Bill McLaren: “The Voice of Rugby.”

Fellow Speaker,

On Monday I celebrated the life of Martin Luther King Jr. Today, just two days later, I find myself mourning the loss of one of Scotland’s favourite sons: Bill McLaren. Bill was a BBC legend, a rugby sports commentator sans compare, knowledgeable, passionate and totally unbiased over his 50 years of service. I never met the man in real life but like so many of you wish I had. Instead, I knew him through his television and radio commentary of international rugby, bringing the beautiful game to life with his fluent, vivid language: “As slippery as a baggy (a little fish) in a Border burn” – his poetic description of the then Scottish scrum-half Gary Armstrong. Quite simply for fortunate and successive generations Bill McLaren was “The Voice of Rugby.” Here is what Finlay Calder, Scottish internationalist, had to say on hearing of his death:

“He was “The Voice of Rugby,” and it was a beautiful voice as well, so easy to listen to. I think that was a huge part of his appeal.” (The Scotsman)

Despite the sadness I feel today I know there is so much as a public speaker to take from Bill’s life: his use of voice (gifted), his words and poetic description of play, his pace and pause in commentary, his overwhelming passion and the time he took in preparation. In death Bill McLaren reminds you and me of the key to success in public performance: God Bless “The Voice of Rugby.”

Bobby Livingston
Founder
The Speakers College

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I HAVE A DREAM

Fellow Speaker,

Today, 18th January 2010, is Martin Luther King Jr Day in the USA. His most famous speech is remembered as – I HAVE A DREAM.

You will understand why this day is observed if you turn back the clock of time to 28th August 1963 and set the co-ordinates to Washington DC where you will find yourself standing in the symbolic shadow of the Lincoln memorial overlooking the shoulders of Martin Luther King Jr. Shortly he will deliver the speech of a lifetime – I HAVE A DREAM. It is a balmy late August afternoon and legitimate grievance has bubbled, frothed,  festered for months, and in the intoxicating miasma of hundreds of thousands of protesters (black and white) emotions stir and peak and trough in response to the words of consecutive speakers. And with expectations sky plus high and with the weight of the world on his shoulders the final speaker Martin Luther King Jr now rises to deliver a truly awesome public speaking performance – I HAVE A DREAM.

Interestingly (and historically accurate), it isn’t until circa three-quarters of the way into his speech that he unleashes a paraphrased form of a speech (about a dream) he has given many times before in cramped church halls, on soapboxes, and in meeting rooms. Why does he do this? Simply, he is challenged from the crowd by Gospel singer and close friend Mahalia Jackson to “Tell them about your dream Martin” and in this instant he comes off-script and instead seamlessly follows her advice by regaling his audience with the story of his dream for mankind. In this precious moment when he decides to speak from his heart he becomes physically transformed – his notes go down, he has strong, bold arm movements and a powerful voice – and his speech, which in retrospect could so easily have been forgotten is lifted to new heights and transformed into the simply unforgettable. It is the speech of a lifetime: I HAVE A DREAM.

At The Speakers’ College the most important and cornerstone lesson in learning how to speak is not about how to hold your notes or construct your speech or use your voice (important as these elements are); instead it is for you to learn to speak from your heart as Martin Luther King Jr so brilliantly did in 1963. Or, if I may in turn paraphrase the words of the greatly lamented Martin Luther King Jr: “I say to you today, my friends, so even though you face the challenges of public speaking today and tomorrow – I still have a dream, a dream where all speakers will one day learn that magnificent speech only happens when you dare to speak from the heart.” I HAVE A DREAM.

Note:

Hear this fabulous speech via YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbUtL_0vAJk

Bobby Livingston
Founder
The Speakers College

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A Christmas Carol?

Fellow Speaker,

When Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol he created one of the most memorable characters in literature – Ebenezer Scrooge, and consequently he hasn’t been out of print since his book was first published on 19th December 1843. 166 years later and you might wonder what this interesting nugget of wisdom has to do with you as a practising public speaker. The answer is simple: all great speakers have a message that is memorable. In Charles Dickens’s case he did this through the quality of his writing. In particular,  and central to his plot, he created Ebenezer Scrooge – a character so strong you can see, touch, smell and hear his every word and breath as if he were there for real in front of you. As a public speaker this is something you need to learn to do too – to use language that brings your message to life. In speakers clubs they call this using “word pictures” e.g. which is more alive to you, using the phrase “a busy crowd” or instead describing it as a “heaving cacophony?” The more you use language that brings your message to life, the more time you spend getting into the characters or emotions of your plot (message), the greater the chance your next speech will be remembered for all the right reasons instead of being forgotten for all the wrong ones. All public speakers can learn from great writers for this simple reason: all great speeches must first of all be written! So this festive season why not pick up a copy of A Christmas Carol, learn from the master, enjoy his craft, but most of all – next time you deliver a speech make sure you put your creative pen to paper first!      

Merry Christmas!

Bobby Livingston
Founder
The Speakers College

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SILENCE is GOLDEN

Fellow Speaker,

When you speak remember this: SILENCE is GOLDEN.

On Remembrance Sunday I attended Newlands South Church in my home town of Glasgow. The minister, Rev. John D Whiteford, conducted the morning service. In addressing the boys and girls of the Scouts and Brownies he explained why we wear a poppy in our lapel for Armistice Day. He told them we observe two minutes of silence and that in the silence we hear so much more than we do in the daily noise of life and thunder of war. He paused for effect giving me (and the congregation) a few seconds to question why this was the case. And in the silence I could hear my own mind working. I was aware of my feelings – the sadness, the anger, the utter waste of life and the fact it was still happening years after “the war to end all wars.” And as a public speaker I was thankful to the Rev. John D Whiteford for his deliberate pause, for reminding me in a very personal way that SILENCE is GOLDEN.

Bobby Livingston
Founder
The Speakers College

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Acting Skills for Public Speakers

Fellow Speaker,

Do you inspire others when you speak?

When a speaker inspires you you hang on their every word, you feel energised, refreshed, compelled to rise to the challenge for you know you too, through your words, can inspire. You’ve seen it in the eyes of a loved one comforted and the confident smile of a child once struggling with numbers and long division. You know you can inspire, you’ve known it for years, but what you haven’t known is how to convey your magnificent talent through your oral communication?

To achieve this requires you to learn the skill of the professional actor, though you need to be clear that acting does not mean pretending, instead, it is a method of externalising what is deeply held within. Acting for public speakers is in effect about working with your emotions, and in the process interpreting for others, connecting through your use of body movement, your facial expressions, hand gestures, and the resonance of your voice.

As a public speaker you become an actor the moment you are introduced to the podium. For many new to the experience of public speaking this is difficult to understand. Speaking and acting are surely different disciplines? Milo O. Frank said in “How to get your point across in 30 seconds – or less,” that a workshop participant once observed: “I thought I was here to learn how to communicate, not how to become an actor.” The truth, as this student discovered, is that inspiring public speaking is a form of acting in its own right.

Through SPEAK UP! you learn professional acting skills to: (1) ignite your hidden emotions and help interpret for others; (2) become more animated and compelling to watch; and (3) make your voice more powerful. When you have mastered this, just as Milo’s student learned, you’ll understand that through your acting skills you too are able to inspire others when you stand to speak.

Bobby Livingston
Founder
The Speakers College

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“The Bard” Idea

Fellow Speaker,

Here in Scotland, and indeed throughout the Celtic nations, we have inherited a 4,000+ year old oral tradition – we call it the bardic tradition. Our poets, satirists and learned men would spend between 7 and 20 years grappling with a challenging syllabus, one that had prose, poetry, storytelling and song as its core. It was through repeated experience of these disciplines the future public performers emerged, learning their craft, engaging with their audience, lifting your mood, dashing your hopes, toying with your emotions, confronting your hypocrisy, invisibly reaching into your heart and searching for your soul. For they knew then, 4,000+ years ago, that words are powerful; they knew then that successful public performance required a multi-dimensional approach. I’m proud to say today that The Speakers’ College recognises this aspect of public performance too. Indeed, as proud inheritors of this most ancient of traditions – the bardic tradition – we understand implicitly that to become a professional public speaker requires a challenging syllabus and repeated experience and opportunity to practise and rehearse with prose, and poetry and storytelling and “yes” sometimes even song! Here at The Speakers’ College we call this “The Bard” Idea. It is our inspirational method of becoming a multi-dimensional performer. We learn from the words, songs and stories of Robert Burns (The Bard) amongst others. We become inspired through reaching into the great oral traditions of the past and in the process today we learn the craft of professional public speaking that serves us well into the future – for in this future we too then leave a fine legacy, a new yet vibrant oral tradition for our children to follow. We become multi-dimensional performers using prose, and poetry and storytelling and sometimes even song. And you know the best thing about this, the thing that gives me the greatest kick? It is when even the tongue-tied, overly nervous sceptics who have tried it simply have to agree: It’s not a Bard Idea!

Bobby Livingston
Founder
The Speakers College

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The rules of persuasion

Fellow Speaker,

For many, the most challenging aspect of public speaking is the skill of persuasion. This is when you are called upon to alter your audience’s opinion about a particular issue, belief, or decision.

The first rule of persuasion is to be liked. Some people are a natural at this e.g. former President Bill Clinton. He smiles and laughs readily and has natural warmth, empathy and enthusiasm for life, people his country and politics in particular. But as Bill found out the hard way “honesty” plays a significant part in being liked: honesty might not win the day immediately but it is always respected and is the beginning in persuading others of your ideas.

The second rule of persuasion is to arouse emotion. Did you know that 90% of your decision making is based on how you feel about things – the other 10% of the time you spend logically justifying the instinctive emotional decision you first reached? So if you want to persuade your audience you’d better get their emotions well and truly aroused.

The third rule of persuasion is called tipping-the-scales-in-your-favour. By arousing emotion you have created momentum now it is time to go for the jugular by limiting options, emphasising deadlines and giving incentives. TV adverts do it all the time but you probably don’t notice just how subtle they have become at their craft – make sure you pay attention next time!

And the final and fourth rule of persuasion is “reaching for higher ground.” This is applied when strongly entrenched views are held by your audience and the task in front of you is significant. For example, most people will tell you that they cannot kill another as it is against natural law – their religion and values will not permit it. Yet when you reach for higher ground by questioning if they could kill to save their own life or that of a loved one if attacked you will receive reluctant acceptance that taking action is acceptable. In so doing you have shifted the thought pattern and begun the process of persuasion.

If you had been a public speaker in ancient Greece you would have been schooled in rhetoric (the skill of oral persuasion) for they knew then 2,500 years ago that persuasion was the most challenging aspect of public speaking.

Bobby Livingston
Founder
The Speakers College

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