I like to talk. A lot, probably too much. I know the all too familiar taste of my own foot, and the bitterness of saying the exact wrong thing at the worst possible moment. Over the years these incidents have forced me to hesitate ahead of opening my mouth. They’ve also taught me (through way too much trial and error) how to be tactful. One would think I’d slow down eventually, but I haven’t actually backed off my tendency to blither away with joyful abandon. I have, however, fine-tuned my idiot meter to a point where I rarely cringe after saying something.
I enjoy listening to people who speak well, and have a healthy jealously of those who tend to address their audience as if they have a script memorized. I’d LOVE to think my skills in this area are above average, and someday maybe I’ll get a chance to test my confidence in this arena. I’m currently working to do podcasting on YouTube to link to this blog and we’ll se how this venture plays out.
I believe the true art of talking is not necessarily about what’s being said, but in large part it has to do with knowing and respecting the audience. If don’t say something that’s wanting to be heard, I’ve lost the game before it even starts. I feel the absolute BEST are… comedians, and ALL great comics have the same three behaviors in common.
- They will NOT say something they themselves don’t find interesting or amusing. One cannot help but laugh at someone who can’t get through their own joke without cracking up. I’ve seen plenty of comedians who are obviously going through old material, and it shows.
- They ALL have a visual act that accompanies their delivery. Even such people as Stephen Wright and Bob Newhart, who are both famously reserved and indifferent, STILL present their characters with skill and precision. When you think of a few of the stratospheric names of the comic stage, George Carlin, Robin Williams, Rodney Dangerfield, Jim Carrey, Steve Martin, and Jerry Seinfeld you’ll have an instant picture of them in your head because of how attached their demeanor is to their content. God, especially Rodney. All you have to do is think of his face and you start laughing.
- For good or bad they wait for the audience to react. Whether it’s thunderous applause and laughter, or bushels of rotten tomatoes catapulted at them, they practice timing. Johnny Carson, at least in my opinion, was a both a horrible AND a brilliant comedian because his schtick was knowing he sucked and then playing off the reaction rather than the delivery. THAT’S confidence in yourself, and people are drawn to it.
You’ve probably seen performers who were just shuffling from one joke to the next with almost no variation in their voice or stance and wondered what was missing. I would say watching mannequins with monotoned prerecorded messages is pretty much the same experience for a lot of wannabes. If YOU don’t enjoy what you do, sell with enthusiasm (or at least a gimmick), and allow criticism, both good and bad, no one will pay attention. Enough about comedians, but you must admit, they are great examples of the art of speaking.
Actors are also in the fold, and those who speak with magnificent skill are well remembered. Personally I’ve admired Cary Grant, Yul Brenner, Sean Connery, Jack Nicholson, and my favorite, Anthony Hopkins. Keep in mind that they too also have a very practiced and recognizable body language which works in perfect synchronization with whatever they’re saying.
I’m well aware all of my examples so far are men, which stands to reason because I’m a man, and I’m going to be drawn to align and emulate those whom I admire. I, of course, in no way am purposefully ignoring women, it’s just that I’m more comfortable equating my aspirations with other males.
So, onward with what I want to keep “talking” about.
When I need to address someone on an important topic I use a trick to keep my thought process focused and flowing with a nice variety of words. Almost anyone can pick this skill up and I have explained and demonstrated it to several people over the years who were surprised that they too could do it so effortlessly. In the early nineties I was watching an interview on an early news show with the wife of someone who was then considered a dynamic public speaker. This is where I first heard of this technique. The interviewer asked her what made him so good at what seemed like instant, unprepared speeches. She said he clears his mind and imagines a blank blackboard in front of him. While he speaks, he simply let’s words manifest which will perpetuate what he’s trying to communicate to the listener. He then picks the next best option and continues the process until it’s no longer needed. I tried it, and to this day when I really do concentrate on keeping conversation on topic, it serves perfectly. Give it a shot and see for yourself. Now, you WILL find yourself pausing occasionally to make good choices, but to the listener it comes across as if they are witnessing someone who really cares about saying the right thing, which, of course, they are.
One last point (and it is a selling point) I’d like to make is the usefulness of Toastmasters International. I’ve attended before, and they are extremely helpful for almost anyone who needs to hone their speaking skills for their careers or other personal reasons, and that seems to include the vast majority of humans to begin with. They allow people to attend for free for a while (which I encourage) but they’ll eventually ask them to sign up to get past a certain point. The dues are minimal and totally worth it. It’s been some time, but I believe they may be around 200.00 a year with payments allowed. Assignment material and other membership items like newsletters will be sent to your home. There is a structured itinerary and you can usually proceed at your own pace. The “classes” I’m familiar with usually last two hours once a week and have several segments in which members will participate including, speeches, interviews, telling jokes, improv, AND evaluation of your classmates among other things. It’s pretty casual and the people are, in my experience, very friendly. They also sponsor contests that go all the way to capital cities and beyond. They are, as the name indicates, worldwide with thousands of chapters.
Remember, speaking is a skill, one which can be mastered and leveraged to sell and create the deepest and wildest of dreams. Maybe someday I’ll see you out there changing the world because you read this post. You never know.
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With Love and Compassion, Daniel Andrew Lockwood