Todd’s Public Speaking Tips – Entry 4

I am tired.  But I will finish this tonight!

Humour – As I wrote yesterday, I’ve given an entire talk on using humour in speeches.  So this will be fairly brief.  Using humour is an excellent idea.  Laughter is another form of the sort of two-way communication that I like to encourage.  A person laughing is actively participating.  Refer back to the discussion on the pause.  Timing is the key element in humour.  Generally you say something and give the audience enough time to make a false assumption and then you twist it in a different direction.  Then you pause again to allow the audience time to laugh.  Humourous elements can also include: exaggeration (of facts or mannerisms), understatement, physical humour, and parody.  Humour can be used for many different purposes in a speech.  An important concern is not over using humour.

Rule of triads – Another memory aid and a way of structuring a speech.  When a person hears a list they make an automatic assumption it will contain three items.  So you can use it for sentence construction talking about this, that and the other thing.  You can use it in providing supportive evidence – provide three pieces of evidence.  When organizing a speech organize around three main points.  It is also a warning.  If you provide a list of two things you are setting up the audience to expect a third and if you use four they might stop listening after the third.  If you are using a non-standard list be very clear how many items the audience should be expecting.

Avoid the known – You’ve probably heard cliches are bad.  Avoid them in your speeches.  The easiest way to do that is to base it on personal experience which is all unique.  Start there and build out.  Don’t start with a framework or a structure.  That is an easy way to find yourself in amongst cliche pretty quickly.  A example of cliched construction is the “We are all on a journey” speech.

Todd’s Public Speaking Tips – Entry 2

In class this week one of the students asked me if their ‘Speak with Sincerity’ Speech had to be serious.  I answered that she didn’t so long as she was passionate about her topic.  I was correct, but incomplete.  She needs to be both passionate and honest.  It goes back to the point I was trying to make in my last article.  A speech should reveal something about you.  When you hear that it seems as though you need to be serious, but it is equally good to be revealing that you are a giant goofball.

Honesty – It is a key component.  I suppose the point I want to make here is that not every speaker should speak on every topic.  Speaking isn’t acting.  Your speaking style may indeed be an exaggerated or molded aspect of yourself, but it needs to be an true aspect of yourself.

Relationship – I also realize that I need to back up a little bit.  When talking your purpose is to form a relationship between you and your audience.  Normally when people talk about the purpose of a speech they talk about speaking to inform, entertain, inspire or persuade.  All of those purposes also require a tie to be formed between the speaker and the audience.  That relationship underlies all speeches.  It also might be odd in that a speech is just a speaker talking to an audience, but the communication flows both ways as in any relationship.  Audiences react and that feeds into the speech.  A speaker needs to understand that such a two-0way flow of communication exists and work to build on it.  This is why a lot of my points are about honesty and showing aspects of yourself.  As in any relationship these things also form a basis and so they do in a speech as well.

Specificity – I feel the need to throw in a funny point here.  I’ve said that being honest doesn’t mean you need to be serious, but my last two points seem to be brimming with a serious earnestness.  But this point doesn’t have that so I’ll tell my favorite joke instead.  A horse walks into a bar.  Ouch.  Anyway, lots of people throw too many points into a speech and the speech becomes a list (much like these articles).  In seven minutes you can do about 2 or 3 points well.  I already mentioned repetition.  That takes up a lot of time.  Another thing that does is specificity.    This doesn’t mean a lot of adjectives are needed.  But it can mean hitting the sensuality of a topic – how does it feel (touch), look, smell.  If you are talking about a car mention the brand, its age, the way it sounds as it is starting and the way it knocks as you are shutting it off.  But don’t fill in needless details.  Say enough to allow the audience to envision what you are speaking of and then use that visualization.  Don’t use so many that it becomes about the thing and not about the point you are trying to make.

Maybe an example.  Let’s say I’m giving a speech about my Kindle.  I love my Kindle so it is going to meet my requirement to have the speech be about me if I can show that love.  But that doesn’t mean that the audience will care.  I need a hook and a message that they will care about.  I could talk about why they need to buy one and the hook is that their lives would be somehow improved.  Another message could be that the easy access to classics and a wide variety of subjects is a good thing.   My hook could be that they can read a book a week and spend almost no money (beyond the initial expenditure).

I need to be specific about the device.  Its size and weight (thinner than my iPhone, the same weight as my universal remote control).  Its beautiful white, clean design.  The tactile feel of flipping pages.  It is different than turning a real page.  But there is a click, a pause and a page refresh.  You fell like you are doing something.  The way the text looks as clear and crisp as that on the printed page.

I’ll probably not use the horse joke.

OK – done for tonight.

The Pause

The smile




Rule of triads –

Avoid the known

Todd’s Public Speaking Tips – Entry 1

Link to the 2nd Article Link to the 3rd Article Link to the Fourth Article

I don’t think I’ve written much about it here, if I have even written about it at all, but public speaking is one of the things I really, really like doing.  Right now I’m helping to teach a public speaking course at the university.  I’ve been doing this course for about 12 years and it is always one of the highlights of my year.

This post is going to contain some of the points I like to make during the course.  Now this things will be the Todd’isms – those things that I think are important, but that aren’t said by every single Toastmaster out there.  That makes these things tricky, I think some of them are crucial.  As important as the core public speaking tips.  While some of them are either less important or might be more advanced tips.

Here are some things that Toastmasters covers for beginning speakers:

  1. Form – salutation, Introduction, Body, Conclusion, Leaving the podium/lectern
  2. Related skills – Meeting leadership, evaluation, listening
  3. Speech Construction – Speak with Sincerity, Audience Analysis, Mind Mapping
  4. Vocal Variety – Pitch, Tone, Volume and Rate (I need to give an educational speech on this topic Tuesday)
  5. Body Language – Movement (or not), hand gestures, facial gestures, eye contact
  6. Other tips – controlling ahs and ums, nervousness, using notes, props and slides, etc

You’ll get those lessons and others in working on a Competent Communicator designation in Toastmasters or in taking a speechcraft such as the one I’m teaching.  Here are some things that might not come up:

Emphasis on the end – Speaking in front of an audience is not the same as just reading an essay.  It isn’t acting although it is a performance (hopefully an honest one – see later).  It is its own thing and therefore different from other forms.  One of the key differences is that people won’t remember what you said.  At least not the words.  You might get lucky or be a very skilled writer and weave in some memorable bon mots, but most likely not.  A speech goes by too quickly.  If they are busy reviewing what you say and committing it to memory they aren’t keeping up and you want them to keep up.  They’ll remember the gist.  They will remember the emotion.  The exception is the end of the speech – the conclusion.  You deliver your conclusion and then stop – the audience has time to commit it to memory.  For that reason, your clearest, most concise and true statement of your purpose should be the last thing you say.  Your whole speech is about leaving people with your last two sentences.

Repetition – Another method to be memorable is to use repetition.  Express a thought more than once.  Use different words or the exact same words.   Come back to it again and again.

It is about you – There are three components in the speech: the audience, the subject and the speaker.  All need emphasis during speech preparation and delivery.  I like to focus on the last because the first two get pretty good treatment most of the time.  A speech is given by a specific person on a specific subject to a specific audience and those things should be tied together.  My way of approaching that is that every speech should reveal something about the speaker.  It is that personal revelation that ties the speech to the audience and forms a relationship.  I’m not saying that each speech should be an exercise in public soul-bearing.  In fact I’m not a huge fan of such speeches.  But at the very least it should be clear about why you are passionate about the material.  (This can be made clear without being explicitly said too…)  A technical presentation is naturally dry, but if you show your engagement with the material it livens it up.  A speech on the horrors of some distant calamity can be an exercise in pathos, but if you talk about how it impacts you personally  it becomes more real and present.  I like to think that any subject is potentially boring, but any person is innately interesting.

OK – three things in and I’ve been writing for most of an hour.  I’ll stop here.  Below you can see another seven things I want to talk about.  I’ll come back to them later.

Specificity –

Honesty –

The Pause

The smile




Rule of triads –

Avoid the known


Preachiness follows…

I watch athletes on TV asked all the time about what sort of role models they are for children.  And many, many of them are – devoting many hours to their communities and charities.  But, it only takes five more minutes before you see the latest exploit from another politician, athlete or celebrity that seems to undercut it.  One story on the news about hockey players helping the food bank and then 30 minutes of rehab and relapses.

The idea seems to be that we hold these folks to a higher standard or responsibility than everyone else.  And we are either duly impressed when they reach it or disappointed and/or titillated when they fail.

That is all BS.

Here is what I think.  We should be holding everyone to a high standard of responsibility.  Everyone.  We should be holding the celebrities to exactly the same standard to which we hold our neighbour, our grocer and ourselves.  Most importantly ourselves.

Really?  Sure.  People are impressionable.  We are always looking around. Noticing others.  Observing their behavior.  But we believe that we are complete masters of our own behavior.  Hmm.  Freud believed the exact opposite – that we are nothing but puppets to subconscious drives and urges.  I’m more in the middle.  People make decisions and we have that control, but one of the things we do best is rationalize poor decisions.  I can make a decision that is know if sub-optimal, but convince myself that it is right.

And what forms the rationalizations?  Excuses based on what we see around us.  And those excuses may in fact be subconscious.  Oddly enough that doesn’t forgive me my bad decisions, but places way more emphasis on my making good ones.  See, I never know when my behavior might have some influence on the folks around me.

The current zeitgeist seems to emphasize an opposite approach – that my personal life is none of your business and my choices are my own.  Having that freedom is incredible, but it cannot come without the responsibility as well.  Really we see an odd dichotomy when sometimes we say everyone has a responsibility – take caring for the environment for instance, but others where we say my choices are mine alone.  I see a paradox there.

Obviously, children are by far the most impressionable.   I’ll come to them in a moment, but let me try and convince you that you have an impact on adults too.  There is an entire science devoted to influencing people.  To guide you to convincing you that you need what you do not, that you want useless crap, and that your choice of cell phone and car expresses deep inner truths about your personality.  A science based on what we see and hear.  A science that is managed by focus groups, brain scans and research studies.  A science that tells us that we can be manipulated even when we know better.

Marketing is ubiquitous, but not as ubiquitous as our relationships – casual and personal.  It all bleeds in – sucked by osmosis into our pores.  And what we see and hear is not just ads to modify our buying, but examples of how to live our lives.  We spend time with our families, friends, co-workers, the guy who mans the Tim Horton’s drive through and the gal selling me my Bacon Blue Combo at Wendy’s.  So we have a responsibility that each of these relationships should be positive even if they are causal and ephemeral.

I once heard that kids have their moral grounding before they are even 5. Before they ever go to school.  How?  Because they are giant sponges.  Better even than my micro-fiber cloth!  Obviously their parents are when they absorb the most, but that learning and adapting never turns off.  Friends, acquaintances and even strangers are all potentials examples.  I remain acutely aware that even though I have no children of my own that this is the case.

Convinced?  How about this final thought.  Become aware of the constraints being responsible places upon you.  Constraints are good.  The world can be a big and confusing place.  Millions of choices.  It comes as a relief to know that the choice to act as a lout isn’t even on the table.  See how I help you?

Tell you what – there are always going to be celebrities that go on drunken binges and trash their hotel rooms.  I doesn’t really matter.  But if we are all servicing as positive role models to everyone around us by living responsibly that is sure to have a positive impact.

Compensation for Public Servants

So on Tuesday, Alberta Primetime did a feature on whether bonuses should be given to public servants.  Kevin Taft was on arguing against.   This isn’t about that.

But Taft mentioned at least twice that part of the compensation a public servant receives is the knowledge that they are providing a valuable service to society and thus they would be willing to accept a lesser compensation pay package than private sector folks.

[Note I’m restricting myself to public sectors employees, not elected officials or appointees.]

Really?  Does that seem naive to anyone but me?  I once had an argument with a drunken lout who expressed the same view.  Admittedly I was drunk myself at the time.

First (of possibly many objections), Providing a service to society is certainly one of the attractions of public service (at least it was for me.)  But for many folks it may not be the primary one.  Like any job providing a stable income for the family is often paramount.  Other drivers to public sector life might be job stability (normally), a pension, consideration for work/life balance (less lately).  Should we force anyone with a different priority into the private sector?  Shouldn’t we encourage multiple personal values with the public sector to allow for diversity?

Next, Isn’t it possible that folks in the private sector feel they are bringing value to society too?  Are we arguing that we should pay people less if they are useful?  I mean, gah, just  gah!  The whole idea of an invisible hand (not that I’m a huge proponent) is that the free market in itself is of benefit to society…

And, at a certain point maybe pay doesn’t incentivize folks.  But I can tell you what deincentivizes people – seeing someone doing a very similar job to them in another company and being paid more.

Fourth, the public sector must compete with the private sector for skill sets.  Even in a purely outsourced model (some day a post there), the Gov’t has a responsibility to plan and to audit the suppliers.   They have a responsibility to provide consultation to the elected officials.  They don’t want to recruit those skill sets from only those with low pay expectations.  (maybe a role of the state post someday too – that would be controversial).

Should a government hand out bonuses?  That is tricky.  Should the government offer compensation that is competitive with private sector?  I think yes.  How that compensation should be competitive can be tricky because it isn’t just an apples to apples comparison between the two sectors, but that needs to be the goal.  Assuming that the folks would volunteer to do their jobs and that pay is itself a bonus is fool hardy and can only lead to misguided decisions.

IT is not a Utility Service

Power is a utility service.  Water is a utility service.  Your phone can be a utility service.  There is a growing trend in the industry that Information Technology (IT) should be treated as a utility service as well.  But in the current form it is used by most businesses, IT is not a utility service.

What makes a utility service?  Generally they share the following features:

  1. The important decisions are made when it is set up or installed.
  2. Once running the only normal change a customer can request is asking for more.  And the cost is usually based on volume.
  3. It is dependable – there is a large mean time between failures.
  4. Each utility service is separate from others.
  5. It is normally provided by a 3rd party vendor to the business.

It is easy to see why a business wants IT to be a utility service.  It is easy to say that IT is not part of our core business.  It is easy to project costs.  The problem is that IT does not share many of the features of a utility service.

Another precipitator to this view is that many people already think of IT as a utility service; they are disappointed when it does not function as one.  My mother complains when she can’t just sign onto the home computer and have it work.  She is especially upset when she has to perform maintenance just to keep it in a working condition.

IT is also very similar to the telephone service;  in fact IT and telephony might ride over the same underlying network technologies.  If the telephone can be provided as a service IT should be as well.  I would agree that dial tone is a utility service.  When you pick up your phone you can make a call. Other service layered on top of dial tone are just another form of IT service.

My view depends on your agreeing with me on what IT provides to the business.  I believe that IT can only do two things for a business.  It can facilitate communication and it can enable business processes.  Businesses rely on IT to always do both.  If IT only facilitated communication it could be treated as a utility service, albeit differently than it is commonly used.  However, to enable business processes IT needs to be integrated into the business in a way that is impossible for a utility service.

IT operations runs as a lifecycle of evaluation, planning, deployment, operations and back to evaluation again.   Important decisions are made during the initial installation, but those decisions are constantly reevaluated. Additionally, IT requires constant maintenance are upgrades.  Software must normally be updated at least yearly – Windows requires monthly updates.  Firmware and hardware might go two or three years between updates.  Unlike a utility service these upgrades will be noticeable to the business.

IT change is not typically just a matter of requesting more IT service.  A typical change is to deliver a modified service, new features or a new service.  A cost model based around the volume of service alone will not suffice because the only way to make these typical changes then it to treat them as new utility service requiring a new contract.

The constant nature of change is IT means that its dependability is often lower than a utility service.  Change introduces risk and regardless of mitigation sometimes those risks occur and impact the business.

Finally IT service can often not be isolated from one another.  Generally each IT service depends on other IT services.  Sometimes in an hierarchical manner, but often in a complex web of interelations.

A common approach to these issues is to admit that IT is not a utility service, but that components such as the network and storage are.  This line of thought is common even among IT professionals.  Certainly this enables a utility service approach, but these IT services are still not mature enough yet to truly behave as utilities.  For instance if you treat network as a utility  your volume measurement is bandwidth and network is often purchased from an ISP in exactly this way.  But unfortunately one network service is not always equivalent to another.  Layering other services on top – such as VOIP, Video Conferencing, busty traffic vs. sustained high volume traffic – often requires different underlying network architectures.  And storage – provided as a service measured in GB or TB – is useless if the service only provides storage.  Backup/Recovery, Access Control, Auditing, records management and other services must be considered during the provisioning of a storage solution.

Mostly though you lose the tie between IT and the business when it is a utility service.  If your business is making widgets, another business is selling widgets and a third is marketing widgets they can all purchase power based on volume, but the IT services needed are significantly different.  Furthermore, a business wants to be flexible.  They want to be able to drive change and not have that change limited by the requirements of their utility service.

It is possible to a business to treat IT as a utility service provided that they are willing to accepts the constraints that this places on them.  For instance, you can purchase your e-mail service from Google as a utility service.  But what can’t you do then?  Integrate with mobile devices.  Embed e-mail workflow in other business applications.  Customize security such a storage and transmission encryption.  Implement unified communications.

It is possible that as IT matures component services will become better suited to act as utility services.  That would be nifty.  But that is not the case today without accepting significant constraints on the component service.  And it will never be the case for IT as a whole without breaking the tie between IT and the business.

The Rules

1) In this blog I express my opinions.  It is likely some of them will be different than your own.  Sorry.  The most belligerent, controversial posts will have a ‘Speechifying’ category.  Ignore those if you just want to read my opinions related to popular culture and art.

2) Debate is welcome.  But I’ve got some conditions

  • No cussing (unless it is funny)
  • No defamation
  • No calling someone WRONG unless they are wrong on a matter of fact.  And then do it politely.

3) I’ve got the final say on whether you’ve broken a rule or not.  The consequence may include: a public/private scolding, thrashing with a wet noodle, deletion of post and possibly banning.

4) There is a Introduction thread.  If you are reading, let me know you are there in the thread.

5) I’m here to have fun.  I hope you are too.  Try and forget that there are rules.