Observing Writing & Speaking

Suspects will often change their clothes, but seldom their shoes.

The first step to becoming a better writer or speaker is to become a better observer. By our very nature, we are lazy when it comes to observing things and people around us. We readily accept the observation of others. We use generalities instead of little details we discovered ourselves. We also ignore the senses that were touched, the little things that may have left an indelible mark on us subconsciously. As a writer or speaker, the little details we ignored are the ones that count most to our audience. Addressing the minor details will often go a long way in helping us be better observers, better writers, and better speakers.

When last you took a moment to be more observant of your surroundings? By testing your ability to observe, we can greatly improve our living, thinking, and writing. Close your eyes and try to recall the first time you saw your spouse. Do you remember what he or she was wearing? Do you remember the look when you first made eye contact? Or how about the aroma or the shoes that were worn that day, do you remember? My dad, the cop, once told me to be good at his job, you must be a curious observer. Suspects will often change their clothes, but seldom their shoes. I still remember that tip, as vividly as I remember my mama’s cooking. Mia Angelo, the great poet, writer, and speaker, often said, people may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. When you write or tell your stories, explore all five senses, sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. Work on the feeling s of your audience, and you will bring your characters and your moments of truth back to life.

Using the right words at the right time to express what you saw, heard, and felt can be challenging, but with practice, you can master the art of audience awareness. If you practice reliving and not recalling details of what you saw, heard, and felt, you can transport your audience back to a time and place. As your story is being told, entice your audience to feel some of what you felt. With that approach, you will be far more effective as a speaker. Great speakers often advise, don’t tell them, take them. Get your audience involved. Ask them to do something or engage them with facial expressions, your vocal variety, and your charm. If you can get your audience to react, that’s a good indicator that you are being heard and your message is being delivered.

Observing your audience from a stage is a bit different. While it is critical to observe your audience’s reactions as you deliver your presentation, it can become a distraction. Speakers should consider their tone, content, and language in the preparation phase of their presentation. Know your audience. Delivery, especially in a virtual environment, has its limitations. However, with a little creativity, we can use virtual settings to our advantage. Make connecting with your audience a priority. Stay connected with them from the beginning all the way to the end. Keep in mind great speeches are often forgotten when there is an absence of a call to action at the end. When a call to action is not offered to your audience, they are left to imagine your purpose. Be specific about what you are asking your audience to think, feel or do. What you are asking your audience to do must also be doable.

Practice seeing the unseen, hearing sounds of silence, and the feeling of being touched even when you are alone. And you will know what it’s like to be in tune with your surroundings. And as we observe the little things around us that we so often ignore, we will be inspired to become a better observer, better writer, and a better speaker.

The Competing Occasion

Time is of the essence when opening your presentation

Every speaking occasion is different. Every time you open your mouth to speak, you are judged – on or off the platform. But what about when you are speaking competitively? On those occasions, both speaker and speech are judged by individuals with different levels of expertise. Therefore, you must provide reasons to persuade your judges and audience to favor your presentation over someone else’s. Competitive speakers must know what motivates both their judges and their audience. The competing occasion demands that your topic selection must be appropriate for that particular audience and occasion.

How are great speeches created? They are created by the speaker having a clear understanding of their topic. Speakers should also know how they will get audiences to listen, be entertain while informing, and how they can make their presentation memorable. Speakers must also know exactly when they have achieved their goal and not overstate their case to undermine their credibility. Good sales-persons know exactly when to go for the head, heart, and your pocket-book. Speakers must also know their points of attack and when they have achieved their purpose, and it’s time to close the deal.

Time is of the essence when opening your presentation. Lead with your strongest point or argument. Get to the point. First impressions leave an indelible impression on audiences. Statistics show in your first minute; a speaker can win-over or lose their audience. Speakers should hint where they are going or plan to take you in the first minute of your presentation. In that first minute, you want your audience to think silently, come with me – l will tell you more. That curiosity you arouse in your opening will serve as the impetus for the rest of your presentation.

D’Brooks, the 1990 World Champion of Public Speaking, advises that you make brevity a part of your speaking style. He’s also an advocate for writing out your speeches, not to be read, but for them to be edited and re-edited. He stresses – “Great Speeches are not written, they are re-written.” Whether you choose to write first and then deliver or deliver and then write, it’s OK. When you write your speech, you can focus on your choice of words as you re-edit your speech. As you check your sentence construction. As you see visually, if you can deliver each sentence with fewer words.

David also reminds speakers that we should compete to become better. It’s not all about winning a trophy. It is about competing at a high level and taking the time to know as much as you can about your audience and their expectations. Find your voice. Don’t speak too fast or too slowly. Don’t try to sound like someone else. Be yourself. Use strategic pauses for emphasis. Practice enunciating each word clearly. Make sure you have a memorable or magic moment in your presentation. Your conclusion is just as important as your opening. Recall some of the main points of your presentation. Leave enough time to summarize and emphasize your take away message. The quality of your performance and not the trophy will determine if you made a winning presentation when your speaking occasion is competing.

2020 is Hindsight Finally

The future is now

For years we have said in jest 2020 is hindsight. And finally, it has now come to pass. However, for those who live life looking back, it will come to stay. Every year is a good year considering the alternative. But life is where the rubber meets the road. Before stepping forward into another year of your speaking journey, it is a good idea not to get stuck looking back but to review the feedback you received from your mentors, coaches, and trainers. Now is a good time to review what worked and what didn’t as you move forward to make 2021 a year of speaking excellence.

Feedback has played an important role in my public speaking journey. I still review many of the comments I received from when I first started my journey twenty-four years ago. I look back at those remarks to see if I have grown. I look back to be reminded of the bad habits I corrected and the good ones I must continue to develop. It is easy for habits, both good and bad, to creep into your presentations when you’re growing as a speaker. When you stop speaking for a few days, you will know. Stop for a few more weeks; your audience will know. Stop for a few more weeks, and everybody on the planet will know. A constant review of your past will lead you to a brighter future. Looking back, but don’t stay back. Keep moving forward.

The comments you receive from evaluators are different from the feedback you’ll get from your mentors, trainers, and coaches. Although we love to hear what helps us build confidence as a speaker, there comes a time when only the truth matter. The comments that will help you most are the raw truth. And sometimes, that truth may be too painful to stomach. Anyone can stroke your ego, but it’s the truth that will help you to excel. Dana LaMon – the 1992 World Champion of Public Speaking, said it best when he visited our District 4 in 2007 – He said, “I am stuck on excellence. Compare your performance today with yesterday’s results, and if you have improved or advanced, just a little you have excelled”.

There are no shortcuts to achieving excellence in public speaking. For some, it takes baby steps. It’s a long and winding road, with many milestones to record along the way. Enjoy the successes, but it’s the failures that will drive you to achieve your goals. When you can say to yourself with conviction, it doesn’t matter what failures I have had in the past; what matters most is what I will make happen in the future, and the future is now; you are on your road to excellence. Let’s ring in the new year with a new challenge. My new challenge in 2021 will be podcasting. What’s going to be yours? Let’s begin the New Year with a brighter outlook as we wave goodbye to 2020, to let it remain in hindsight, finally.

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