Any speech, performance, presentation, toast, congratulatory message, or declaration of love is a monologue. Rhetoric, an applied science on expedient communication, is engaged with monologues (as well as dialogues).
As it is a science, rhetoric has quite strict rules and laws proven by practice and history starting from Aristotle. By breaking these laws, you will not be able to give your speech the effect you want and achieve your goals. If you don’t have goals you don’t need rhetoric. A speaker does not want to just speak «beautifully». A speaker wants to put a certain idea in people’s heads and push them to some action. The speaker wants to control people.
Public speaking is a stressful situation for the speaker. But the good news is that people are not born speakers. They become speakers. And often, it is not those who have outstanding abilities but those who just need the skill. After all, the skill of public speaking can be trained and perfected with practice.
There are only three ways to persuade people. Firstly, people are convinced by the personality of the speaker, secondly, by the well-reasoned content of their statement, and, thirdly, by the beauty of the performance. In rare cases, you can try to make do with only the speaker’s personality, or only good-quality content, or good performance. But usually, you have to use everything simultaneously.
People have an image of the perfect speaker whom they’d follow anywhere. The audience compares any real speaker to the perfect one and checks how similar they are.
The first quality of the speaker is to belong to the audience, to be its member, but a more bright and successful one. The audience wants to look at itself, and see a «boy or a girl next door». The second quality of a speaker is being smart while not bragging about it. In a perfect world, the speaker doesn’t even know they’re smart. The third quality of a speaker is the ability to act only in the interests of the audience, not for oneself or anyone else.
We must design our image as close as possible to these three basic characteristics. The main rule for creating the personality of the speaker — it’s forbidden to talk about one’s qualities. They need to be demonstrated somehow. Instead of saying: «I’m smart», it is better to tell the story about how while being wasted at a party of your friend in Oslo, you beat Magnus Carlsen in a blitz.
Giving a good speech primarily implies doing a diverse performance, as it is a diversity that attracts and keeps attention. A girl in a bikini in the main city square will attract the interest of everyone. But no one will be interested in her in the same outfit at the beach. Attention is drawn not to brightness, as sometimes mistakenly thought, but to the difference from the current state of things. Speakers should look for what makes them different from themselves because they are their own background.
Diversity is the key to success. There are only seven speaking techniques to make yourself diverse: gestures and movements, volume and speed of speech, pauses, intonation and emotions.
The theory of argumentation is an essential part of the art of speaking. Not a single statement that is claimed to be new and interesting can exist without supporting arguments. But arguments do not work on their own. Arguments are secondary to the person’s worldview because it is the worldview that is the basis of the whole argument.
Anyone can feel it when talking to people outside their usual social circle. It would be difficult for a man with an elite business education to explain his position on investment to a hermit monk. Simply explain it, not to mention to prove it right.
There are no arguments that are strong on their own. They never just hang in the air as they need a foundation. You’re trying to convince me to buy a particular car because it’s fast, comfortable, reliable, safe and on sale. But I don’t drive, and I don’t have a driver’s license. Do I understand the power of your arguments? Sure. Do they work on me? No. The values and the system of views always take the first place and only then comes argumentation.
The essence of the art of speaking is to combine the interests of the speaker with the interests of the audience, to disguise the interests of the speaker as the interests of the audience. After a successful performance, listeners must take particular actions, confident that these actions are beneficial to them, although they are beneficial primarily to the speaker. The speaker (ideally) does not deceive the audience but instead works on the win-win principle, helping the audience and thus themselves.
The first goal of public speaking is to encourage listeners to take the action required for the speaker. The second goal of public speaking is to make a spectacle. Any audience wants to have a good time and have fun, even if the subject of the presentation is grave. The third goal of public speaking is to offer a solution to the audience’s problem. That’s because people don’t want just entertainment. They want to get a specific benefit from the speaker.
The structure of the public speech takes the main semantic accents that the listeners make during the speech into account. It is the listeners who do that, not the speaker. A speaker can talk about anything and everything, but at certain times people will try to extract particular pieces of information from the whole flow of the speaker’s words.
You can help them. So the perfect plan for a speech looks like this:
1. Introduction. The speaker attracts the audience’s attention, inspires its trust, introduces themselves and explains why they have the right to speak.
2. Thesis. The main idea is expressed as briefly as possible. It should explain what has happened, what to do in connection with what has happened and why.
3. Division. Announcing the plan of the speech.
4. Presentation. Description of what has happened, i.e., a fact that creates the problem the speaker proposes to solve. The strength of the statement of this fact is not in its logic but in its brightness.
5. Support. It is the reasoning needed to justify the decision proposed by the speaker. Two strong arguments at the beginning and the end, and a weak complex argument in the middle.
6. Rebuttal. It implies criticism of possible criticism and refutation of the opposite view as untenable.
7. Summary. It is the whole speech once again, but brief and concise, summing everything up before calling for action.
8. Motivation. Call for a specific action.
The most important part of the speech is the thesis, the main idea. If you can’t articulate your main message, don’t expect the audience to do so. And without the main idea, the whole performance will fall apart and, at best, leave pleasant emotions, but certainly will not be able to stay in the heads of the listeners for long. The whole speech is the revelation of the main idea. Revelation and confirmation.
Here is an example of a student’s speech which is not-so-graceful but has the correct structure.
The prompt: people in your town have turned into zombies. You and the rest of the normal people took refuge in the supermarket. You ran out of food and water. You’ve decided to give a speech.
The speaker’s goal: to get people to move to a nearby mall. The real goal of the speaker might be to reunite with her family hiding in the nearby mall. But she would not talk about her family because it is not interesting for the listeners. The speaker will talk about what is important to them.
Dear friends, you all know me because we’ve been together for a long time, and we’re trying to overcome the difficulties that surround us. I’m glad we’re together because dealing with all this horror alone would be impossible. When I asked you to close all the entrances and exits to this mall, I didn’t think I’d have to speak to you again. We are alive now and we can hope to be rescued, but I have to talk to you about a new threat looming over us. Dealing with it won’t be easy, but we can do it.
The thing is that we are going to starve to death because we are out of food. And I suggest we break through the zombie mobs to the nearby mall to renew our food supply.
If I may, I’d like to tell you how we’re doing with food and water and why I think we should try to get to the nearby mall, regardless of the zombies.
Yesterday pipes burst on the minus first floor, and the entire supermarket with food got flooded. Many of you have already seen it. There is no more food. Everything is washed away and wet. Nothing edible can be found. We cannot stay here any longer. It was a good shelter, but we can’t stay here when we’ve got nothing to eat. Without food, we will not last a week, and without water, we will not last three days. We’ve got some supplies, we can look at other floors, but that won’t give us much time to stay here. We need to break into the mall that is 15 minutes away from here.
First of all, now we have enough energy to do this. Imagine us in three days or a week. We will be weakened, but the zombies will not. Only now do we have a chance. I understand the risks, but we need to make a decision as soon as possible or simply accept death.
And even if we did have enough food, we have nothing to do here. No one rushes to our rescue, we can’t just sit and endlessly wait for something. We must save ourselves. Save our children and the wounded.
Finally, we have confidence that this mall is controlled by humans because we see flares that are fired from its roof at night. We better try to team up with those survivors.
I understand that, ideally, we need to get out of town, not swap one mall for another. Getting out of town is a good offer, but we can’t make it happen yet. No one knows how long it will take us to leave the contaminated territory, which means we need water and food that we don’t have. Besides, we don’t have cars. But we can find all these in the nearby mall because it’s bigger than ours.
So, I think we need to try. We have already overcome a lot, and we will overcome these difficulties. Even though water and food are gone, we still have energy. We have people who need to be taken care of. We know that only we can help ourselves. We have somewhere to go — to the people in the neighboring mall. We have a chance.
● Call for action
Let’s get ready for our march right now!
Stages of preparation for a public speech.
An imposed theme. First of all, the speaker should abandon the topic of the presentation if there is one that is being imposed on them. Consider it nothing more than a reason for communication.
Audience. Creating a speech starts with analyzing the audience. Do we care about all the listeners? Do we understand the basic opinions of the audience and its values?
The image of the speaker. Is the audience familiar with us? If not, what kind of image of the speaker will we create to help the listeners believe us? And if the audience already knows us, is that image worth changing, and if so, how?
Our goals. We have them, don’t we?
What has happened? When nothing has happened, the speaker is not needed — no reason, no point and no need to appear.
The problem of the audience. The problem of the audience is created by the fact from the previous point. Something has happened — there comes a problem.
Solving the problem of the audience. No one needs a speaker who knows the problem but doesn’t know what to do with it. You should do more than simply offer the solution to the problem that is real and accessible to the audience. You should turn this solution into the main idea of the speech.
Argumentation. Arguments will help you prove that the proposed decision is right.
Structure of the statement. For a speech to work, its content must be arranged according to the oratory structure, from the introduction to the call for action.
Memorizing the speech. Reading from a paper or a slide is a shame.
Working on the performance. If you are not a naturally charismatic person, the finished speech will have to be rehearsed — with movements, gestures, emotions, pauses, etc.
Relieving anxiety. When anxiety gets out of hand, it should be slightly restrained by the practices that really do work.
Execution. Finally, you get your moment of glory.
A beginner speaker always writes down the speech checking on every single detail of the text. To learn it, you need to know the principal law of memorizing — memory runs on playback. It is necessary to force yourself not to read the speech, but to retell it. Retelling one time is better than reading five times.
A professional speaker will not write the speech down at all. Instead, they will carry out all the preparatory work, place their ideas in the structure of the monologue — and they are ready to speak. Words are selected at the moment of their pronounciation, which makes the speech sound more natural and allows the speaker to react to changes in the audience.
Being nervous before a performance is necessary and useful if this feeling doesn’t get out of hand. Here are some techniques to relieve excess anxiety:
– Breathing. Frequent and superficial breathing is a part of being stressed, so employing any yoga techniques and any breathing patterns that are different from that is good.
– Yawning. The body is used to yawning when it’s bored, and being bored and worried simultaneously is impossible. In addition, yawning tones the articulatory apparatus well.
– Squats and push-ups. Anxiety is caused by a lot of adrenaline being released into the bloodstream. The same thing happens during physical activity. Let’s trick the body into pretending to exercise instead of being nervous before the presentation.
– Posture. When we worry, we shrink because we think we’ll be beaten by Neanderthals from a neighboring tribe. If you stretch your shoulders and straighten your back, your brain will decide that it is quite in control of the situation and there is nothing to worry about.
– Start talking beforehand. Most of the time, anxiety goes away sometime after the start of the presentation, so you can just move the beginning to the moment before going on stage. Start talking to the nearest wall five minutes before your speech.
Getting used to public talking helps to reduce anxiety about it which comes with gaining experience from previous performances.
Any instance of public speaking has only one criterion of success. One. The only one. Here it is: whether the speaker has achieved their goals or not.
Let’s say we have a speech. Terrible in every sense. Both in terms of the speaker and their level of language proficiency, structure, execution, and everything. We look at this mess and hate it because it’s so bad. It will never be listened to in public speaking classes because it is impossible to criticize as it is beneath criticism. The mere mention of this rhetorical ugliness makes us ashamed of humanity and its level of development.
Could such a performance be successful? Yes. If the speaker has achieved their goals.
On the other hand, a brilliant performance that captures the perfection of the world, that has the highest notions of eloquence, can be a failure when the speaker doesn’t achieve what they desire. They were great. They were the best of all. And they failed, though they may seem a deity to us from the outside perspective.
All the rules of the art of speaking are designed to help you achieve your goals. Everything is subordinate to these goals, and only you can tell whether your performance was successful. Use rhetoric, but don’t let rhetoric use you.