“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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Does your ANCHOR hold?

Fellow Speaker,

When you stand to speak does your ANCHOR hold?

As a child I attended first a Baptist and then an Evangelical church in my home town of Glasgow, Scotland. The sense of community seemed so much stronger back then: People looked out for each other, offered support, shared freely and on a Sunday we sang together as one big church family. The song I remember most of all is “Will your anchor hold?” by Owens (words) and Kirkpatrick (music.) I’m sure you know it too? The essence of the song is simple: Life is full of turbulence and without a personal anchor (God) you should expect to be blown away by it i.e. to have no chance of success.

The same is true of the art of public speaking – if you don’t have an “anchor” expect to fail. The “anchor” in public speaking, however, is the first few words and sentences you will utter. It is your direction, your purpose, the way ahead! Perhaps this type of anchor is the “Word God?” Regardless of this philosophical diversion what remains true is that to appear professional as a speaker you need to know your first words so intimately that even a bomb could go off and you would still be able to repeat them – these words are your “anchor.” They give you a solid start and the confidence to rise to the challenge and complete a great job of public speaking.

Next time you rise to speak don’t get blown away; instead, just make sure you know your beginning words and can thus answer “yes” to this question: Does your ANCHOR hold?

Bobby Livingston
Founder
The Speakers College

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Rehearse, rehearse and rehearse again?

Fellow Speaker,

Do you Rehearse, rehearse and rehearse again? If you’ve kept up-to-date with The Speaker’s College blog you’ll know that to become a professional public speaker requires discipline. This is the same for all performers – comedians too! In fact most (if not all) comedians rehearse, rehearse and rehearse again to be word, gesture and expression perfect for their live performances. The late great Frankie Howerd was like this to the amazement of Michael Parkinson on his famous 1971 Parkinson interview. Frankie gave Michael a note of the questions to ask him so he would have perfectly scripted answers – not exactly a free-flowing interview eh? But the point is that too often public speakers don’t give enough thought to their performance (for that is exactly what it is) and the net result is fluffed, forgotten and poorly constructed lines. It is easy to make this mistake, easy to skimp on rehearsal and even easier as a result to blow your chance to make a good impression. So whatever you do the next time you stand to speak remember this basic rule: if you want to be a professional performer you’ve got to rehearse, rehearse and rehearse again!

Bobby Livingston
Founder
The Speakers College

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Are you a STORYTELLER?

Fellow Speaker,

Are you a STORYTELLER? Storytelling is the ancient art of conveying events, real, imaginary, or a combination of both, via words, images and sounds. Often the best way to get a story started is to pick up a pen and notepad and to write the first thing that comes into your mind. In this way you drift along naturally your pen stroking, caressing and sometimes spiking the notepad in front of you. As you express yourself this way, with natural flow, you generate a rich body of material much of which will become the cornerstone of your final speech. Great speeches, however, are rarely written “one-off,” invariably they need further editing, refinement and often it is only after major surgery and multiple drafts they reveal themselves to you in their full glory. Leonard Cohen had this to say of his writing struggle with his hit song Hallelujah:

“I filled two notebooks and I remember being in the Royalton Hotel [in New York], on the carpet in my underwear, banging my head on the floor and saying, “I can’t finish this song.””

To get to this stage of “full glory,” however, requires a deep understanding of the specific elements of storytelling:

• Strong beginning
• Original material
• Simple to understand
• Repeats central theme
• Introduces variety
• Builds momentum
• Uses memorable words and phrases
• Personal
• Powerful ending

Standing to speak in public is no easy matter. Yet, when you take time to prepare what you will say the task becomes more manageable. And, when you include the elements of storytelling within your speech your chance of a successful outcome dramatically improves. So as a public speaker the question you face today is this: Are you a STORYTELLER?

Bobby Livingston
Founder
The Speakers College

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Twitter Twitter?

 

Fellow Speaker,

When you stand to speak do you Twitter Twitter?

I recently attended a marketing seminar where it soon became obvious the speaker adored the sound of his own voice. In the overheated room he fell in love with his arguments, the different angles and permutations of thought but sadly was forever going off on a tangent. I could see others begin to fidget, yawn and doodle on their notepads but oblivious to all this still he went on and on and on: Twitter Twitter!

I confess after half an hour I was completely lost. At first I thought he sounded clever, next confused and finally just downright annoying. I couldn’t wait for the coffee break and the earliest possible opportunity to escape. The sad thing was the guy really did know what he was talking about but he had forgotten the first rule of public speaking – keep it simple and never say too much.

Great speakers have focus. They never lose sight of their objective. Their vision is laser-like. They write in simple English and speak in an even “easier-to-understand” way. Barack Obama is a master of this particular art form. And let’s face it if speaking like that can get you elected to The White House why on earth, when you next stand to speak, would you want to Twitter Twitter?

Bobby Livingston
Founder
The Speakers College

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LESS is MORE!

 

Fellow Speaker,

Professional stage performers, actors, musicians and comedians in particular will tell you this simple truth: LESS is MORE!

If you are an actor and attempt to convey every emotion you ultimately convey none, if you are a musician and provide no obvious “hook” – an easy tune to remember, your music is easily forgotten and if you are a comedian who fluffs his punch-line don’t expect laughter but stony silence or perhaps worse.

As a public speaker you too face this challenge. If you don’t believe me listen and you will hear speakers who spout a thousand words when ten well chosen ones would have done. You will observe speakers stride from one side of the stage to the other without thinking of their impact and you’ll be puzzled by those who gesture without apparent purpose.

In informed circles this type of performance is considered an insult to the craft of professional public speaking. It demonstrates that the speaker has not thought about his words, actions and impact. Public speaking above all is a discipline that requires hours of practice, study and thought. Here is what James Maxton MP wrote in 1922 about public speaking:

“(It) calls out all the latent will-power, character and intellect a man possesses. Reading and study are both essential if a man is going to be a first class platform speaker, but the only way to learn to speak is to speak and the experience of speaking will compel study.”

As Maxton so rightly pointed out it is only through experience, study and reflection you learn this simple truth: when you speak in public LESS is MORE!

Bobby Livingston
Founder
The Speakers College

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