A first presentation can lead to profound opportunity
by Peter Watts
Many presenters find they are first moved to speak in public not by professional or business requirements, but because somebody needs to stand-up for their community. A local need or a perceived injustice means that somebody needs to step up to the plate.
If you need to speak before the Town Council or the School Board or the PTA or any similar group of elected or non-elected bureaucrats, it can be helpful to your cause if you can move their hearts as well as their minds.
Appealing to logic will get you nowhere. You need emotion.
In last week’s State of the Union Address, President Obama had to make just such an appeal. It was an appeal for legislator’s to allow a vote on gun control. What techniques did he use in order to achieve it?
Here are the words themselves:
“Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote.
Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.
The families of Newtown deserve a vote.
The families of Aurora deserve a vote.
The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote.”
Powerful in impact, the President’s words were surprisingly simple in construction, and you can use the same techniques.
The power of his appeal came from the combination of four techniques.
Technique 1: Pathos
Pathos tugs directly at emotions and makes any speech intensely personal. This isn’t a speech about abstract victims of gun-crime but a speech about victims of gun-crime who are right here in the room. They are named individuals known to the audience. When an appeal is based upon a group who are either known to the audience or in close proximity to them, the emotional intensity becomes hard to resist.
Technique 2: Repetition
The passage is comprised of five phrases, each of which ends with the words “deserve a vote.” This is Epistrophe; a repetition pattern that concludes adjacent phrases with the same words. That repetition becomes a drum-beat, that progressively increases the speaker’s intensity with each occurrence.
Technique 3: Mass Conjunctions
Entering into the final phrase, the power of Epistrophe is joined by a deliberate over-use of the conjunction “and”:
“The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote.”
This is Polysyndeton. Conjunctions bring more weight to a list than a silent comma ever can, and raises the drum-beat rhythm to an even higher pitch.
Technique 4: Diminution
Suddenly, that drum-beat crescendo is cancelled. Take a look at the final repetition. It’s been modified. Rather than “deserve a vote”, the President now uses the phrase “deserve a simple vote.”
This is Diminution. After building the juggernaut, Barack Obama has introduced the word “simple”. How tiny and miniature that word seems when compared against a catalogue of horrors. After such a list of tragedy, what person could possibly deny the bereaved a “simple vote”.
Take the challenge
If you ever find yourself undertaking your first piece of public speaking in order to do good for others, that challenge can appear daunting.
Accept the challenge. This is what public speaking is all about. It’s all about finding your voice and the power that goes with it.
Don’t be afraid to use emotion. Don’t be afraid to try out techniques. And don’t be afraid to ask for help.
A good friend of mine found herself in just such a position, and since that first appearance she’s gone on to be elected as Deputy Mayor of our town.
When you find your voice in the service of helping others, and rise to the occasion, you never know to what other successes it will lead you.