is not the answer I expected to hear.

I thought Mr. Petit would say that he is afraid when he can't get out of his head. Yet instead he says that it is knowing his subject that allows him to conquer his fear of it.

Of course, one has to imagine that when Mr. Petit is actually on the high wire, he survives because he is able to quiet his mind. Yet, what enables him to do that is the preparation he does beforehand - his absolute knowledge of his subject.

So unfortunately for those of us who like to wing it (I am often guilty of this), there is no substitute for thorough and thoughtful preparation.

From the Green Room: Prepare. Prepare some more. Then trust yourself.