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How the delivery of a speech affects the impact of the words

Good public speakers use a range of techniques to convey their message to their audience, which goes beyond just the words they say. They become actors, who are telling us a story on stage not just with their lines but with their physical presence. Created by Kimberly Kutz.

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Video transcript

- [Narrator] Hello readers, today we're talking about how the delivery of the speech affects the impact of the words. So what do I mean by that? It's all the ways that how a person says something affects what they mean. Words on a page may have a certain definition, but we humans use all sorts of different ways to show what we really mean. We can say something quietly or really loudly to emphasize a point. We can emphasize some words, but not others. We can pause, to create dramatic tension. We know that how something is said is important because when we don't have that information, sometimes it's hard to know what another person is really saying. Say that you forgot about your friend Eli's birthday party. So you text them, "hey, sorry I missed your party." Seriously for me this is one of the most anxiety-inducing situations that I encounter on a regular basis. What does Eli actually mean here? It's fine. Or it's fine or it's fine. Is it fine or isn't it? Gang, I don't know. Eli's tone and body language, which we can't see in just a text message, add in important elements of meaning. We can apply that knowledge to how we speak and how we assess the speech of others. Good public speakers use a range of techniques to convey their message to their audience, which goes beyond just the words that they say. They become actors who are telling us a story on stage, not just with their lines, but with their physical presence. So, let's talk about some of these techniques and then we'll watch a little bit of a speech so you can spot some examples. First, there's vocal variety. This means using different speaking speeds and changing between soft and loud speaking volumes. When people don't do this, we say that they're speaking in a monotone, you know. Bueller? Bueller? Vocal variation adds excitement and emphasis to speech. Then there's language. Here I mean the choice of words and the rhetorical devices the speaker uses to appeal to their audience and make the audience agree with their points. So, for example, if you're at a business convention, you would expect a speaker to use pretty formal language like, good evening my esteemed colleagues, tonight I want to discuss the importance of market research and connecting with our customer base. You wouldn't expect the speaker to say, "(indistinct), I'm a Hanker and (indistinct) tonight. "Let's go mine some gold." But if you were at a gold miners convention, maybe that's exactly what you would expect to hear. Language also includes the rhetorical devices that help to structure an argument. For example, repetition. Repeating the same word or phrase can help hammer it home or make the speaker's point feel more urgent. In Martin Luther King Jr's "I have a dream" speech, he starts eight sentences in a row with the phrase, "I have a dream." So these two points cover how a speaker talks, but there are also physical aspects to giving a speech. Gestures and eye contact, visual aids, and the use of the stage area itself. The speaker can pace back and forth to show they're feeling agitated, or throw their shoulders back to show they're feeling proud. They can use their hands to emphasize what they're saying. Speakers can use props if they want to, a chart or image or an object. And just like actors can have performances that are great, and performances that are only so, so. Speakers can use all of these techniques to great effect, or they can miss the mark by seeming phony or uncomfortable. So let's take a look at a speech and its delivery to see if we can spot any of these techniques and what messages they convey. This is a speech from 1988 by the then governor of Texas Ann Richards at the Democratic National Convention. I'll fast forward to the good parts. - Those were real people with real problems and they had real dreams about getting out of the depression. I can remember summer nights when we had put down what we call the Baptist palette and we listened to the grownups talk. I can still hear the sound of the dominoes clicking on the marble slab my daddy had found for a tabletop. - [Narrator] Did you see what she did there? What's her language telling us about who she is? What did she do with her hands there when she talked about the dominoes? She's telling us she's not fancy, she's from an ordinary background and she helps us visualize the scene by wiggling her fingers like she's putting down dominoes. - I got a letter last week from a young mother in Lorena, Texas, and I wanna read part of it to you. - [Narrator] Okay. How about that? What did you think about her opening up that letter? Is that actually the letter she received from the young mother? Probably not. I think I can see the text on it and it's really big. So, she's probably reading from a typed copy. It's folded in thirds though, like a letter that came in an envelope. It gives you the impression that this is a real letter, something she got in the mail, and she's telling you the plain truth from it. This is a visual aid. Okay. Let's skip the middle of the letter and see how Governor Richards delivers the end of it. - We plot along trying to make it better for ourselves and our children and our parents. We aren't vocal anymore. I think maybe we're too tired. I believe that people like us are forgotten in America. - [Narrator] What did you notice about how Governor Richards delivered those last two sentences? I think maybe we're too tired. She sounds tired. And she pauses between the words. I believe that people like us are forgotten in America. All of those pauses give weight and emphasis to the experience of the young mother. This is vocal variety. Okay. This is the last one we'll talk about. - They've told farmers that they were selfish, that they would drive up food prices if they asked the government to intervene on behalf of the family farm and we watch farms go on the auction block while we bought food from foreign countries. Well, that's wrong. (crowd applauds) They told working mothers it's all their fault that families are falling apart because they had to go to work to keep their kids in jeans and tennis shoes in college and they're wrong. (crowd applauds) They told American labor they were trying to ruin free enterprise by asking for 60 days notice of plant closings and that's wrong. (crowd applauds) - [Narrator] What did you hear repeated several times in this section? That's wrong. This is a rhetorical device. What does it make you feel about the points Governor Richards was making here? It kind of feels like they're piling on each other, right? She's adding more and more evidence to her case. So the next time you watch a speech, keep these techniques in mind. They'll help you see how a compelling speaker can transform the text of the speech with vocal and physical effects.