Three Secrets of Top Speakers

Effective Communication

This article is inspired by Simon Lancaster’s TED talk: Speak Like a Leader.
The three secrets of Effective Speakers are:

  • Effective Rhetoric
  • Compelling Communication
  • Simple Structure

Effective Rhetoric

Rhetoric is often defined as the art of persuasion. Appropriate use of rhetoric is one of the most powerful tools in speaking. But, it is becoming somewhat of a lost art as it is no longer taught in schools. Here is a very good introduction to rhetoric.

Following are some simple but effective rhetoric suggestions:

Three Is the Magic Number

The brain appears wired to be most receptive to groupings of three. I do not know if there is a theoretical basis for this or if this wisdom simply comes from empirical observation. Nevertheless, it works, so we must capitalise on it.

Three Breathless Statements

  • Start the speech with three breathless statements.
  • Breathlessness mimics hyperventilation and indicates your urgency to communicate. This has the effect of better getting listener’s attention and keeping them attentive.
  • The statements are used to set the stage for the speech: Examples are:
    • “Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered.” — Barack Obama
    • “Government: Of the people. By the people. For the People.” — Abraham Lincoln
    • “The Good. The Bad. And the Ugly.”

Three Repetitive Sentences.

  • To follow soon after the three breathless statements in the introduction of the speech.
  • Emphasises the authentic sound of passion in our voice.
  • These statements set the stage for the speech. For Example:
    • “Processed food is not good for you. Fast food is not good for you. Simple carbohydrates are not good for you.” — a dietician.
    • “We can not dedicate — We cannot consecrate — We cannot Hallow — this ground.” — Abraham Lincoln.
    • “A sandal of hope when you reach out – A sandal of joy when you listen to your heart – A sandal of courage when you dare to care.” — J. A. Gamache in a speech about Ghandi.

Three Balanced Statements

  • Include at least one grouping of three balanced statements in the body of a speech
  • Our brains are tuned to the sound of balance statements, making for a more compelling speech.
  • Balanced statements sound more believable.
    • “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” — John F. Kennedy.
    • “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessing; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.” — Winston Churchill
    • “To err is human, to forgive is divine.”

Use of Metaphor

  • Use liberally in the speech to associate imagery with the content.
  • Leads people. Positive imagery will appeal to listeners, negative imagery will repel listeners.
  • Very effective in influencing the opinions of listeners about a subject, for example:
    • “Sunny Disposition” – positive and happy.
    • “Lion-heart” – strong, brave and courageous.
    • “Financial Storm” [of 2008/9] – gives the impression of an act of nature that will blow over. Instead of the “cabal of greedy bankers” bullying timid politicians and ineffective regulators into accepting questionable financial practices.

Use of Hyperbole

  • Use strategically through the speech. Do not overdo hyperbole as it can affect your credibility and that of the message.
  • Do not exaggerate quantifiable facts.
  • Use hyperbole to convey emotion and enthusiasm. For example:
    • I’ve been waiting my whole life for this.
    • I was up all night.
    • I did not waste a single moment.

Use of Rhyme

  • Use liberally through the speech, especially where attempting to convince or influence.
  • Prose that rhymes, sounds more believable irrespective of the content
  • Rhyme is a type of association with sounds and meter, therefore it is easier to remember.
    • An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
    • Advice when most needed is least heeded.
    • Anger restrained is wisdom gained.

Compelling Communication

Here I expand on a few of many principles that I feel are important.

How a Message is Conveyed

  • Listeners perceive communication in the following approximate percentages:
    • Body language: between 50% and 80%
    • Voice: between 15% and 40%
    • Content: between 5% and 10%
  • If body language, voice and content of the message congruent, each reinforces the other enhancing comprehension and understanding. If not congruent, each takes away from the other making for a confusing or misunderstood message.
  • A bit of congruent dramatisation goes a long way, a modest amount of movement gesticulation, facial expression and voice variation will add substantially to the impact of the message.
  • Position yourself so the audience can see you fully, do not stand behind a podium just because it is there.

Know your Audience

  • Understand the nature and needs of your audience as well as their knowledge level of the subject matter.
  • Meet your audience where they are, from their frame of reference. Do not expect your audience to come to where you you are.
  • Know why your audience is attending your speech and what they are wanting gain by listening to you.
  • Converse with your audience, do not talk to your audience, or worse tell your audience.

Know the Purpose

  • Know the message you want to convey. Can it be said in a short sentence as a single focused concept?
  • How do you want the audience to feel about the message?
  • Is there a call to action? What is it?
  • KISS – Keep it simple and short, but do not oversimplify.
  • Leave your ego behind, you are not there to show how clever you are or how much you know.

Kinesthetic Quality

  • This is your unique way of connecting and engaging with the audience
  • Examine how the masters project themselves and engage with their audiences. Examples that stand out for me are Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Nelson Mandela, Barry White, etc.
    • Deep, husky voice,
    • Slow, purposeful pace,
    • Strong posture,
    • Strategic pauses,
    • Measured, understated engagement – conservative appropriate show of emotion, etc..

Authentic Passion

  • What is just so important in your life that you just have to share it? Speak on these subjects.
  • This is a visceral quality, it is not intellectual.

Simple Structure

Speech structure is as important as it is simple. As Dale Carnegie put it:

  • Introduce with what you are going to say.
  • Say it.
  • Conclude by summing up what you spoke about.