Monday, April 26, 2010

Emotions are Contagious

This morning I attended an aerobics class, and witnessed firsthand the power of the speaker's (or in this case, instructor's) emotions.

You couldn't help but "catch" this teacher's energy and spunk. She seemed to be having the time of her life - and we couldn't help but join in the fun.

Though the class was full, she looked each person in the eye, and took the time to smile at individuals, including me.

What was most remarkable about her teaching style was the way she responded to her own mistakes. And she definitely made quite a few. But she seemed almost to embrace these missteps and use them as opportunities to get us laughing.

By the end of the class, though we were all exhausted, we were smiling.

I will go back to her class not only because she led a challenging workout, but because her joy is contagious, and quite simply, she brightened my day.

From the Green Room: Rest assured, you will mess up each and every time you get up to speak. It is how you respond to those mistakes that determines your success as a speaker.

Remember, your emotions are contagious. If you suffer, your audience will suffer with you. If you roll with your mistakes - or even embrace them joyfully - your audience will have fun, too.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Harvard Students Want to Learn How to Speak

Last week, the Harvard Crimson reported that "Harvard Speaks!," a public speaking student group lobbied the administration to make public speaking a core component of the Harvard curriculum:

"The College has sought to increase public speaking resources on campus and has even created a speech tutor program, but students are still calling for more opportunities to enhance their public speaking skills.

Members of “Harvard Speaks,” a campaign launched by students Tuesday night, hope to demonstrate to administrators the importance of public speaking as a life skill and the consequent need for more public speaking opportunities on campus.

“Whether it’s [speaking] with a law professor, in consulting, or in advocacy, the skills you take away from public speaking will help you communicate your message,” said Kevin Y. Fan ’13, the founder of the campaign, which has already collected over 100 student signatures on a petition calling for more public speaking resources."

And from the Harvard Speaks! Facebook page:

Harvard Speaks! seeks to revitalize Harvard’s hallmark - oratorical excellence. By making an investment in rhetoric, Harvard ensures that tomorrow’s leaders are well-equipped to think critically and communicate effectively.

That such a student group exists at Harvard indicates to me a realization of a basic truth about communication:

You can attend the top university in the country. You can graduate with honors, and go on to become a master in your chosen profession.

But this does not necessarily mean you know to speak well. The ability to communicate a message and connect with an audience is a learned skill - and something which everyone can get better at - regardless of your knowledge of your particular field.

And this is a perfect skill to begin to learn in high school and college - before you build your career and your ability to speak in public is already assumed.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Speaking for Others; Finding Your Voice

Listen to this remarkable story on the Moth (5th one down). Zoologist Alan Rabinowitz tells the story of how he overcame a debilitating stutter through his determination to be a voice for endangered animals - and jaguars in particular.

Alan describes how he worked intensely for years to train himself to speak without stuttering. He explains that although technically his hard work paid off, and he could speak fluently, he still hadn't found his voice. He may have sounded fluent, but inside, he was still the stuttering, broken child.

As the story continues, Alan describes his determination to speak on behalf of animals - the only living beings he could speak to as a child without stuttering. He recalls a moment on his journey when he was given a once in a lifetime opportunity: to speak to the Prime Minister and cabinet of Belize to persuade them to take action to save the country's jaguars, who were being killed at an alarming rate.

By all accounts, this would be the most difficult and terrifying speaking experience of his life.

He recounts, "I had 15 minutes. I couldn't stutter. I couldn't distract them from the message of saving jaguars."

What happened? His speech was a rousing success. An hour and a half later, the cabinet voted to create the world's first jaguar preserve.

For the first time, Alan used his voice, not as a way to gain acceptance, but to be a voice for others. Alan finally found his voice by being a voice for those who could not speak.

From the Green Room: You can spend years learning how to become a better speaker. But until you speak from your heart, you will never truly find your voice.