Speaking with Confidence
Public Speaking with Confidence
In a blog last year we looked at Prince William’s speech at the Queen’s platinum jubilee as a way of pointing out his use of the three fundamental types of gesture open to a public speaker.
(i) gestures that help us listen
(ii) gestures that help us see and
(iii) gestures that help us feel
In this article I want to briefly compare his delivery in that speech to his more recent contribution at coronation of King Charles, to point out:
- what has changed,
- how it has changed,
- why it is better than before and
- what we can learn from it to improve our own competence, confidence and public speaking skills.
The delivery style of any presentation should aim to achieve the apparent contradiction of ‘planned spontaneity’, that is:
- a speech that is well enough planned that it has a clear structure and purpose,
- a speech that still comes across as free and flowing.
Sometimes this may be part illusion, when the content is very precisely planned but the speaker has learned to deliver it in a way that seems free and off the cuff.
This works well in presentations where there is little or no interaction with the audience, or where the speaker does not need to adapt or respond to circumstances.
I remember when first joining a Public Speaking club, I quickly realised that there is a big difference between written and spoken language and that those who wrote out their speeches like an essay often came across as stiff and wooden.
So I learnt that even if I was ‘writing out’ my speeches I still made sure that I was writing ‘spoken’ language.
I would literally write sentences joined with phrases like ‘you know’, ‘sort of’, ‘I suppose’, because they sounded more like how a person naturally speaks.
When I was still working as a musician I remember performing in a series of concerts with Lisa Minnelli.
After a few songs she would sit on a stool and chat in a very relaxed free-flowing manner.
After a couple of concerts I realised that her ‘spontaneous thoughts’ were delivered identically night after night.
Every word had been planned and rehearsed, but she managed to create the impression of spontaneity.
This only works well if the audience is passively there to hear what you have to say.
but is not so easy when you need to interact, respond or adapt your material to the audience - which is probably the more typical situation in most of our business presentations.
(You will be aware that some politicians are very good at delivering their speeches, but they are not so good at responding to questions.)
The reason I originally chose Prince William’s speech at the Queen’s jubilee was because his was performing a very challenging task – standing out in the open, with no lectern to hide behind and having to deliver his segment in the middle of a programme of music and celebration.
He handles the situation very well, but there is still, maybe inevitably, a self-consciousness to his delivery. His presentation is great for analysis as it allows us to see clearly the types of gesture he is employing. If he had been too accomplished in his delivery then his use of gestures might have been so smoothly integrated into his delivery that they would hardly register with us.
If you look back at this presentation for the Queen’s jubilee we can identify two factors that impact on how the speech comes across.
- The Prince’s stance.
Understandably under the circumstances, Prince William is holding his hands together in a naturally protective position in front of him.
In speaking, hands and voice nearly always work together, particularly when using the first category of gesture: ‘gestures that help us listen’.
Therefore, standing with hands held together can limit the variation in tone in the speaker’s voice,
whereas using hands to come up and support particular key words gives added impact to those important themes and messages , while making the meaning of the speech easier for the audience to grasp and in turn making it easier for the audience to fully listen to the speaker.
And a solid stance with hands free to support the words will also send a message of confidence.
By using the hands to support the voice the speaker’s energy can be conducted up through the body starting from the solid stance on the floor and out through his gestures, giving a natural dynamism and energy to the delivery,
whereas in contrast, standing with the arms held in front of you, or folded, or in pockets or even grasping desperately onto a lectern or onto a clip-board full of notes may send a message of anxiety and in the process have a strong braking effect on the variety of the voice.
In this first excerpt, Prince William is standing with his hands clasped low down in from of him, yet, of course, he is still keen to keep his voice lively and varied.
He is not benefitting from support from his hands and so he is has to ‘borrow’ his vocal support from elsewhere.
Hence you will notice him swaying a little as he speaks, using small head nods to emphasise his words and even on occasions going slightly up onto his toes. All of which contributes to a sense of self-consciousness and unease.
Even so there are three words from this excerpt that do register effectively with us in the audience:
‘top’ of the agenda
This brings us on to the second element of the Prince’s delivery that contributes to a slight lack of dynamism and clarity:
2. The Prince’s choice of words.
Well-chosen words can ‘help us see’ what the speaker is saying and combining them with supporting gestures allows them to fully register with the audience and have impact.
Too much abstract vocabulary like: ‘decades’, environmental issues’ and ‘business’ , is not inclined to create clear memorable images that stay in the listener’s mind.
We can intellectually grasp the meaning of abstract and technical words, but they tend to leave no clear picture.
In fact, you may find that all presentations that are built around abstract and technical language are inclined to leave an audience with no images or pictures to take away. The audience becomes aware of hearing a lot of information, but little that they remember. It becomes hard for the audience to concentrate when they are hearing words, words, words without any supporting pictures.
Therefore even in this short extract the choice of words like
‘top’ of the agenda
helps to create more vivid, tangible images
We can visualise an item at the ‘top’ of a piece of paper
There is a sharp metallic edge to ‘speer-headed’
and we can see a group of people coming together ‘united’
However – and here is the real Public Speaking significance;
using visual vocabulary also creates pictures in the speaker’s mind, allowing him or her to find appropriate or reinforcing gestures to support those key words
In this excerpt you will notice Prince William’s two small simple gestures, one to indicate height to support ‘top’ and then the coming together gesture to support ‘united’
The real value of clear visual language and metaphorical language in speeches is manifold:
- it creates a clear image for the listener to latch on to,
- it helps the speaker express and support the word with a natural gesture, and
- it is the gesture that gives the physical support the speaker needs to create the vocal emphasis needed to make the word jump out and register with us in the audience, without having to nod or sway or rise up on the toes.
Now let us quickly look at the short excerpt from the coronation speech.
You will note he has some notes on a card – that is fine, although it tends to make him rely more on his left hand for gestures. However, if using notes, a small stiff card will always be better than a flapping or crumpled sheet of paper.
His stance is stronger than in the first example, because his hands are more active in supporting his words.
Note that the key word and key message he has chosen is ‘service’ – and how he draws our attention to this.
The word ‘service’ is repeated for emphasis.
It is further emphasised with a gesture, as is its related word ‘serve’
We also know that this is a ‘pledge’ – again because of a supportive gesture to help us better ‘hear’ what the Prince is saying.
This is then further emphasised in voice and gesture as we learn that it is not just ‘service’, ‘it is a ‘pledge’ to serve’, ‘it is a pledge to continue to serve’ – a lovely use of three phrases to incrementally build and stress a message.
Notice also how he makes his speaking task easier by employing more metaphorical and spatial language than before, which can be naturally supported by accompanying gestures
These are words that simply beg for a simple supporting gesture.
I would challenge you to be able to say words like, ‘across’ or ‘around’ in front of people without instinctively backing them up with some indication of space.
Equally the words ‘current’ followed by ‘future’ imply a time-line, which the Prince also indicates in space.
Gestures help the audience to see and hear more clearly.
Gestures make it easier for the speaker to express their ideas
but most importantly
The right gestures with the right words bring the voice to life
And all that together creates a speaker who looks, sounds and feels like a confident and natural communicator.