Monday, July 28, 2014

The Role of Storytelling in Public Speaking

Today's Special Guest Blogger is Dr. Sharon Bebout Carr, one of the countries foremost authorities on Storytelling and Performance. Please visit her Facebook page at 

The Role of Storytelling in Public Speaking
By Dr. Sharon Bebout Carr

As speakers, we are always looking for an edge.  We browbeat our audience with statistical data, because we know that statistics can sound impressive and make it look like we really did our research.  We put together power point presentations because we know that visual reinforcement helps audiences remember and process our information.  We dress professionally to introduce ourselves through signs as serious and competent communicators.  We practice enunciation and pronunciation so that we will be more easily understood.   The list goes on and on.  All of these strategies have their place and can help to promote a speaker’s success.  But if I had to choose one strategy that I would incorporate in every speech because of its multiplicity of benefits, it would be storytelling.

Storytelling is a powerful public speaking tool for three important reasons:  it provides compelling support for claims, because it humanizes your message and utilizes specificity; it helps establish a rapport between you and the audience because it reveals something important about you; and it invites your audience to make associations between your topic and their own past experiences.  To illustrate these claims, I would like for you to consider three possible introductions to a speech about the hazards inherent in coal mining.

Introduction #1:  Despite the continued improvements to coal mining safety, coal mining remains one of the most dangerous occupations in the world.  As a matter of fact, people still die in mining accidents with astonishing frequency.

Introduction #2:  Many of you sitting in the audience today may know someone who works in a dangerous profession.  I know I do.  I am a coal miner’s daughter.

Introduction #3   Johnny was a coal miner.  One night he was working, shoveling coal onto a belt and something went wrong, so he turned off the belt to do some maintenance.  Another miner came along, who didn’t know why the belt was off and turned it back on.  Johnny was caught in the belt and killed.  He was 20 years old.   He was my baby brother.  His is only one of the stories behind the headlines about mining accidents and the quest for mining safety.

I think all of the above introductions can capture an audience’s attention, but the last one is the most likely to keep them involved.  The first introduction lacks detail.  It doesn’t ask your audience to do any of the work.  It doesn’t say anything about your connection to your topic. 

The second introduction is harder to dismiss, because it asks the audience to think about people they know who are in harm’s way and establishes your connection to the topic.

The third introduction, however, has the most universal appeal.  First of all, a person’s story causes us to form associations with our own experiences.   To tell a story is to give a human face to experience.  It appeals to us on an emotional, as well as an intellectual level.  That immediately makes us, as audience members, more willing to walk across the bridge into a new experience.  Your audience may not have any connection to coal mining, but they have a connection to you, as a particular human being standing in front of them.  They also have a connection to the universals that reside within a specific relating of experience.  They may not know coal miners, but they know people that matter to them, that have names and places in their lives. 

Stories are powerful.  They are full of details.  They connect us to the emotional underpinnings of ideas.  They open doors to our own stories and cause us to interact more fully with what might otherwise be an alien experience.

Remember that stories are at the root of the human experience.  They are how we learn, they are how we remember, they are how we make meaning of our lives.  I can turn away from statistics—they do not move me.  I can become bored with power point presentations that lack creativity.  I may even distrust the “polished” sounds of rehearsed speech.  But I will always listen to a story, no matter how poorly told, because it calls to other stories inside of me.

The best speakers know that a speech is not a presentation or a transaction, but an interaction.  Stories call to other stories, and that opens the door to participation and understanding. 

For more information about Dr. Carr's Consulting and Storytelling workshops visit her Facebook page at:

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How Long Should You Speak?

This is the first of several guest blog posts by my colleague Howard Miller of Brookdale Community College

A number of years ago I helped to organize a conference. It was kind of a big deal, or at least I thought so. The culmination of the three-day event was a presentation by a true expert in the field, which I wildly anticipated.

Then came the end of the third day. If you've ever organized a conference or even attended one, you know that you can get pretty conferenced-out toward the end. So I was kind of dreading something I had so looked forward to.

That dread quickly changed to excitement when the keynote began. The speaker was brilliant and eloquent. At a certain point in the presentation, I was actually thinking about it as a speech critic and considering it the best speech I’d ever heard. Then it happened. About 30 minutes into a 45 minute presentation. I heard those magic words – “In conclusion…” Not only was this the best presentation I’d ever heard, but I was also going to get out early. What a treat!

Of course, this wouldn't be much of a blog post if that’s how the story ended.

Rather than getting out early, the speaker continued for about 30 more minutes. This was both in excess of the audience’s original expectation, and it was well in excess of the time he implied he’d take when he told us he was concluding. The speech went from one of the best I’d ever heard to one of the worst.

This anecdote illustrates how critical it is for you to consider the time allotted for your presentation.

In Dan’s blog, he talks a lot about audience. Well, there’s one area where you don’t need to analyze the audience too much – time. All audiences think their time is important, and nobody wants to feel like their time is wasted. Thus, it’s your job to contain your presentation within the allotted period.

When you’re asked to deliver a presentation, always ask how long you have. Such knowledge will let you prepare properly, and it’s critical to your ability to deliver what the audience needs. If you’re expected to speak for 15 minutes and you take 20, the audience may become annoyed. If you take 30, they may become downright angry. Not pitchfork angry, but if you don’t get another opportunity at that venue, you’ll know why.

If someone has been kind enough to give you a few minutes to speak, reward them by taking no more of their time. They’ll appreciate it, and you’ll increase your chances for a return engagement.

If you have too much to say, edit your work. Never increase your rate so you can get everything in. Rather, focus on what the audience truly needs to understand. When we put hour upon hour into research and study and labor, we can begin to fall in love with our work. It’s important to remember, though, that your audience needs your information, not your every emotion surrounding your work.

If you’re in charge, you might think everything is different. It’s not. Your employees or staff will appreciate that you have respect for their time. And it stands to reason that people will work harder for someone who they respect.

And finally, if you’re an invited speaker, you know that much of the audience may be there to see you. Revel in that if you like. Once you've done so, now remember that your audience, no matter how much they want to hear from you, would rather see their loved ones when they were planning on it. So please, meet the expectations of the audience, and speak only within the allotted period.

It seems I’m running out of time myself. So as Dan would say, be well, speak well, and as always, thanks for reading! If you are interested in learning more about Dan Leyes’ private and group consulting see Semiosphere Consulting.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Creating a Meaningful Experience

What both speakers and audience members crave is a meaningful experience. One that changes us, inspires us. If I can create a meaningful experience for my audience I know they will have loved my presentation. That is my goal, and achieving it is one of the things that makes my life meaningful.

But how do we do that? Practically speaking there are countless possibilities. But there are a few basic principles that can be helpful to identify the opportunities for meaningful moments.

Get Personal
Put some of yourself into your speech. To an audience you are a strange and exotic creature, with the courage to stand up and speak. We want to know about you, who you are and if we can relate to you. Sharing some of yourself is demonstrating trust in the audience, and they will subconsciously reciprocate. That trust is the foundation of a meaningful experience.

Tell Stories
Along those same lines, tell stories. People respond to stories in an emotional and physiological manner. They excite our imagination and our brains. Stories stick with us in a way that facts and figures do not. Most importantly they hold your audience's attention and will be remembered.

Empathize with your Audience's Concerns
Your audience is the reason you speak. What do they need that you can help them with? One of those things is finding their work meaningful, both in the respect you treat it with and the satisfaction they should draw from doing it. On another level, presumably you are there to give them something they need. Clearly identify and address those needs,

Offer Strong Visual Support
This is the opposite of death by PowerPoint. A photographic image can be a powerful thing. It can anger or amuse, educate or inspire. Carefully selected visual support can leave a lasting memory in the audience's mind, and being memorable is essential to being meaningful.

Highlight Values or an Ethical Dimension
All people have values. They are relatively stable long-term beliefs about what is important in life. Tying your message to things that people value is a key to creating a meaningful experience. Furthermore people like to be reminded that they are "doing the right thing", and to be recognized for doing the right thing, not necessarily doing things the easy way. Appeal to their strong moral compass.

Inspire Toward Self-Improvement
We all want and need to be inspired, to do better and to be better people. It is the nature of all living things to grow and progress over time. Appeal to our ideals, appeal to the best within us. You will see the lights go on in their eyes because you are creating a meaningful experience.

These are just capsules of the kind of analysis a good speechwriter conducts. They can be taken in countless directions to suit the needs of most any speaker and any audience if looked at in the right way. But employ them and you will transform your communication and create a meaningful experience for both yourself and your audience.

That's all for today folks. Be well, speak well, and as always, thanks for reading! Those interested in Dan Leyes' consulting work should visit Semiosphere Consulting.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Getting the Most Out of Your Voice

When we stand before an audience we have three means of communication at our disposal: our voice, our body and our visual aids. I have written on the latter two here and here, respectively.

Your voice is the primary means through which you deliver your verbal message. It is important to say the least. Many fail to analyze their message delivery vis a vis the voice itself with unfortunate results.

Overall, you are looking for three things vocally. You want to be be natural, have a conversational speaking style, and employ lots of vocal variety. Remember, sameness is boring, variety is interesting.

There are five key elements to voice: volume, rate, pausing, pitch, and articulation. As you go through each one consider how natural variety could be used to enhance message delivery. Let's take a quick look at each.

Everyone knows that volume refers to the loudness of your voice. What you may not know is how to increase volume, without resorting to yelling.

Your voice emanates from vibrations in your larynx. A small sound is created in your throat. What pushes that small sound out through your nose and mouth to fill the room is the air in your lungs. Air is the force behind your voice.

So when you want to be louder, you need to take a deep breath and project that air to the appropriate volume for the venue.

Ideally you also want to vary your volume to match the emotions of the message.

Rate is the speed at which you speak. A common result of nervousness is to speak too quickly. This will quickly tire out both the speaker and the audience.

But the overly slow speaker can be even worse to listen to. It is frustrating when someone's rate of speech is consistently slow, because we want the message in a reasonable time frame. The slow talker slows our intake of kind of wastes our time unnecessarily.

So you want to avoid extremes for any length of time, but you do want to vary your rate as much as possible.

Pausing is a critical element in the speaker's repertoire. It is simply the part of the speech where you don't speak, and as such should be easy. However, the silence makes inexperienced speakers uneasy and they seek to fill the silence with vocalized pauses (uh, um), verbal fillers (like/you know) and any assortment of verbal tics(mmm/'nkay?).

Pausing must be embraced and employed for maximum effectiveness. Great speakers build a rhythm, a dramatic arc almost, to their presentations via pausing and rate variation. A pro can help you learn and master this art.

Pitch is the highness or lowness of your voice on a musical scale. Poor use of pitch results in the dreaded monotone speaker.

The key to using pitch effectively is to use the entirety of our pitch range--albeit the extremes pretty rarely. When you excitedly tell a story, your voice dances up and down the musical scale like Tina Turner on crack! Great speakers bring that same pitch variety to the speaking situation.

Articulation refers to the clear crisp production of the sounds that exist in a given language. Someone who mumbles has poor articulation. Sometimes rate and/or nervousness can affect articulation--as can too much alcohol! Even dental issues can be a factor.

Folks with articulation issues probably need some time with a professional who knows the articulatory features of each sound in the language, or to take a Voice and Articulation course at a local college.

Some people over-articulate and sound less than natural. If you really "pop" every sound of every syllable you can come off sounding silly or worse.

Remember our three goals: a natural and conversational voice with lots of vocal variety and you are well on your way to being a better speaker.

That's all for today friends. Be well, speak well, and as always. thanks for reading. If you are interested in learning more about Dan Leyes private and group consulting see Semiosphere Consulting.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Your Nonverbal Delivery

Your delivery has two components: what you say, and everything else. That everything else is your nonverbal delivery, and it is every bit as important as what you say. There are several components to your nonverbal delivery. Lets look at them individually.

Your appearance is vitally important. So important that I wrote an entire blog devoted to it. You can read that here. How we dress and adorn ourselves sends a message and we have to be thoughtful as to what kind of message we want to send. It will be interpreted by the audience, the only question is how they will interpret it. Are they inclined to be open minded about dress? Do you care? One thing is for sure, being totally out of place in your attire will be noticed and runs the risk of making you feel self-conscious. Dress in a manner that makes you feel good about yourself, is comfortable, and will not detract from your message or reputation.

Eye Contact is essential to your communication. The eyes have tremendous expressive power. Old sayings like "The eyes are the windows of the soul" attest to the magnitude of what we encounter in the eyes of another. In our culture we often equate eye contact with honesty, and its absence an indicator of deception.

As audience members, when the speaker does not look at us it send all the wrong messages. For starters, when someone doesn't look at me while talking, it feels like he is not talking to me, or I am invisible. And if he is not talking to me, I have no obligation to listen. I have seen numerous students and even colleagues engage in non-listening behavior like texting or grading papers, during speeches--extremely poor listening behavior. I suspect they felt emboldened to do this because they felt invisible or lost within the crowd.

Eye contact connects you to your audience in a meaningful way. Perhaps most importantly it allows the speaker to read the feedback the audience is providing. The tell-tale signs of engagement include reciprocated eye contact, nodding, smiling or something other than a blank expression. When you read feedback it allows you to make the necessary adjustments to what you are saying and how you are saying it so that you keep them engaged.

One of the most frequent questions speaker's have is regarding gestures. "What do I do with my hands"? I have written an entire blog on this and encourage you to read it. Rather than repeat what I have already written, I will simply encourage you to keep your gestures natural and non-distracting, If I am noticing your gestures, I'm probably being distracted from your verbal message.

Your stance is something worth mentioning. You should keep both feet planted firmly on the floor, no "dancing". If you have the frequent habit of rocking side to side, try pulling your feet together and pointing your toes toward the audience. It is almost impossible to rock or sway when you do this.

Movement is another factor in your physical delivery. There are two frequent practices here. The first is to move "when the spirit moves you". While this can be effective and natural, there is the risk of your movements being totally random and not supporting your message as strongly as it could. The other is what I call transitional movement. This involves moving while you transition from one main point to the next. When you say "Now that I have covered X, let's move on to Y", you move as you say that line. In this way you nonverbally support the structure of the speech. One thing you definitely want to avoid is constant movement. It makes you look nervous, does not support your message, and can tire the audience out!

Another big aspect of your nonverbal delivery is the use of visual aids. For an extended coverage of this topic I refer you to "Powerpoint is Satan",  and "Using PowerPoint Effectively, or Keeping Satan at Bay", two of my early blogs.

That's all for today. Be well, speak well, and as always, thanks for reading!

If you would like to learn more about Dan Leyes' consulting work, see Semiosphere Consulting.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Speaking with a Clear Purpose

It is imperative that every time we step in front of an audience we have a clear sense of our purpose.

Our goal should be articulated in one clear concise sentence along the lines of "to persuade my audience to purchase my product" or "To inform my audience about our new webpage" .

The best way to formulate it is based on the outcome you desire from your speech. Post speech, how will your audience be different? Will they know more? Be inspired to take action? Be entertained?

Your purpose drives everything. It crystallizes what you hope to accomplish into one simple sentence. The Specific Purpose Statement has three key elements: the general purpose, the target audience, and the topic focus.

The general purpose usually falls into one of three options: to inform, to persuade, or to entertain. Since each of these options dictate a different approach, it is essential that we are clear on it. There are obviously grey areas, e.g., you provide information  in a persuasive speech or your informative speech may be very entertaining, but your overriding goal must be clearly focused on one outcome which takes priority.

Your target audience is the most important part of your purpose, because the audience is the reason you give a speech. It's all about them, not you. By including it in our specific purpose statement we are always reminded to focus on this unique audience and do the necessary audience analysis.

For this reason it may be advantageous to be more specific than "my audience". It might be "the members of the Elks lodge in attendance" or "the Human Resources department of __________". The more specific you are the more you are reminded to take into account why they are there and thus what you need to give them to satisfy them. Their presence is a gift to any speaker, and as such you owe them something in return. You need to deliver the goods, so that they will benefit as a result of your talk.

The topic focus is, well, your topic. It should be something the audience has an interest in, whether they know that at the outset yet or not. One of your early goals is giving them a reason to listen..

Your topic must also be significantly narrowed to be adequately covered in the available time frame. Never try to fit more information in than you have time for. Audiences hate when you go over your allotted time and you invariably wind up rushing and not doing justice to the material. Less really is more. No one ever complained about a speech being a little shorter than expected, while running too long can tarnish an otherwise fine presentation. Folks resent it, and rightfully so.

Remember though, that the real purpose you give a speech is to change your audience. It's all about increasing their appreciation of your topic, changing their mind-set, or inspiring them to take action. Your speech is about them not you.

That's all for today folks. Be well, speak well, and as always thanks for reading! If you are interested in learning more about Dan Leyes' consulting work, visit Semiosphere Consulting.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Using Values in Persuasion

Using Values in Persuasion
As persuaders, we need to think about what is important to our target audience. An individual’s values are what s/he believes to be important in life.

If properly understood, values can be used in at least two ways: 1) in developing commonality with the audience by showing you share certain values, thus making you more trustworthy, and 2) by using things the audience values as motivation for taking the desired action you seek of them in your speech.

Some values are ends in themselves, while some are means to attain those ends. To help understand this, it is useful to be familiar with the work of Milton Rokeach. His research focused on human values and in his 1973 book The Nature of Human Values, he identified two kinds of values, “Instrumental” and “Terminal”. Terminal values are goals people believe it is important to attain in their lifetime, while instrumental values are specific behaviors or characteristics that help us attain our terminal values.

The following are the values Rokeach identified as being valuable to people.

Terminal Values
Instrumental Values
  1. true friendship
  2. mature love
  3. self-respect  
  4. happiness
  5. inner harmony
  6. equality
  7.  freedom
  8. pleasure
  9. social recognition
  10. wisdom
  11. salvation
  12. family security
  13.  national security
  14. a sense of accomplishment
  15. a world of beauty
  16. a world at peace
  17.  a comfortable life
  18. an exciting life
     1.         cheerfulness
     2.        ambition
     3.       love
     4.       cleanliness
     5.       self-control
     6.       capability
     7.       courage
     8.       politeness
     9.       honesty
     10.   imagination
     11.   independence
     12.   intellect
     13.   broad-mindedness
     14.   logic
     15.   obedience
     16.   helpfulness
     17.   responsibility
     18.   forgiveness

Please note that order of importance varies from individual to individual. Thus you must think about your target audience and what you think they would deem more or less important and construct your message accordingly. Your goal is to explicitly state how the action you ask of them in your speech will help provide them with the things they value.

I hope you find this useful. 

That's all for today my friends. Be well, speak well, and as always, thanks for reading.

For more information about Dan Leyes Consulting work, see Semiosphere Consulting.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Six Tips for Being an Authentic Speaker

There is an inherent problem that communication consultants and public speaking trainers face. In our desire to make speakers more effective, we run the risk of making the speaker something s/he is not. In the process of trying to become better speakers, they often lose themselves. This is detrimental to the speaker's success.

In fact, there is a very real possibility of coaching making you a less effective speaker. Here are six tips that can prevent that from happening. It's all about authenticity.

1. Remember the goal is to be yourself, at your best. If someone is trying to turn you into some ideal that they have in their head, you are probably being led down the wrong path. Micromanagement of every single gesture and every utterance is generally a bad idea. A good consultant takes the time to understand you, your unique personality and communication style. Then they try to bring out your best qualities and minimize any poor habits you may have gotten into. Sometimes this means "un-teaching" bad methods we have picked up along the way.

2. You must believe in your message with all your heart. Sincerity is visible and resonates with audiences. Likewise, if you are not being true to yourself, it shows. We, as an audience, can tell if you do not have the courage of your convictions. But when you do, it can become mesmerizing!

3. Share a bit of yourself in your message, Personal stories, honest reflection, and just plain honesty in general are recognized and appreciated. Share a little of who you are as a person in every presentation. Audiences find it a refreshing change from facts and data (which are too often overdone, sapping the life out of speeches).

4. Become comfortable with being the audience's focal point. You are the star of the show. Don't hide behind a lectern or podium if possible. Get comfortable with your own style of movement. Practice it, play with it, have fun with it (if possible/appropropriate). You are a performer and you would be surprised with your ability to "perform" while still being yourself. It's just your performative side. Some are more comfortable with it than others, but we all have that ability for playfulness that is the source of our performative ability.

5, Develop your talk without presentational aids (i.e., PowerPoint). You can and probably will add them in later, but too many START with PowerPoint and that's just bass-ackwards. YOU are the most important part of your message. So make sure your presentation can stand alone without presentational aids.

6. Know your audience. I have seen so many speakers who simply did not do their homework about the audience and context for their presentation. The audience quickly recognizes your presentation has not been developed for them and you are just talking at them. They resent it, you and may dismiss what you are saying because of it. Always remember, you give a speech FOR AN AUDIENCE. You are not speaking for a paycheck, a boss, or your professional survival. You are there for them, the audience.

In summary, be true to yourself in all you say and do. An engaged audience will forgive small technical imperfections, but they will not forgive inauthentic communication!

That's all for today. Be well, speak well, and as always, thanks for reading.

Daniel Leyes is the President of Semiosphere Consulting and Professor of Speech Communication at Brookdale Community College.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Communication is Creative and Self-Reflective

Today I would like to talk a little about the nature of communicating in the semiosphere.

The Semiosphere is the context for the creative and self-reflective process of communicating in one's lived-world.

The semiosphere, like reality, is ever-changing. In fact, I wrote a blog entry developing this idea at length entitled "Communication as Possibility". If you haven't already read it it might help understanding this.

In this ever-changing reality, what we communicate creates what will be in the next moment. Remembering that communication involves both perception and expression, we see that the meaning we are attributing to our surroundings creates our conception of "reality". Simultaneously we are expressing ourselves verbally and nonverbally. This is what is happening when a person stands alone in the room. Now when another person enters the room we have a crashing of two lived-worlds. Together they form a semiosphere, a world reliant on navigating codes and sign systems. Depending on their mutual knowledge of certain codes the two people may communicate famously, or they may not "get" each other.

This is a fact I share with my students on the first day of the semester when I tell them to be careful when former students tell them about "Leyes' Speech class": Because the person talking is speaking about THEIR Speech class and theirs is over. OUR Speech class is yet to be. What will THIS speech class be? I don't know, because it hasn't happened yet. WE will create it. Sometimes it's magical and sometimes it's awful. I do pretty much the same spiel for every section, yet some of them respond wonderfully and others less so. The difference of course, is what the students bring to the show. TOGETHER we create the course. Their unique questions, speech topics, rhetorical choices all add to the discursive reality that becomes "the course" in our memory. The course is a process of co-creation between 26 people over 15 weeks. I am only one of the 26.
When I say the semiosphere is self-reflective, I mean that what I say says more about me than than the thing I am talking about. Every utterance is an expression of my perception. If, for example, I say "She is beautiful" I am in fact talking about MY judgement and my definition of beauty. My statement is a reflection of how I perceive the situation. If I say "this soup is too spicy" what I am REALLY saying is that I prefer less spice in my soup. This emphasizes the importance of "owning" one's message and stating it accurately. So when student A says to student B (from another class) "Leyes' class is a blast, he's so funny", she is talking about her perception of the experience in HER class. Student B may find this to be off base, as nobody laughs at his jokes in his class, in fact it's kind of dull.

But what does all this mean for public speaking? Well, every speaking situation takes place in the semiosphere. We need to understand that the audience is made up of individuals, some more central to our purpose than others. To convince them of something we must understand the lived-worlds of our key audience members and adapt our message to them. Their lived-worlds have their own codes and sign systems that drive behavior. By putting our focus on these codes and sign systems we are better able to construct messages that "speak to" them directly. And in so doing we are more likely to get the responses we seek from them.

I hope this makes sense for you. I am happy to entertain questions in the Comments section below.

That's all for today. Speak well, be well, and as always thanks for reading!

If you would like to learn more about Dan Leyes and his consulting work, see Semiosphere Consulting.