Speaking Effectively Chapter 1
PREPARING TO TALK
Recent studies show that speaking in front of a group is by far the greatest fear of most people. It ranks ahead of the fear of dying, riding in an airplane, or failure in other areas of one's personal life.
Unless you are highly unusual, at some time in your life you have talked to a group of people and your knees began shaking, your voice quivered, your head ached, and the only dry place on your body was the inside of your mouth. Then the strange muscle spasms began. One eyelid began to twitch uncon-
trollably. Your legs felt like soft rubber. And then it happened: Your memory, on its own and for no apparent reason, left you. At this point you promised yourself that you would never get yourself in this situation again.
Although the fear of speaking is common, studies show that one of the most admired qualities in others is their ability to speak in front of a group. Furthermore, other things being equal, the person who can communicate ideas clearly will be more successful. The remainder of this book is directed toward helping you be the kind of speaker others admire—the kind who gets the job done in every speaking situation.
Types of Speaking
There are several types of speaking common in the Air Force. Although most of the same general principles and techniques apply to all types, there are some differences.
The best military briefings are concise and factual. Their major purpose is to inform—
tell about a mission, operation, or concept. At times they also direct—enable listeners to perform a procedure or carry out instructions. At other times they advocate or persuade—support a certain solution and lead listeners to accept that solution. For example, a staff officer might want officers at a higher echelon to accept a certain solution. Every good briefing has the virtues of accuracy, brevity, and clarity. These are the ABCs of the briefing. Accuracy and clarity characterize all good speaking, but brevity distinguishes the briefing from other types of speaking. By definition, a briefing is brief, concise, and direct.
Much speaking in the Air Force is directed toward teaching. The lecture is the method of instruction most often used. As the name implies, the primary purpose of a teaching lecture is to teach or to inform students about a given subject. For convenience, teaching lectures can be divided into the following types: (1) formal lectures, where the communication is generally one-sided with no verbal participation by the students, and (2) informal lectures, usually presented to smaller audiences and allowing for verbal interaction between the instructor and students.
A speech generally has one of three basic purposes: to inform, to persuade, or to entertain. The informative speech is a narration concerning a specific topic but does not involve a sustained effort to teach. Speeches to civic clubs, orientation talks, and presentations at commanders' calls are examples of speeches to inform. The persuasive speech is designed to move an audience to belief or action on some topic, product, or other matter. Recruiting speeches to high school graduating classes, budget defenses, and courts-martial summations are all primarily speeches to persuade. The entertaining speech gives enjoyment to the audience. The speaker often relies on humor and vivid language as a primary means of entertaining the listeners. A speech at a dining-out may be a speech to entertain.
Talking to hear one's own voice may feed the ego and even cause self-persuasion, but whatever type of speaking you are doing, the goal should be to communicate with others. A basic assumption, then, is that all speaking should be audience-centered. Since speakers have a primary responsibility of adapting the message to the audiences, they need to know as much about their audiences as possible.
There are two reliable methods for gaining information about audiences. Used together they can be extremely useful. The first is to organize information you already have about the audience. Knowing such variables as age, sex, rank, and experience can help you relate to the audience. If one or more of these or similar variables separates you from the audience, you may want to give special attention to ways of emphasizing similarities and reducing differences.
The second method, when you have not talked to a particular group before, is to check with someone who has. Perhaps a friend or colleague has already talked to the same group and can tell you what to expect. A local civic club regularly interrupts and heckles guest speakers. Imagine the chagrin of a speaker who is not familiar with this practice and takes the interruption and heckling personally. Granted, this audience behavior is a pretty extreme case and may not be the proper way for an audience to react. Still, it is better to know about such things before one speaks.
In the preceding instance, the uninformed speaker might assume wrongly that the audience was hostile. In some instances, you may have to face a hostile audience. An extreme example of a speaker facing a hostile audience is when the President must confront a group of militants on the White House lawn. In such circumstances, the emotions of the audience are so great that effective communication becomes very difficult.
Most likely you will never have to speak to an overly hostile audience, but you may have to speak to one that is mildly hostile either to you or to your ideas. What can you do? Assuming that you are determined to be heard and the audience is willing to give you a chance, hostility can often be overcome. Clearly, your first task as a speaker is to change the audience attitude—if not to friendliness, then at least to a more neutral position. Your chances for success are much greater if you somehow build rapport with your listeners. Often this can be done by using one or more of the following techniques:
1. Avoid behaving in a conceited or antagonistic manner.
2. Demonstrate a genuine concern for your listeners.
3. Exhibit friendliness and warmth toward your listeners
4. Emphasize similarities between your listeners and you.
5. Be honest and straightforward.
6. Use humor that is in good taste, especially if it is at your own expense.
7. Indicate your association with people who are held in high esteem by the audience.
8. Do not let negative, nonverbal aspects of your behavior contradict what you are saying.
9. Demonstrate that you are an expert and have done your homework on the subject.
10. Refrain from stating the main idea or conclusion at the outset. Present your facts first that you and your listeners agree upon, and then build toward your conclusion.
Most audiences will be friendly. They consist of people who are, for the most part, favorably disposed toward you as a speaker. Most people want you to do a good job. Furthermore, they usually are not in violent disagreement with your point of view. An informative briefing to other members of your organization, a speech to a local civic club, and a teaching lecture in the classroom are examples of speaking before friendly audiences.
The problem of selecting a subject for a briefing or teaching lecture does not often arise in the ordinary course of Air Force business. You will seldom have to look around for something to talk about. The subjects are implicit in the work of the organization. A staff briefing, for example, arises from the need to communicate certain subject matter. A teaching lecture is given to satisfy a particular curriculum need. On the other hand, a formal speech to persuade, inform, or entertain may provide you with more latitude in selecting the subject.
Selecting the Subject
On some occasions, the subject of your speech will be determined—at least partly—by the group. A local civic club, for instance, may ask you to talk to them about a job, hobby, or community project you are heading up. At other times. the choice of the subject will be left entirely up to you. Almost always, however, you will be free to choose the particular aspect or area of your subject that you wish to emphasize. There are several questions you can ask yourself about the subject or aspect of the subject you choose to talk about:
1. Is this the best subject I can think of? Certainly this is a tough question. But you can answer it more wisely if you consider a number of subjects. As a rule, a carefully selected subject or aspect of the subject chosen after some thought will be a better choice than the ''straw-clutching" effect that characterizes many searches for suitable subjects.
2. Is this a subject that I already know something about and can find more? If not, then perhaps you should search elsewhere. There is no substitute for complete and authoritative knowledge of the subject.
3. Am I interested in the subject? If you are not interested in what you will be talking about, you will find preparation a dull task, and you will have difficulty in capturing the interest of the audience. Talking about a community service project on which you have spent many hours or a new program that you have helped implement on the job is probably much closer to your heart than a subject that you found while searching through a list of suggested topics.
4. Is the subject suitable for my audience? Does it fit their intellectual capacity? Is it a subject that they will be interested in? A subject may be suitable or interesting to an audience if it vitally concerns their well-being, offers solutions to a problem they have, is new or timely, or if there is a conflict of opinion about it.
5. Can the subject or aspect of the subject be discussed adequately in the time I have? One of the greatest problems many speakers have is that they fail to narrow their subject. Because of this problem, they generally do one of two things: (a) they don't adequately cover the subject, or (b) they talk too long. Both results are bad.
Narrowing the Subject
Some subjects are so broad or complex that you cannot possibly do justice to them in a single speech. In ten minutes you cannot tell much about ''Soviet Industry," but perhaps you can adequately cover "The Iron Industry of the Soviet Union" or ''Steel Production in the Urals." Speakers often tackle subjects that are too broad. You can pare a big topic down to size by moving from the general to the specific. The general and abstract topic "Air Power,'' for example, may be successfully narrowed to the more concrete and specific "Combat Radius of the B-52.'' Here are the steps followed in limiting this subject:
- Air Power (much too abstract)
- Military Air Power (not much better)
- The Air Force (a beginning in the right direction)
- Strategic Air Command (a little more specific)
- The B-52 (something concrete)
- Combat Radius of the B-52 (a suitable topic)
Limit your subject in terms of your own interests and qualifications, your listeners' needs and demands, and the time allotted to your speech.
Choosing a Title
The title is a specific label given to the speech—an advertising slogan or catchword that catches the spirit of the speech and tantalizes the potential audience. Generally, the exact phrasing of the title is not decided until the speech has been built. At other times it may come to mind as you work on the speech. At still other times it may come early and guide your planning. An effective title should be relevant, provocative, and brief.
Listeners do not like to be misled. If the speech has to do with communication, then some reference to communication should be in the title. On the other hand, don't include words in the title merely to get attention if they have no relevance to the speech itself. "The Eleventh Commandment'' is a relevant title for a speech that addresses the fact that the commandment of "Thou shall not get caught" has seemed to replace some of the other commandments. "A Pat on the Back, A Punch in the Mouth" is certainly a more provocative title than "How Positive and Negative Reinforcement Affects Our Children." "You Cannot Not Communicate" is briefer and more provocative than "The Impossibility of Failing to Communicate."
Although the preceding three titles are all rather catchy, some-times the direct approach is very effective. Consider the very descriptive title given earlier, "Combat Radius of the B-52." A speech or lecture on effective listening might simply be titled ''Effective Listening.'' Both of these titles are relevant, provocative (due to the subject matter itself), and brief.
The purposes for speaking—informative, persuasive, entertaining—are important. But the general responses and specific responses you expect from the talks you give are also significant.
The purposes of speaking suggest the general kinds of responses desired from the audience. An informative presentation seeks audience understanding. A persuasive presentation seeks a change in beliefs, attitudes, or behavior. An entertaining presentation seeks to divert, amuse, or, in some other way, cause listeners to enjoy themselves.
In addition to the three broad purposes or aims, there are more specific purposes, sometimes referred to as goals or objectives, of speaking. An effective oral presentation has immediate and specific objectives stated in terms of what is expected from the listeners. These specific objectives fall within the broader purposes of information, persuasion, or entertainment. The objectives do not state what the speaker is to do. Rather they tell what the speaker wishes the audience to understand, believe, feel, do, or enjoy. The following examples illustrate the relationship between subjects, general purposes, and specific objectives:
1. Subject: From Iowa to the Air Force
Purpose: To entertain
Objective: For listeners to enjoy the humor of a young man from lowa
making the transition from an lowa farm to the Air Force
2. Subject: You cannot not communicate
Purpose: To inform
Objective: For listeners to understand that we are constantly
communicating verbally and nonverbally
3. Subject: Equality for all
Purpose: To persuade
Objective: For listeners to dedicate themselves anew to the principle
of racial and social equality for all
With the general purpose and specific objective in mind, you are ready to gather material on the subject. The source for this material should be your own experience or the experience of others gained through conversation, interviews, and written or observed material. You may often draw from all these sources in a single presentation.
The first step in researching an oral presenta-
tion is the assembly of all the personal knowledge you have about the subject. A self-inventory may suggest a tentative organization; but, even more important, it will point up gaps in knowledge where you need to do further research.
The second step in the research process is to draw on the experience of others. People who are interested in the subject provide many ideas during the course of conversation. The most fruitful source, of course, is the expert. Experts help you clarify your thinking, provide facts, and suggest good sources for further research. Their suggestions for further sources can enable you to narrow your search without having to investigate a large bulk of material.
The third step is library research. Modem libraries provide us with an abundance of sources—books, newspapers, popular magazines, scholarly journals, abstracts, subject files, microfilms. You must constantly be concerned with the accuracy and relevance of the material. Using material printed in 1950 to understand television today would probably lead to inaccurate, irrelevant conclusions.
The next step in the research process is to evaluate the material gathered. You will probably find that you have enough material for several presentations. If you haven't already begun to organize the presentation, you will want to do so. Next you will want to select the best kinds of support for the points you wish to make. Then you will want to prepare a good beginning and ending for the talk.