Sunday, 28 October 2018

Don't kill your message, messenger!

Don't kill your message, as a messenger.

He stood at the pulpit, above the altar, bright light reflecting off his head. His hands moved in an ornate dance as he spoke, like a cricketer practising bowling, or a rather camp drag queen in a pantomime. His voice relayed a great exaggerated excitement, as he shouted into a dead-still microphone, which somehow withstood the figurative spell of his hands and shouty tone.

The priest speaking to the thousand parishioner captive audience at tonight's Roman Catholic mass, at the church I attend, for me, displayed everything I avoid doing when public speaking.

Shouting alienates your audience, and causes a fight and flight response in them - they are unlikely to remember what you said, and high frequency changes in tone and passionate hand movements distract from your message and pretty soon begin to annoy an audience when you have to present to them for any real length of time: just ask parents forced to watch children's shows.

When I was still a teenager, I remember reading a book where an aircraft was in quite a bit of trouble. The air traffic controller communicating with the person flying the plane was portrayed as having an unnaturally calm and steady voice. Emergency line operators often adopt something similar. So do attorneys and advocates who regularly frequent the courts: they have a clear, crisp voice, nearing as close to non-accented speech as they can achieve, with a mouth achieving sounds in a firm but relaxed manner.

When I was doing Practical Legal Training after university, I remember sitting through the speech of a similarly passionate, or perhaps faux passionate speaker, who shouted her way through her presentation to the class, gradually turning off almost every member of her audience, with an aggression that was not assertive. The lecturer praised her boldness and passion, while the audience was captive, but not captured or captivated.

Something you learn when often speaking before people is to throw your voice, and amplify its sound without engaging in the growling tone of voice that is the essence of shouting. A good speaker gains volume, without aggression, and passion, without force. They allow their voice and message to resonate in hearts and minds, and calmly draw their audience in, as though they were speaking to each in attendance, person to person.

The large parish I attend on Sundays rotates different priests relatively often, and I often enjoy ruthlessly judging them. A similar advantageous game is to observe politicians before parliament, such as Prime Minister's Questions in the British House of Commons.

A lot can also be gained from watching the process and proceedings before court. You can often guess the seniority of advocates by how they present. The longer they have been at the game, the softer spoken, and yet firmer in what they say, they become. A lawyer in their element will present with good volume, a magical calm, and a crisp and clear voice which is easy on the ears, even when speaking for hours at a time. The power of their words is in their argument, and they tend to feel no need to growl along with it. Many a public speaker could learn much from court attorneys and advocates in this regard.

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Marc Evan Aupiais

Marc Evan Aupiais

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