The Art of Interpretation

Bringing words to life can be a daunting task!

20190704_140329The art of Interpretation is one of the essential disciplines speakers should attempt to master. Bringing words to life can be a daunting task for speakers and coaches. Some may ask, what is the art of Interpretation? Is it acting, well, not exactly! It is a multi-faceted dynamic style of speaking which demands the mastery of communicating your concepts, thoughts, and ideas by carefully combing words, tone, and body language. Some of the many other related fundamental requirements include breath control, good diction, vocal variety, rhythm, resonance, and phrasing. Mastery of each of these disciplines can completely change your audience Interpretation of the spoken word.

All speakers cannot fully acquire these requirements in a few short months. Certain concepts are more difficult to grasp than others immediately. It takes long and serious study and the development of best practices. Good speaking begins with proper breathing. There are two points to remember regarding the use of breath in speaking. (1) The speaker should inhale each breath quickly and deeply. (2) Its emission must be gradual and perfectly controlled to sustain, expand, or diminish their tone. The basis of breath control is good posture. Perfect posture makes inhaling easy. An active diaphragm and strong rib muscles provide the necessary perfection of controlling emission.

Speakers should also be aware that it is not the quantity of breath taken in, it is the managed column of air expelled, and that makes for an excellent speaking voice. Some additional physical requirements to produce a resonant tone are the loosening of the neck, jaw, throat, lips and tongue muscles and the regular recurrence of stressed and unstressed words, which creates rhythm in your speech patterns. It is those speech patterns, which add that distinctive quality to your tone and voice.

Tone and body language play an essential role in the art of Interpretation. While there are those who will say that Interpretation and acting are indistinguishable, there are notable differences. The speakers, who excel at this art, are those whose focus is on delivering a speech and not an act. They use verbal punctuation, correct pronunciation, and expression to connect with their audience while discovering the many joys and benefits of interpretation.

Speakers, challenge yourself to explore the use of neutral and weak vowels to heighten the effect of your tone.  Use body language to reinforce your punch lines by adding a punch look. Use silence to send your message. Be aware that sometimes your words may convey one meaning to your audiences while your tone and body language may be screaming something completely different.  And remember speakers,  what your audience decide to think, feel, or do after they have heard your speech, may depend on how well you have mastered the art of Interpretation.

Mentors Coaches And Protégés

Coaching can be part of mentoring, but mentors are not coaches.

20181207_093125Mentors and coaches have a long history of supporting and nurturing protégés through close working relationships with protégés. They offer encouragement and guidance while their protégés work on accomplishing their goals. Both mentors and coaches have the unique opportunity to share their expertise, wisdom, and knowledge while their protégé gains a foundation for building the necessary skills for achieving success in their endeavor. Mentoring or coaching can be a rewarding experience for a mentor, coach or protégé; however, although the roles of mentors and coaches may overlap, their roles and responsibilities are quite different.

Coaching can be part of mentoring, but mentors are not coaches. Coaches are responsible for their protégés meeting specific short-term goals. Common goals a coach can effectively facilitate are skills-based and are specific. Coaches focus on the short-term accomplishment of a goal or, the development of a single skill.  For example, a coach can have a powerful impact when a member wants to enhance or develop their use of pauses, vocal variety or gestures when preparing to deliver a presentation. A coach will assume the responsibility for providing the steps for the protégé to meet their presentation goals by giving specific feedback and direction to a protégés as they prepare for that single event. The coach determines the tasks and steps for the protégé to achieve a successful outcome.

The Mentor’s role is different. The mentor’s role is to provide support as the protégé takes personal responsibility for working toward the accomplishment of broader goals over an extended period. An experienced and knowledgeable mentor knows the value of their wisdom.  They also know how to balance sharing their expertise while allowing their protégés to learn on their own. For example, the protégé may choose to discuss their experiences while working on a challenging project and to share the knowledge they gained by trial and error. A mentor can support a protégé by listening to their thoughts, concerns, and challenges faced, and offer advice for handling similar situations in the future. The mentor offers advice, however, it is the protégé who determines the necessary tasks and steps for their success.

When the primary functions of mentors and coaches are clearly understood by the protégé, the chances of a successful outcome are much higher. Mentors and coaches should identify the needs of the protégé by asking probing questions and listening to the specific needs and goals.  An initial interview is one of the best ways for a mentor or coach can determine the role best suited for a particular protégé.  By listening and noting differences, but focusing on commonalities, a coach or mentor can enhance their relationship and partnership with a protégé. A tailored approach to suggestions and feedback, designed to coordinate with the protégé’s goals and personality, will often form a strong bond and a foundation for the success of mentor coach and protégé.

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Effective Coaching

Coaches should tailor their style to match situational expectations

20200323_094101Although Effective Coaching may very well be the best path a speaker can take in becoming a better speaker quicker, there is a belief held by some experts that not all speakers are coachable. Without a doubt, I believe that with a better understanding of our different Communication Styles and with Effective Coaching, both speaker and coach can come to realize that all speakers are coachable. Yes, even those who choose to take the scenic or Columbus route to their destination.

When both speakers and coaches understand their different Communication Styles and are willing to work with each other honestly, the results can be rewarding for both speaker and coach. Communication Styles are often situational; however, good coaches will determine how to improve relationships by mastering and adapting their application of Communication Styles based on situations. Coaches should tailor their style to match situational expectations. Both speaker and coach must also identify their preferred style of communication very early in their collaboration to decide if their styles may affect the building of a trusted relationship in the future.

Speakers should be able to identify and understand their primary style of communication from their everyday interactions with colleagues, friends, and family. How a person is known to be from daily interactions with others, cannot be magically changed by coaching or by them stepping unto a speaking platform. Who or what you are all about will be revealed when you step in front of an audience.

You know best if your everyday style of communication leads to positive or negative reactions when interacting in creative groups at work, in personal or family relationships. Coaching can help speakers decide if their current style may be a problem or is valid based on feedback and outcomes or if they should consider adopting a new style of communication. Selecting a different style is not an easy fix. Styles can change with time, practice, and Effective Coaching, however, both speaker and coach must be prepared to answer the following questions as they begin that journey.

  • When might the speaker want to adjust their communication style?
  • How can an understanding of their communication style improve their interactions with others?
  • How does their preferred communication style impact others as listeners?
  • How can the speaker tailor their communication style to match situational expectations?

When working with speakers, coaches can achieve positive results if both speaker and coach are also mindful of the following. Direct Communicators prefer their coach to get to the point quickly and succinctly. Avoid over-explaining or repeating yourself. Focus on solutions and only provide details when asked. Initiating Communicators value interacting with others and sharing stories. Allow them time for socializing by creating a friendly, non-threatening environment. Provide time to express feelings and opinions.

Supportive Communicators appreciate a calm, steady approach. Earn trust by providing plenty of reassurance. When seeking their opinions and ideas, encourage them to express their concerns, and allow time to make decisions. Analytical Communicators like facts and figures. They prefer information presented in an organized manner. Be prepared to answer questions. Be patient while they think through and process new information.

Effective Coaching requires the building of an ongoing trusted relationship between speaker and coach. Anyone can provide feedback, but it takes Effective Coaching to elevate a speaker to their next level and beyond. Good coaches can see blind spots and potential that can change a speaker or a speech from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

Let those who choose to be like Columbus be a Columbus. It is all part of the journey. Let them go out and test their feedback. With those experiences, they too will learn, it takes an Effective Coach and Effective Coaching to see the unseen, to think the unthinkable and to try the untried with confidence. And, I do believe that when both coach and speaker realize the value of understanding different Communication Styles and the priceless value of Effective Coaching, they too will come to believe that with honesty, time and patience, all speakers are indeed coachable.

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Your Purpose is Everything

Your presentation should include a foundational statement:

20190430_124248.jpgEvery speech must have a clear purpose. The main objectives when speaking in public are to inform, persuade, actuate or to entertain. But although those purposes are not mutually exclusive, each is sufficiently discrete to be treated as an individual purpose.  Speakers should be very clear about what they want their listeners to think, feel or do after they have heard your presentation.

Your presentation should include a foundational statement. That statement should be short and laser-focused on the selected topic. A lengthily general statement is of little value until it is narrowed down to a manageable size and purpose. A series of why questions will help narrow the topic and help you define your foundational statement.

  • The first obvious why question should be, why that particular topic.
  • The second, why that particular audience would be interested in listening to you speak on that subject.
  • Thirdly why that topic is appropriate for that particular audience and occasion.
  • Lastly, can that topic be adequately addressed in the allotted time?

As the speaker answers the why questions they have chosen, they should also keep in mind the general purposes for public speaking. Generally, speakers speak to be heard, to be understood, and to be repeated while focusing on the central idea and the key message they are communicating.

  •  If the purpose is to inform, there should be a clear understanding of your message.
  •  If the objective is to persuade, your focus should be on getting listeners to accept your message, claim or idea.
  •  If it is to actuate, you want the focus on your audience taking some action.
  •  Speeches to entertain focuses on providing amusement and enjoyment to listeners, however, all presentations should include lighter moments to break tensions that may develop when speakers are on the platform.

Selecting a subject which the speaker already know something about and can find out more through research is of paramount importance. Whatever the speaker’s purpose is for speaking, natural humor will significantly increase your audience’s attention to the content being presented.

Speaking from personal experience while exhibiting goodwill and caring for the feelings of others increases credibility, however, your purpose will always go a long way in determining the success of your speaking occasions – Why because your purpose is everything.

Learning from the Champions

Be a sponge, compete to become a better speaker !!!

20160514_162508The following is a summary of some of the excellent advice I received over the years from past World Champions of Public Speaking (WCPS). Their wisdom has helped me tremendously with competing and coaching. To quote David Brooks the 1990 WCPS, “I have a speech that can win the World Championship of Public Speaking, (WCPS) but I am not sure it is good enough to win at the club level.”

While that statement may provoke a chuckle, truer words have never been spoken. We all know what can happen if you bring a knife to a gunfight or vice versa. Speakers should be aware of the level at which they are competing and the expectations of their audience and the expected panel of judges. I suggest taking the time to modify your presentation for each level of competition. Observe what works by attending competitions at different levels.  Develop and practice your delivery formula for a WCPS speech. Mine is five laughs, a least ten chuckles, and one belly-full. 

Topic selection is critical.  Speeches I like to call “high bread icebreakers” historically have been excellent choices. Personal stories with a twist can also produce excellent results when the speaker can show, they are passionate about the subject and can make and make a connection with their audience. Jim Key the 2003 WCPS, recommends that speakers must be clear about what they want their audience to think, feel, or do after they have heard your presentation. Lance Miller the 2005 WCPS, advises that you should try to be yourself. Your credibility is vital. The speaker should avoid sounding boastful or self-centered. A successful WCPS speech usually has universal appeal, a powerful message, and a call to action at the end. Don’t try to make yourself the hero or heroine. Leave that decision to the audience or judges.

Dr. Randy Harvey the 2004 WCPS knows what excites listeners brains. His “scarlet ribbon” method establishes and maintains a connection with audiences by weaving a single message through the entire speech like a scarlet ribbon. He shows plants subtle messages in the minds of the audience and judges to persuade them to favor him while delivering his message or lesson.   Randy demonstrated that method in his winning speech “Fat Dad” by also using colorful language, and the power of the spoken word as he made his case for – “the lesson is love”. Be reminded, that as a speaker,  when you are on the platform, you too are making your case or teaching a lesson.

Craig Valentine, the 1999 WCPS teaches, preparing and delivering a world champion quality speech is a process; a process has the power to make someone a better speaker. Craig emphasizes using the stage to make your point. Speakers should be aware that as they move forward from the club level platform to District level and on to the WCSP, everything suddenly becomes bigger. Whatever you can do as a speaker to help your audience follow the plot of your story should be incorporated into the presentation.

Then there is the “Magic Moment,” which David Brooks emphasizes all champion speeches must include. It is the moment which leaves an indelible imprint on the minds of audiences and judges. The message can be subtle. Your magic moment should have the effect of making your audience spontaneously recall your speech or message whenever they think of you, the moment or the title of your presentation. All of the editing and coaching the champions provided me over the years have been very helpful, however, perhaps the best advice and wisdom I have ever received from a World Champion, many moons ago was from Darren LaCroix my first coach, the 2001 WCPS – Be a sponge, compete to become a better speaker and not to win trophies – Stage time! – Stage time! Stage time.

Your Power Pause

Let your audience embrace your silence

20181207_093125Whether you’re presenting a speech at your club meeting, introducing a speaker at a social event or delivering a sales pitch, you will connect with your audience if you add silence before you begin speaking to your audience.  In the immortal words of William Shakespeare – “I stand in pause where I shall first begin.”

The power pause method has been the key to magnifying the messages of many great orators, however, stage silence before you begin your presentation should not be overdone. Your expressed purpose should be to make sure you have the undivided attention of your audience. Before you start, try locking your eyes on some of your listeners with a stare, as you silently review in your mind each word of your opening sentence. Make your Power Pause your final preparation before you begin to speak.

When you’re sure, you have your audience attention, it is wise to acknowledge that you now have their attention with a smile or perhaps a gentle nod. The Power Pause is the great equalizer. Whether you’re male or female, tall or short, dapper or grungy, an audience will lend you their ear if you take the time to make your audience stare back at you in hopeful anticipation, before you begin. Stand and steer with confidence as if to say, I am ready for you. Are you ready to listen to me?

The Power Pause is one of the keys to charisma – that special power some speakers have naturally or have developed. It is a power that makes them able to influence others and attract their attention and admiration. Audiences usually listen attentively to people they like and those who they admire. The Power Pause can also be your safety net also as you stare out into that audience for the first time from the platform. Let your audience embrace your silence. Take time to gather yourself, your thoughts, tame those butterflies as you begin to deliver what everyone present waited to hear with bated breath; your opening with a roar, or a whisper.


Controlling Your Fear on the Platform

Don’t fight the fear. Embrace it!

20190425_185242Most speakers are conscious of the fact that the fear of public speaking-bug can strike at any time when they are on the platform. But with time and experience, when they begin to accept that all speaking in public is, in fact, public speaking the platform becomes less intimidating. Whether you are on or off the platform, it doesn’t matter. To be successful, speakers must learn to utilize the normal tension and nervousness associated with speaking in public. Don’t fight the fear. Embrace it. Tension can give speakers energy. It can make speakers more alert and make the difference between a compelling presentation and one that is dull and lifeless.

The act of speaking and proper breathing play a vital role in the process of reducing tension.  As you talk and discover that your audience accepts and understand what you are saying, your nervousness will dissipate. Physiologically, your body is using up the excess adrenaline it generated. Speaking aloud and moving with purpose reduces fear. Use body language to help you channel your energy as you show and tell your story. Be alive when you are on the platform, and your audience will respond positively to you and the topic you are presenting,

Topic selection and subject mastery are critical for your success. Select topics with which you are familiar and passionate about. Choose topics that will easily let you take your mind off yourself. Speech anxiety sometimes arises because of self-centeredness. Avoid being more concerned with your appearance and performance. Instead, focus on your audience and subject matter. Think more about introducing the subject and purpose of your talk rather than just starting your speech. Open with a statement that is simple, easy to say and engages your audience.  Choose statements that allow you to get to the point of your speech quickly and clearly.

Audience and situation analysis is also critical. The more you know about your audience and their expectations, the less you should have to fear. As you speak, feed off the positive non-verbal responses, you are receiving. The more you speak in public, the more you will become confident and be able to relax when you are on the platform. Speaking several times in front of the same group can help you reduce your fear; however, speakers should try to step out of their familiar surroundings to explore speaking in front of unfamiliar groups whenever possible. Over time and with repetition of the public speaking experience, you will realize and develop your own strategies for controlling your fear when you are on the platform

Freezing on the Platform

You are the messenger – Not the message!

IMG_1980 (1)Freezing on the platform while experiencing a performance anxiety attack, is far more common than most speakers care to ever admit. No one can predict how or when they will experience one of those episodes. It happens not to some but to us all. Good coaches and trainers often include how to manage those attacks in their training. How to avoid or prepare for these types of events is an essential part of your development as a speaker. But what you do before during and after one of those experiences can determine your success or failure when next you are on the platform.

There is a widely held belief that stage fright or performance anxiety attacks are closely linked to age, experience or even incompetence when in reality, it all boils down to the three P’s of public speaking – purpose, planning, and preparation.  When speakers are well prepared mentally, physically, and are present in the moment with a purpose, chances of freezing on stage are less likely. Their preparation should also include common what-ifs scenarios, like unexpected laughter. They should not be afraid to rough up the final draft as they begin their drilling exercises – picking a word or phrase from the prepared text and proceeding with their delivery from that point on.

Good writing can also significantly increase a speakers ability to deliver their message successfully. When a speech develops as a series of ideas with a transition for each vignette, the speaker is not only helping their audience follow the story; they are also helping themselves to focus on the flow of ideas and not just the words. Next, the must move the message from head to heart.  They must be prepared to manage any glitches by even changing body language or persona if necessary. In those unexpected moments, prepared speakers can safely jump to their anchor – the speech title or foundational statement momentarily, while they recover from the keywords or thought they may have lost. They take a deep breath, they refocus to regain their swagger without anyone realizing they’ve made a faux pas.

Freezing on stage can be a wakeup call for all speakers. Over time, we sometimes get careless or overconfident. Freezing on the platform can be a blessing in disguise, however, speakers should take a moment to honestly determine why they had the freeze.  Freezing can serve as a reminder that we must be well prepared to step onto the platform. If can serve to remind us about our purpose as speakers. It can also serve as a reminder that you are the messenger and not the message. Bring the heat, bring it early and surely you will heat things up the next time you find yourself experiencing a freeze on the platform.

  Speaking in Praise -The Eulogy

In your words, someone will find comfort.

FB_IMG_1525933421067 (5)Speaking in praise can be a challenging experience for even accomplished speakers, especially when you are honoring the life and times of a close friend or family member. Preparing this tribute may be emotionally draining as you find yourself searching for the right words to express your love and praise for someone who may have touched your life or changed the lives of many who will be present for the ceremony.  Some of the questions you may ask yourself might be – what should be my approach.  How can I make this moment a lasting memory for everyone – What would the departed have wanted me to say on their behalf to their friends and family – So many questions -so little time.

Having had to speak in praise on a few occasions myself, I too have found that achieving the goals of a eulogy does depend on your approach. Another crucial question you may want to ask yourself is the following: is this passing the end or a new beginning. I have found the speakers whose focus is on celebrating a new beginning by delivering their message just as they would have, at a banquet honoring their friend or a family member are often the most successful. Those speeches are inspirational, unforgettable and remembered long after the ceremony by all.

One approach is to personalize your presentation with significant milestones of the life you are honoring. Avoid making the speech too biographical. Include a few words about events that shaped their life and perhaps yours.  Another successful method is to select two or three life experiences, one of which can also be a great accomplishment that makes the individual worthy of praise. Weave a story around each event you selected.  Speak about the individual’s service to country and humanity or, life lessons you learned from being in their presence. Include a funny anecdote or two about the individual to provide some relief from the stress of the moment.

Delivering a tribute can be challenging, however, anyone can make this occasion memorable. I once heard it said, if only the best birds sang, the forest will be a quiet place. Practice your delivery, especially the opening and closing.  Begin with an opening statement or verse you are familiar with.  Use the one you can say with ease and confidence. Focus on your words and not on the occasion. If you do become emotional, pause, take a deep breath and continue delivering your message. Preparation and delivery of this type of speech make us all realize the power of words. In your words, someone will find comfort. In these times we are reminded to celebrate every day of living and that all lives are worthy of praise.


Adding Humor To Downers

Speech Brighteners are also a great way to add humor ….

IMG_6582Of all the advice, I have ever received about adding humor to a speech one might consider a downer; a sad or tragic experience, being natural and authentic has always served me best. Humor is all about being natural. If you practice, speaking or doing what comes naturally, getting people to laugh without you having to crack even a smile, could leave your audience laughing uncontrollably. If you want to be funny, don’t try to be. Natural humor can found in the worst of your experiences, even a downer.

It is possible to find natural humor regardless of the audience you are facing. Keep in mind humor can take many different forms.  In the delivery of your stories, you may use exaggeration; to stretch the imagination of your audience. Exaggeration often results in laughter. If your subject matter is related to numbers, instead of just using eighty percent, try using eighty, point nine, nine, nine percent which may leave your audience laughing about the absurdity of your overstated number.

A play on words is another good source of humor. Some words have more than one meaning which often generates natural humor – for example – They are taxing us right and left – do your taxes right and you will have nothing left. Then there is the understatement – like the director who ordered – Send out an S.O.S backward to keep it secret – This is also an excellent example of implication – Humor that makes a point but lets the audience fill in the blanks, however, the blank must always be obvious.

“Speech Brighteners” are also a great way to add humor to your speeches or presentations, especially topics considered dry, dull, and badly in need of a pick-me-up. Speech Brighteners can simply be a one-liner the speaker adds to their content with little or no disruption to the flow of their presentation. Here are a few examples.

  • I don’t mind suffering; it’s the pain that gets me.  
  • I trust everyone, but I always cut the cards.
  • I expect nothing; therefore, I’m never disappointed.

Another form of brighteners are “Topic Brighteners” for example:

  • Envy: When you are getting kicked in the rear, it means you ‘re in front.
  • Age: A woman’s age I can never tell, but I can always tell a man’s age by what he takes two at a time – stairs or pills
  • Taking No Chances: Psychiatrist to patient – since you suffer from loss of memory my fee is one hundred dollars in advance. 

Keeping a journal or story file with similar titbits is also very important.  Create a folder and collect those funny sayings you experience in your everyday human interactions. Humor is everywhere. Collect and use them in your speeches and presentations and your daily conversations until they become part of the way you communicate naturally.  

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