By George R. Pasley
July 22, 2008
The answer is, "Yes!"
Both matter. Everything matters when you speak, whether it is a conversation with a friend, or a speech before a thousand people. That thought can be terrifying to a beginning speech maker, and it is often terrifying to experienced speakers. I am reminded of the words of Winston Churchill, perhaps the greatest speaker the English language ahs ever known. He once heard a speech in which the speaker admitted his stage fright, saying he felt as if there were a block of ice in his stomach. Churchill approached the man after the speech and asked, "How large is that block of ice in your stomach?"
The man replied, "About 12 inches in each dimension."
Churchill's face lit up. "Amazing,' he said. "Those are the exact dimensions of the block of ice in my own stomach whenever I speak."
But the challenge of speaking well need not be taken on as an overwhelming task. Members of Toastmasters International, an organization dedicated to improving the speaking and listening skills of its members, start with one or two tasks and then add to them as they grow in experience.
Beginning speakers are encouraged to write their speeches. Over the course of a speech improvement program they are encouraged to pay attention to the organization of their speech, the opening and close of their speech, the vividness of the words they choose, and the flow and cohesiveness of their words.
Later, they are encouraged to use a wide but appropriate range of vocal tones when they speak the words. Then they add body movement and hand gestures. Finally, they are encouraged to speak with minimal- or even no use- of notes.
Why are the words we speak important? Individual words are important because they have the ability to define exactly what we want to say, but also the ability to incite the imagination of our listeners. The organization of our words helps the listeners to follow our thoughts and grasp our message. The more complex our message is, the more important the organization of our words.
If words are that important, then why does the way we speak them matter- especially, speaking without notes?
Speaking without notes forces us to make direct eye contact with our audience. To the speaker that can be a terrifying thing- like looking straight into the teeth of a growling dog. But people in a crowd, no matter the size, love to feel as if you are speaking to them. I remember one time I was in a simple conversation between three people. I had no words to add to the conversation as it was on a topic of which I had little experience. So I listened. But I watched also, and one of the two speakers made frequent eye-contact with me during the course of the conversation, and I felt included. Being included, I was persuaded. Words are important, and so are the ways in which we speak them.
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Presbyterian Church located in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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