Speech Analysis

Of wit, wisdom and presence of mind!

Very few times in a person’s life is presence of mind as acutely important as when he or she is facing questions as part of a speech, presentation or a debate.

Being able to grasp the intent and meaning of the question, think of a reply, frame it in a fashion that will answer it with clarity and precision while still keeping it interesting and engaging is truly an art. Not to mention that all the aforementioned acts have to be completed within a few seconds.

Not a task for the weak of heart. But certainly doable, if one is committed to the process.

One of the most brilliant displays of wit and wisdom came from the great orator President Reagan during his 1984 debate with Walter Mondale. Henry Trewhitt of the Baltimore Sun asked a question, during the live telecast, “You already are the oldest President in history. And some of your staff say you were tired after your most recent encounter with Mr Mondale. I recall yes, that President Kennedy, who had to go for days on end with very little sleep during the Cuba missile crisis. Is there any doubt in your mind that you would be able to function in such circumstances?”

President Reagan was seventy three at the time and was debating Mr. Mondale who was younger and certainly looking dapper, energetic and with a lot fewer wrinkles.

But not one to be outdone, President Reagan went on to give an answer which nearly made him immortal for his wit, wisdom and presence of mind. “Not at all, Mr. Trewhitt. And I want you to know that I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” And with that he went on to win the election to gain the second term of his presidency.

Presence of mind, of the kind displayed by President Reagan, specially in a high stakes game like a presidential debate doesn’t come easy or overnight. Besides the oratorial skills that he was known for, President Reagan also had the advantage of preparing his replies ahead of time.

While President Reagan would deny any evidence of preparation for giving such a brilliant reply, his aide Richard Wirthlin recalls a different story. Knowing that age will become an issue in the campaign, Wirthlin reminded the President of the same. And the reply was “Don’t worry Dick, I’ve got a way to deal with that question, and I’m just waiting for it to come up.”

Prepared or not, the reply was brilliant and so was the style of delivery and the roaring laughter from the audience. Even Mr. Mondale burst out laughing.

This certainly underlines the need for preparing for every little possibility and not be surprised by questions from the audience, opponents or the press. Specially in high stakes games like debates, earnings calls, pre-IPO roadshows and boardroom arguments one can never be too careful. And no such thing as too much preparation.

What Trump’s speaking style has to do with his rising poll numbers…

The Presidential race is as thrilling, suspense-filled and nail-biting interesting as any Hollywood movie.

Bluntness and bombast has put billionaire Donald Trump ahead of the Republican pack. With a 39% approval rating his popularity is over twice that of his closest rival. However, many of the controversial statements he has made regarding minority groups has left political scientists baffled as to how he is polling so well. One way to fully understand how his numbers are so good is to take a look at his platform, most of which has been built on the foundation of his Presidential announcement speech. The anchoring statements he made there formed the foundation for his campaign.

An analysis of the speech reveals some pretty interesting points about his speaking style and his personality as a candidate. The first five minutes of his speech alone had the following statements. While no one is going to challenge the veracity of these statements, the way he said it and how he positioned them as the launching pad for his potential new career made the difference in his poll numbers.

  • “How are they going to beat ISIS? I don’t think it is going to happen”
  • “Our country is in serious trouble…we don’t have victories anymore. We used to have victories”
  • “When was the last time anybody saw us beating China in a trade deal..they kill us..I beat China all the time…all the time”
  • “When did we beat Japan at anything”
  • “When do we meet Mexico at the border? They are laughing at us..”
  • “The US has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problem”
  • “And it has got to stop. And it has got to stop fast”

Trump weaves his magic using a myriad of techniques. The three that trump the rest are what we are interested in.

Firstly, Trump feeds off the uncertainties that plague the Nation. With a heightened sense of fear and anxiety caused by any number of shootings and the San Bernardino incident, Trump understands that people are frantically searching for answers, and thus, will look up to any leader that can promise them results. This is regardless of whether or not these results are actually deliverable. His slogan “Make America Great Again” is demonstrative of this fact. Ironically enough, in his Presidential announcement speech, he primarily focused on the performance of the United States overseas rather than focusing on our domestic performance. His first few issues included Chinese trade successes, the Japanese Auto Industry, Mexican Border Security, ISIS, and Iranian Nuclear Capabilities, before finally arriving at things like our national GDP or the domestic situation regarding gun control.

Trump understands that in times of national distress, the populace is focused on large, hot-button issues that have been widely covered by the American News Media, rather than subtler topics such as Climate Change that have largely been ignored. Simply put, Trump knows how to manipulate the emotions of his crowds. Additionally, Trump embraces the Messiah complex and utilizes it to the best of his ability. He sets for himself some very lofty goals and utilizes anaphoric figure of speech in order to convince people he is capable of doing these things. When it came to the potential solutions he was going to take to solve America’s problems, his favorite oratorical tool was the repeated use of the phrase “I will/would”.

  • “I would repeal and replace the big lie, Obamacare.”
  • “I would build a great wall…And I will have Mexico pay for that wall.”
  • “I will find — within our military, I will find the General Patton or I will find General MacArthur, I will find the right guy”
  • “I will stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons.”
  • “I will immediately terminate President Obama’s illegal executive order on immigration, immediately.”

Secondly, Trump isn’t afraid of controversy. He calls it like he sees it, and although his views might not always be politically correct, this is a strategy that works for him. Trump isn’t afraid to take a position that could alienate him with a voter base because he already knows what base of voters his ideas resonate with. Recent polls indicate that the majority of his support comes from the baby boomer generation, a primarily conservative group of adults that have held the same beliefs since before the 1990’s. It’s a smart move because the majority of young voters (those under 30) are still figuring out their political beliefs, and so they tend to vacillate on certain hot-button issues. While members of the left thrive off playing these nuances, Trump isn’t wasting any time by appealing to people who don’t feel the need to voice their political opinions, but still hold their positions on important issues.

Thirdly, Trump is a man of simplicity. He has boiled his campaign speech to a couple of key issues that he can focus the majority of his energy on. All of these issues are urgent; they are rather large and affect the American population immediately. This is as opposed to issues of larger scale that are more long-term like climate change. In this way, he can appeal to people’s emotions whilst keeping his platform small, thereby making it easier to defend. Additionally, he is man who makes use of grandiose gestures but uses a limited vocabulary. Thinkprogress notes “Trump’s favorite word, however, is “I.” His fourth-favorite word is “Trump.” Eight out of his 13 favorite words are one syllable, and the two syllable words are simple — “very,” “China,” and “money.” His only three-syllable favorite word is “Mexico.”” In addition, Trump tends to use extremely large hand gestures as opposed to sharp, precise ones. These gestures seem to convey the confidence and gravity of the issues he talks about, thereby making him seem like a better candidate to his voter base.

Feeding off of fear and anxiety, not being afraid of controversy and using simple language that anyone can understand is a potent combination for any speech – let alone a Presidential campaign.

In conclusion, we can tell a lot about a candidate by the speeches they give. But only time can tell whether they will end up in the White house.

Public Speaking 111: Style vs. Substance

Keith had a silver tongue. He was the master of persuasion. Any plea, petition, or request that he asked for was done immediately in the most efficient manner possible. Hell, he could tell you to go jump off a cliff and you’d simply reply “Which one?”

So when he suddenly remembered that he had a potentially life-changing presentation at his workplace, only thirty minutes before it was about to happen, he wasn’t worried. He would treat it just like he treated every other situation. He would just talk his way through it.

Needless to say, thirty-five minutes later, the silver-tongued devil got himself into a situation which will eventually get him fired.

Unfortunately, style can only get us so far. Sure, you can probably get through a simple speech using just poise, posture and eloquence. But soon, your audience will catch on. Eventually, they will realize that every time they leave the auditorium in which you spoke, they came out with no new knowledge or information. To go the extra mile, to really captivate an audience, you need substance. People need to be enriched both emotionally and mentally for a speech of any kind to be successful. Be it a business presentation or an announcement for Presidency.

Now we all know that a good speech requires both substance and style. The real question on everyone’s mind is this: how do we know how much style and substance our speeches really require?

Allow me to explain. If an expert physician was presenting his findings to a group of his peers at a health conference, his style of presentation would be radically different from that of a motivational speaker, for example. A technical profession would require the concise explanation of extremely complicated ideas, with large amounts of data being communicated at a rather fast pace. This is the nature of the beast: doctors, engineers, and scientists alike rarely have to sell their ideas. Everything they say is backed up with both verifiable data as well as lofty credentials from an institution of higher learning. Thus, there is little need for emotion or style – not that it will hurt.

In nearly every other situation, however, you are pitching an idea to a group of individuals who are not automatically inclined to believe everything you say. In these kinds of situations, you need to prove to the audience that you are worth listening to, and often times, this means incorporating a bit of flamboyance and bombast into your speaking style.

So returning to the question: how do we know how much style and substance our speeches really require? The answer lies in a simple principle: separating the speech from the speaker.

In about seven seconds the audience decides whether or not the speaker deserves their attention or not. If a speaker can captivate his or her audience within this time, and keep that same energy level going for the whole speech, they are guaranteed to win over the audience. However, once the speech is over and the showmanship has ended, an audience member will begin to mentally recap the concepts they just listened to. And if that mental recap falls short, you’ve lost your audience after your speech has ended. Therefore, the relationship between substance and style is this:

Style gets the audience hooked on the speech.

Substance gets them hooked onto the speaker.

If you want to keep them on the edge of their seats, you need a bit of pizzazz. If you want them to come back for more, make sure they leave knowing something they didn’t know when they entered.

Style is a very in-the-moment facet of public speaking. No matter how great a speaker is with their delivery, it is usually not the thing they are remembered for. Then again, some of the world’s greatest speeches would not have succeeded had it not been for the memorable way they were delivered.

In order to truly understand the concept, however, we have to analyze some examples. And the best place to analyze the concept of style versus substance is from a profession where public speaking is often taken for granted: teaching.

As a teacher, you are always on stage, regardless of whether or not you are actually teaching a lesson. Your students are young, impressionable, and silently waiting for you to slip up. The goal of a teacher is to maintain a sense of authority whilst also making sure the students of their classrooms are engaged. The following two clips demonstrate the teaching styles of two very different teachers in cinema history.


In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ben Stein plays a teacher who utilizes neither style nor substance, and thus, cannot engage the students of his class or teach them the material. In contrast, Robin Williams manipulates the tone of his voice, catches his students off-guard and uses unconventional teaching techniques, all whilst teaching a pretty stimulating life lesson. Williams shows that style is merely the mechanism by which a speaker can get content across. Needless to say, when it comes time to take the test, far more students will know Carpe Diem than the Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act.

A silver tongue will get you somewhere. Probably will raw data. The trick is in finding the balance!

Public Speaking 110: Establishing Credibility

Depending on whom you ask, you have between seven and ninety seconds before the audience decides whether they like you or not. And that will decide how they will respond to your presentation, speech or meeting.

Neither seven nor ninety are long enough to set the tone for an hour or longer speech. But that is the operating margin you get as a speaker.

I am a big fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson. And his lectures on youtube. You got to give it to the man. He is super knowledgeable. Funny. Makes a lot of good points. And sure knows how to hold the audience in the palm of his hands.

Here is the point though. I don’t necessarily agree with all his thoughts. But I still find him interesting enough to watch his videos over and over again.

The same happens when I watch erstwhile President Ronald Reagan. Doesn’t matter which side of the political fence you are on. When the thespian spoke, you simply listened. More like, sat there captivated. With his powerful voice and conversational tone he could get his point across like no one else can.

Look at a list of any top ten speakers and you will consistently find that they all have the ability to hold the audience’s attention, make their points, avoid being interrupted and keep it all engaging even as many would never agree to their ideologies in the first place.

What is different between them and the others is their ability to establish credibility, even before they can move on to the core elements of their speeches.

Establishing credibility is a conscious choice. Not happenstance. It’s a skill. And that means, it can be learnt.

A ton of research has gone into establishing credibility and several researchers have broken it down into its constituent parts. Content related expertise has to match the style related delivery to work the magic.

For the purposes of this article, we will simply touch upon three techniques. Curious readers can research to learn more or engage in a post-article discussion with me.

  1. Using the credible and approachable voice spectrums: Vocal variety is a key tool in any speaker’s toolkit. With a skillful combination of pitch and frequency, each of us can vary our tones to match the intentions of our speeches. Between seeking a favor and issuing a command, we use a band of voice profiles that say ‘Will you please help me out’ or ‘I want you to get this done by 10 AM tomorrow’. One a request and the other a command. One born out of compassion while the other out of authority. One credible. And the other approachable. Based on the situation and purpose, we use different voices to get our work done. By learning to choose between these two voice patterns, we can establish credibility right in the beginning of the speech. When to use each of the voice patterns, is a contextual question that you, as a speaker, has to determine.
  2. Bringing your presence to the podium: Understanding the purpose of the speech, knowing the audience profile and the mood to be created, the speaker has to bring in his presence to the podium and use it to fully be present to deliver his speech. No one does this better than actors and actresses. They have a tough job. One day they are acting as a soldier. Next day, they have to be a Nobel Laureate. The job is made tougher, if they are shooting for the two movies simultaneously on two different days. But with practice, actors have learnt the art of being present in the moment, and delivering the complete feeling of a soldier and Nobel Laureate right to the very last flick of a finger to the accent and intonation. Bottom line, presence is a much-required skill to establish credibility. One that can be learnt.
  3. Pausing adequately and as necessary: Of all the non-verbal tools available, pausing is the single most powerful one available to the speaker. The sound of silence speaks volumes and louder than all the words in the speech. It is in the pauses that the speaker shows his intelligence to the audience. Not through his words. It is in the pauses that he arrests the attention and holds it on. Pauses allow for the subconscious connection and waking up of the listener’s attention. Effective use of pauses, is a great way to establish credibility with any audience.

Each of these elements have to be blended with several others to establish credibility if you want your audience to respect your status as a speaker and pay attention to what you have to say. Mastering and practicing one in isolation will not do the trick. It’s a combination of many elements that have to be skillfully woven to create that magical effect.

The three above are certainly a starting point.

Establish credibility. Even before you make your point.

Public Speaking 109: Repetition is the mother of skill

A lesson I learnt the hard way.

It was a small audience. And I only had to speak for an hour. Neither one of them justified my bad performance.

The week, before, turned out to be busy. With one too many things to do, I did not rehearse my speech as I always would. It was a speech I had delivered many times before. So, I simply told myself, it would be alright. My familiarity with the subject, and years of speaking experience will compensate for my lack of preparation.

Boy! was i wrong? The speech turned out to be a disaster. I stuttered. Stammered. Caught myself searching for the next point to make. The lack of practice also showed in my non-verbals. Net result, it was one of my tardier performances.

As a stickler for good speeches, I take a lot of pride in delivering perfect speeches every single time. It didn’t seem like the audience saw my botched performance. But, I ended up a horrible mess for a job poorly done.

Once bitten, twice shy. Lesson well learnt. A mistake never to be repeated.

The audience is coming there to listen to our speech either to be entertained, educated or both. And as a speaker we owe it to them, to give exactly what we promised to give them. Anything less, we have no business being in the profession.

The only way to do is to Practice. Practice. Practice.

The To Do

Here is how I practice. Right before an event, I deliver the speech to an empty room multiple times. Over and over. Full length. The same way I would do it in front of a live audience, with all the vocal variety, gestural variety, pause, eye contact the whole nine yards.

Yes, it feels weird the first few times. Funny as well. Weird. If it will help, drag a few chairs and line it up in rows in front of you, to give the feel of people sitting and listening to you. For good measure, you need to time your speeches as well. Over time, you will not need the chairs anymore.

My minimum is thrice. When I have the luxury of time, four or more times. When I did my TEDx speech, it was more like thirty plus times.

And the results will speak for itself. When I practice that many times, I deliver a speech that the audience enjoys, appreciates and walks away having learnt something useful.

No substitutes or shortcuts here.

And the Not To Do

A lot of people prepare for their speeches. But instead of speaking it like they would do in real time, they flip through the material or slides and mumble the speech to themselves. They quickly tell themselves ‘ok, I know this’, ‘I got this one’, ‘this is easy’ etc. They zip through the speech in a quarter or half the time. And when they deliver it for real, most often they are almost mumbling it in realtime as well. The lack of preparation never gives them the full confidence in their speech and the audience will know it.

Bottomline, if you are going to practice, do it like you would do in real time. Vocalize. Verbalize. Talk it out.

No mumbling. No presumed familiarity of content. No more being satisfied with experience.

A world renowned speaker who I admire and follow closely, has been delivering the same speech for thirty plus years. After all these years, he still practices his speeches two days before the actual speech. And people pay serious money to listen to him again and again. I know people who have been to his classes over twenty times. Listening to the same thing. Practice never goes out of fashion, no matter how many years you have been in the profession.

You simply owe it to the audience.

Repetition IS, indeed, the mother of skill.

Public Speaking 108: Don’t tell a story

John got up to speak. As a successful CEO in the Silicon Valley, he was invited to deliver the evening’s keynote speech, to young entrepreneurs, on handling the ups and downs in business and life. He did a great job of telling how he built his business and how his firm was acquired by a larger company, in the process making him a legend and a millionaire. When it came to his personal life, he pointed to his wife of twenty years who was sitting by the podium. And proceeded to talk about how his wife’s brush with cancer really rocked the family and that it was a low point in their lives. They both had gone through some really tough times.

From the way he described it, it was clear that the cancer had taken an emotional toll on the family. Except that no one in the audience was moved. No one felt the weight of the situation as John recalled the dark time he and his family went through. The typical silence that usually descends upon a room when such a tragic moment is recalled did not happen this time.

Something did not seem right. A heavy moment like that did not evoke the imagery, emotion or reaction that is expected out of an incident like a brush with cancer. The pieces did not fit.

Here is what happened.

As John was explaining his wife’s run in with the cancer he used a tone that did not create the necessary imagery in the audience’s mind. It was delivered in a matter-of-fact monotone with no emotion attached to it. What compounded the situation was that John had a smile on his face throughout the time he recalled the illness and the treatment they had to go through.

It was apparent that they were torn apart and suffered physical and emotional stress throughout the entire time. But because the delivery did not match the narration, the story landed like any other – without any impact. Another story. Another event.

John could have easily used that story to demonstrate the power of their love, how they stood by each other during the tough time and how not to give up even in the midst of adversity.

I call it the Audio-Video problem. The Audio has to match the Video. The narration has to match the delivery. The telling has to match the showing. John’s had narration. He got the audio covered. It was like the video was simply turned off.

At a minimum, here are three techniques to use to enhance the delivery of any speech or story:

  1. Gestural Variety: Use your entire body to speak. Not just your mouth (duh!). Use your hands, facial expression, legs (move around) to make your point.
  2. Vocal Variety: Use tone, pitch, volume and pace to make the delivery interesting for the audience. A speech given in a monotonous tone, sounds more like a drone than a speech. Audience will soon be fighting their sleep instead of sitting up to listen to your speech.
  3. Pause: Probably the single most important tool there is in speaking. Effective use of pausing could help demonstrate the point powerfully and enhance the speech or story like nothing else can.

Bottomline, don’t tell your story. LIVE your story. When you live your story, you transport yourself into the moment in time when the story actually happened. And that helps recall the imagery and paints the picture for the audience. You then deliver the story in technicolor as opposed to delivering in black-and-white. As a speaker, you owe it to the audience to transport them to places and situations where and when the story happened. To take them with you on a journey where they can see the life you lived, the ecosystem that you existed in or had to fight through.

For a story to have it’s impact, you need to LIVE THE STORY. NOT TELL THE STORY.

Fortunately for John’s wife, the cancer responded to treatment and she went on to live a healthy life and was smiling as her husband was recalling the incident. Good for them!

Public Speaking 107: Making it feel like the first time!

The July 13, 2014 article from the NY Post gives quite an account of the actress’ long mono-play, mono-stage stint.

“The first time Donna Marie Asbury stepped onstage in ‘Chicago’ crying, ‘He ran into my knife — 10 times!’ her daughter was in diapers.

That was 16 years ago. Daughter Jacqueline, 18, heads to college in August, but Asbury’s still playing a character named June. Along the way — over the course of more than 6,600 shows …”

Interestingly enough Donna Marie still finds her job exciting – “Of course, there are days when I think, ‘Oh my God, I don’t think I can do this again!’ But then I hear [the conductor] say, ‘Five, six, seven, eight!’ and I get so excited!”

Thank God the rest of us don’t have to go through such an ordeal.

But even executives and leaders find themselves in a similar predicament of having to repeat the same presentation over and over again. Consider the CEO and CFO doing an IPO roadshow. Over two weeks they present their company to tens of potential investors and institutions in the hope that they will buy equity in their company. Thankfully, neither of them have to do it 6600 times.

The problem is for real. The key is to figure out how to do it with the same energy and enthusiasm as the very first time.

Here is the issue. As a speaker, it might be the tenth time presenting the same material to an audience. But, for the audience it will be the very first time listening to it. It will be the speaker’s responsibility to ensure that the material being presented sounds, feels, seems fresh and like the very first time for the audience. Any sign of boredom, weakness or sign of repetitive stress will be instantly evident to the audience and result in a negative experience diminishing the impact the speaker wanted to have in the first place.

This is where theatre actors have the work cut out for them. Movie actors on the other hand have the opportunity to reshoot the same scene or act multiple times till they get it perfectly. Hence it is only fair and appropriate that we learn the techniques from stage actors that helps them deliver stellar, fresh performances irrespective of the number of times they have played the same role.

Here is a quick look at the top three techniques that stage actors employ to make it feel like the first time every time they play the role:

  1. Acknowledge the fact that it is about the audience. This sounds like common sense. But unless, the speaker truly believes in the audience, he or she is not going to take the focus away from himself or herself and direct all their energy towards the audience. Knowing that the audience will have to do whatever it is that you are asking them to do is the key that will unlock this door. A sense of boredom or a glimpse of repetitive stress performance will give it all away and cause the audience to write a smaller check or not sign-up willingly to perform a task or not agree to your proposal. Bottomline, it is not about YOU. It is about the AUDIENCE.
  2. Choose to be Present. This is probably the most easy looking and deceiving of the three techniques. Yeah you say – I bring in my Presence to every meeting and speech. Unfortunately it is not a completely true statement, at least not for everyone. We all show up for meetings and speeches. True enough. But that is not to say that we bring our body, mind and soul fully into the meeting. Unless you are present lock, stock and barrel you are not going to be able to put on a show that is going to look real and like the first time.
  3. Bring / Show the energy required for the presentation. Revving up your internal engines to show up and bring forth the energy required to make the point is a fundamental element of any presentation or meeting or speech. And if that means having to run around the block to get your blood flowing, that is what you have to do. If that means having to meditate for twenty minutes, that is exactly what you will have to do. If that means having to shout at the top of your lungs, that is exactly what you have to do. Once you gain the energy bring it into your speech and let it show in order for the audience to completely appreciate your involvement in the speech or presentation.

These are certainly the big three. There are many more nuances that stage actors bring in to their acting that makes their audience feel it like the very first time. The same goes for the speaker, presenter, CEO and CFO as well.

Of all the elements in public speaking, this is probably the second hardest thing to do. Great communicators know that and do what it takes to bring in that feel. If Donna Marie Asbury can do it 6600 times, I am absolutely positive you can do it 20 times.

What say you?

Public Speaking 106: The Power of Three

The audience welcomed him with a thunderous applause. No surprises there. The speaker had a quite a list of accomplishments. The energy in the room was contagious. The anxiety of wanting to hear the master speak was clearly present. Perfect setup for a great speech. He opened the speech with “How many of you would like to succeed in life?”. I could almost close my eyes and tell how many would have lifted their hands.

Then came the shocker. “I am going to give you a six step formula to succeed in your life”. The confusion and shock was visible. The energy just drained away and gave way to confused seriousness. We better listen. Or else, we would miss that one ingredient to cook up the elixir of life.

On and on it went. Step after step. Instruction after instruction. You could only follow if you were taking some serious notes. If you weren’t cut out to take notes, sorry, you missed the boat.

That is what happens when you cross the magical boundary. The rule of three.

Here is how the human mind works –

  • One, Two, Three, Many
  • One, Two, Three, Confusion
  • One, Two, Three, Not worth listening to any more

There is something about three that makes it rhythmic, musical and downright easy to comprehend.

Whether in business or literature or communication saying it in threes holds the key to making your points crisp and memorable. For starters, you wouldn’t throw the audience’s mental circuitry into fear and confusion. You will turn on the invisible switch that will tell your audience ‘hey here is a friendly speaker who will make this easy on my brain and ears’.

Take for example movies and stories. They always use the three act story structure.

  • Beginning. Middle. End.
  • Setup. Struggle. Solution.
  • Pity. Fear. Catharsis.

Consider memorable business slogans.

  • Just do it!
  • Finger lickin’ good.

Or politics

  • Yes we can!
  • Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness
  • Government of the people, by the people, for the people
  • Blood, sweat, and tears

Or literature.

  • Veni, Vidi, Vici (I came, I saw, I conquered)
  • Friends, Romans, Countrymen lend me your ears
  • Three blind mice
  • Three musketeers

Or religion

  • The Holy Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit)
  • Body, Mind, Soul

The list goes on and on. And each of these references have been around for ages. Not one of them has necessitated anyone to write or memorize the sequence of words. Hear it once or twice and they almost become memorable. The rhyming quality of the triad makes it easy on the ears.

Whatever is the blah! blah! blah! you are speaking about, or the quack! quack! quack! or the A, B, C’s of anything that you are trying to explain – it is better said in sets of three.

As a speaker, you have the responsibility to make your lesson or points memorable and easy to remember. Even when the listener is not writing your speech down or taking notes. With the power of three, you can create Simple, Powerful and Memorable lessons that the audience will be thankful for.

Public Speaking 105: Anaphora

Charles Dickens used it skillfully. And so do politicians and freedom fighters.

Strange bedfellows. But both know the power of this literary device.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”


Martin Luther King Jr.’s epic speech,

I have a dream that one day this nation will ….

I have a dream that one day on the red hills …

I have a dream that one day even the state ….

I have a dream that my four little children…

I have a dream that one day, down in…

I have a dream that one day every valley …”

Dictionaries define anaphora as “repetition of a word or expression at the beginning of successive phrases, clauses, sentences, or verses especially for rhetorical or poetic effect”.

Phrase or set of words used repeatedly to make an emphatic point. Anaphora also adds a poetic rhythm and melody to the speech or writing making it easy on the eyes and ears.

Charles Dickens’ repeated use of “it was…” drew the attention of the reader to the various aspects of the time period he was trying to explain.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s repeated mentioning of “I have dream….” cemented his name in the speaking hall of fame in addition to driving home the point of his whole message.

The best of speakers use it in their speeches.

The great orator that he is, Barack Obama uses anaphora to his advantage as in the following speech he gave to Berliners while running for his first presidential term in 2008.

“People of the world – look at Berlin! Look at Berlin, where Germans and Americans learned to work together and trust each other less than three years after facing each other on the field of battle. Look at Berlin, where the determination of a people met the generosity of the Marshall Plan and created a German miracle; where a victory over tyranny gave rise to NATO, the greatest alliance ever formed to defend our common security. Look at Berlin , where the bullet holes in the buildings and the somber stones and pillars near the Brandenburg Gate insist that we never forget our common humanity.

People of the world – look at Berlin, where a wall came down, a continent came together, and history proved that there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one. “

Of course, as with any form of speech, it is not to be overused. When used correctly, anaphora makes for a powerful tool to emphasize and inspire any audience.

Public Speaking 104: Double Focus

About seven minutes into the speech Manny was completely on his own. The incessant rambling continued while the audience was totally detached and doing their own thing. But that did not matter to Manny nor did it stop him from engaging all the tools he had learnt at speech school. Fifty what-seemed-like-two-hundred minutes later, the speech was over, and the audience gave a thunderous applause, as if to thank the speaker for having stopped speaking.

Great content. Reasonable delivery. But no sensitivity for the audience’s comfort, attention or feelings.

This is not an isolated occurrence. Time and time again we come across speakers, who exercise their presumed gift of the gab at the expense and boredom of unsuspecting audience. It is as if to say, that the audience has to repent for sins untold at the altar of the speaker’s presence, suffering through a lecture or speech.

To draw a parallel, I invite you to consider the acting profession. Not those who act in front of cameras for movies, advertisements and other short films. I am talking actors on the stage theatre. These folks have a tough life. Seriously. Having to play the same scene, day after day, saying the very same things, playing the very same roles, but still making it seem like it is the very first time they are doing it. Making it feel fresh for the audience is a key part of acting in the stage theatre.

One bad move, and it will be evident to the audience that the actor is suffering from boredom or is not committed to the scene. While the same commitment is called in acting in front of camera, at the least, the actor and the director have the opportunity to reshoot a scene if it does not turn out alright for any number of reasons.

As a speaker, there is a lot to learn from actors – theatre or the movies ones. One of the techniques they employ is directly translatable into public speaking and powerfully so.

I call this Double Focus. A focus on yourself the actor or speaker. Another on the audience.

Actors have to be fully conscious of the presence they bring to the act/stage, while continuing to talk, gesture, move all the while remembering their lines. A tough job by any stretch of imagination.

That job is compounded by the need to continue to read the audience’s reaction and respond as necessary.

The focus on yourself is the easier thing to do – at least of the two – and the one most of us train to do very well. The more difficult thing to do is to remember to watch for the audience’s response and tailor or fine tune or react as necessary.

Let’s say for example, the audience starts to chat with each other. At first, it is between two people. Minutes later, a quarter of the audience is engaged in some conversation amongst themselves. If the audience is chatting, it is clearly indicative of the speaker’s inability to hold the audience’s attention for any length of time.

An even worse situation is when you start to notice many people in the audience either starting to doze, be distracted or my favorite, starting to dust lint from their dresses. Every audience group has a small percentage of people who will engage in one or more of these activities. The concern is when a bulk of the audience is engaging in these activities which is a clear indication of losing interest in the topic or speech.

As a speaker, you have several choices in front of you. For one, you can ignore the dozers, dusters, conversationalists and carry on with your speech. The right response would be to respond with a technique or intervention that will help regain the attention from the audience.

Irrespective of how you choose to respond to the situation, the most important quality of the speaker is to practice double focus. Be focused on how you are present in the situation, the delivery of your speech. And equally enough, be focused on how the audience is responding to your speech. If they are with you, then you have the proof that you are doing a good job as a speaker. If they are not, then we need intervention.