Speaking here implies that the speaker is addressing a certain audience with a purpose. Speaking is understood to mean a formal talk. Mere talking goes on all the time. Whenever people get together, they get talking.
In such talking, what matters is talking sense and conveying feelings. An individual does this kind of talking everyday with members of his or her family, colleagues, at the park and so on. When two people talk to each other, it is also described as conversation.
The ability to converse readily and meaningfully with family, friends, strangers and the like in groups, parties, business meets, social functions and other occasions is also very essential.
Nevertheless, if the ability to converse or talk sensibly is not cultivated, the talk becomes idle and boring. Talkativeness should not be equated with the ability to converse or speaking.
A talkative person may address the others and talk for long, but may not convey anything worthwhile. Speaking, as we discuss here, is a more subtle art that needs to be understood in terms of its principles and developed with conscious efforts. A good speaker is much more than a good conversationalist.
1. Verbal Plus Non-verbal:
Speaking involves both verbal and non-verbal aspects. According to researchers, the non-verbal part of the communication has an overwhelming impact. It is said that less than 10 per cent of the effect of a speaker on an audience is determined by the verbal content or the words themselves. Over 90 per cent of the effect comes from the non-verbal part.
The nonverbal part consists of two components, viz., visual and vocal. About 50 per cent of the effect is accounted for by the visual factors—appearance, apparel, body language, postures and gestures, facial expressions, movement and demeanour.
Over 35 per cent of the speaker’s impact is conditioned by the voice—tone, sincerity, modulation and articulation.
Thus, when a speaker speaks, his or her entire personality speaks. Effective speaking rests on three pillars—verbal, visual and vocal. These three components together create the final impact on the audience.
2. Content Counts:
The essence of any speech is the content or the subject matter. The message that the speaker wants to convey during the speech assumes considerable significance. The audience attends the speech with a normal expectation that the speaker will enrich them on the topic or subject of the speech.
The audience expects the speaker to inform, elucidate, amplify, reiterate and cogently cover the subject so that it becomes worthwhile for them to listen to the speaker. This implies that the speaker should take the job seriously and study the subject in detail.
The speaker should learn about the subject in some depth so that he or she can pass on the ideas and thoughts on the subjects in a manner that is relevant to the listeners. The speaker should make sure that the topic on which he or she will be speaking is such that he or she has some expertise or particular knowledge or interest.
The speaker may be an expert and if so the thoughts will flow easily. If you are an expert you would be sharing your knowledge and experience on the subject with your audience. Not everyone, however, is an expert.
People are often required to speak even on subjects in whom they are not experts. One cannot just shy away from such situations. On such occasions the speaker has to make efforts to know more about the subject.
The level of confidence of the speaker in addressing the audience is largely determined by the speaker’s grasp of and grip over the subject. When the speaker is thorough, thoughts and ideas will flow effortlessly.
The speaker can be thorough on the subject when he or she has done adequate research on the subject. By research we mean a careful and detailed study of relevant aspects of the subject so as to acquire adequate grasp of the subject. In today’s world, there are so many sources of information, including the internet, that any knowledge can be easily accessed.
If you want to be a good speaker, make adequate efforts to grasp the intricacies of the subject. When we use the word research, we do not mean the academic research relevant for a thesis. What we mean is adequate command over the topic or subjects and preparedness keeping in view the interests of the audience.
3. Choice of Words:
After ensuring that the speaker has the requisite content, the next step would be to choose the right words. Your vocabulary or command over words will determine how effectively you an express your ideas. Your vocabulary assumes importance in the context of both your oral and written communication.
The words you choose should be appropriate to the occasion as well as the audience. If the speaker is addressing a group of persons whose vocabulary is quite strong, he or she can use higher-order words.
The general rule, however, is to use simple words and such words which are within the realm of knowledge of the audience. The world of words is large, growing and fascinating.
There is such a large variety of words that whatever is the occasion and whoever be the audience, there is abundant choice. Words can be simple or complex, short or long, ancient or modern, English or foreign, dull or vigorous.
Like in written communication, in oral communication too, it is possible to pick and choose the words depending on the occasion. Effective speakers know how to use strong, vibrant and contemporary words when the occasion demands. Good speakers should make it a point to avoid jargon, acronyms or abbreviations and superfluous words.
Jargon, as we have noted earlier, denotes technical words specific to a profession or body of knowledge. It could be legal jargon or medical jargon or computer jargon or scientific jargon or any such set of technical terms specific to that domain.
While jargon has its relevance when speaking to an informed audience, use of technical terms to an audience unfamiliar with the technical terms dilutes the understanding of the listener.
By using unfamiliar words frequently without explaining what it means, the speaker alienates the audience. Jargon is therefore best avoided. If necessary, simpler and more common technical terms may be used giving proper explanations to ensure comprehension. Again, the extent to which a jargon could be used depends on the profile of the audience and the topic itself.
Acronyms are abbreviations and are often words made from the first letters or syllables of other words. NATO, GATT, IIM, IIT and ISI are some examples of acronym. Like acronyms, each organization or industry sector may have abbreviations which are well understood internally by their members.
While speaking to a larger audience, however, such abbreviations are either avoided or properly explained at the very first instance. If a speaker uses the terms, YOY or FY or FIFO without explaining the meaning, the audience most probably will not understand that the speaker is referring to Year-on-Year, Financial Year and First in First out, respectively.
The objective of the speaker should be to express and convey the message with clarity and not try to impress the listener with avoidable jargons and acronyms.
Good speakers should also take care to avoid superfluous and unnecessary words or what are also described as non-words. In the exhibit, ‘this, you see?’ we have reiterated the need to avoid such mannerisms.
Using non-words like exactly, basically, typically and understand in a routine and repetitive manner during the speech weakens the strength of the message. Such mannerisms are often acquired by the speakers in their initial speaking years and continued thereafter for want of conscious efforts. Good speakers should make conscious efforts to avoid such utterances.
Style is another significant aspect of speech. Yet, it is difficult to give a precise meaning to style. If we look up the dictionary, a style is described as the manner or way of doing something—writing, speaking, designing, building and dressing.
Style refers to a distinctive manner that characterizes a writer or a speaker. In that sense, it encompasses several aspects of a speaker’s approach and repetitive performance.
The level of confidence of a speaker, his or her choice of words, pauses, voice modulation and treatment of the subject together characterize style.
Speakers are often described as confident speakers, nervous speakers, humorous speakers, fluent speakers, passionate speakers, articulate speakers, and boring speakers and so on. Style is cultivated over the years.
As in good writing, for good speaking too, conscious efforts have to be put in. The journey from a nervous and boring speaker to a confident and enthralling speaker or orator is often long and full of hard work and practice.
A speaker keen on developing a good speaking style should also observe good speakers at every available opportunity and try to imbibe characteristics which will fit into his or her personality.
Speaking is different from reading a speech. Reading out from a written text is easier compared to speech making. Most of what we have discussed in this chapter relates to speech making as distinct from reading.
Reading out verbatim from a written text, from beginning to end calls for good reading skills rather than speaking skills. Speaking may consist of some references to written notes or points jotted out to get the sequence right and ensure full coverage.
Here the points noted are described more as an ‘aide memoire’ or aids which help in recollecting or remembering the items to be covered in the speech. Sometimes the speaker may read out a particular item to quote someone or quote from a report or a data source. Here the speaker follows the quote-unquote approach.
Some speakers who do not wish to be seen reading their speeches try to follow another approach, that of memorizing the speech. Memorizing, however, is very difficult and not very dependable. However well a speaker may memorize, there is no guarantee that memory will not fail.
If the text is long, it is not easy to memorize the content and words and reproduce them in the same order. The problem with memorizing is that the speaker tries to recollect the exact memorized words rather than substitute them with other relevant words.
Any failure to recall the words and thoughts will confuse and disturb the speaker and may result in his or her losing poise. Such moments could cause considerable embarrassment and loss of face to the speaker. Recalling from memory becomes very challenging when facing a large and unfamiliar audience.
Memorizing, if at all done, should be relied upon to a limited extent. Very few speakers will be in a position to speak through by memorizing. Perhaps, in the initial stages, when the speaker has not developed full confidence in making an extempore speech, an approach involving part memory and part speaking could be attempted.
Speaking extempore may be described as the ultimate skill in oral communication. The word extempore is a Latin expression that means on the spur of the moment. An extempore speech is also referred to as an impromptu speech, meaning a speech made without any planning or preparation.
In an extempore speech, a speaker does not get any advance intimation and is called upon to speak at a short notice. In today’s professional life, such instances are not uncommon, especially for managers, executives and specialists or experts.
Not merely speaking, but speaking well and appropriate to the occasion on every such occasion, distinguishes an accomplished speaker from an ordinary speaker. To be able to do so, the speaker should be confident, well informed and even versatile, and be in a position to draw from his memory.
In meetings, seminars, business conferences and a host of such everyday business situations, people are often asked to propose vote of thanks, introduce the speaker, be a part of the panel and offer comments or even be invited to speak on the subject.
Sometimes, the listed speakers may fail to turn up, necessitating someone else to deputize and fill the slot. Accomplished speakers are those who can readily respond to such situations and make their speeches worthwhile to the audience.
4. Catching Attention:
The first few minutes of any speech or presentation are very important. On the one hand, this is when the speaker makes the first impression on the audience. On the other, this is when the audience or listeners form an opinion about the speaker.
That is why gaining attention from the very beginning assumes importance. In real-life situations, the audience for any speaker can be really varied. A speaker may address both known and familiar groups and distant and unfamiliar groups of people.
Similarly, the speaker may address people who are interested in the subject and those who are indifferent and not very responsive. From the minute the speaker approaches the podium or lectern or stands up to speak, he or she is under evaluation. Quite often, the audience may not only be different, but even hostile. The speaker has to deal with every such situation with tact and understanding.
Catching the attention of the audience from the word go is also known as getting the audience hooked. A good hook ensures that the audience gets connected to the speaker and the speech.
A good hook builds a rapport with the listeners. If the audience is with the speaker from the very beginning, transmission of the message takes place smoothly. Effective speakers are known to practice different approaches to catch attention and get the audience hooked.
It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.