Category Archives: Public Speaking

Turning the Tide on Climate Change Communication

To close out our series on “Slargon” we focus on the importance of plain language in climate change communication.

Experts say that communication is key to a healthy relationship. Psychologists talk about communication in marriage and managers talk about communication in business. Susan Joy Hassol, a climate change communicator, analyst, and author with the non-profit Climate Communication, knows communication is key to spreading information about climate science. Susan was the Senior Science Writer on all three National Climate Assessments, authoritative reports written in plain language to better inform policymakers and the public about climate change and its effects on our nation. She has also written for a climate change documentary on HBO. Her ability to write and present information shows that you have to be more than a good scientist – you have to be an effective communicator. It is our pleasure to speak with her about communication in climate change.


Susan Hassol presents climate change communication strategies at Virgina Tech.

How did you first get involved in climate change communications?

My work in the energy arena and at the Aspen Global Change Institute brought me to believe that climate change was the greatest challenge and opportunity facing humanity today. At the same time, I realized that I seem to have the ability to translate science into language that lay people will understand and care about. So I figured the best use of that talent was to apply it to the most important issue of our time. I’ve now been doing this for more than 25 years. Among other things, I’ve been the writer on all three U.S. National Climate Assessments, testified before Congress, written an HBO documentary, been on national television and radio, provided communication training and support for numerous climate scientists, and spoken to many influential groups. More on my efforts can be found at my website,

What do you think is the most pressing issue with communicating climate change today?

One of the most pressing issues is overcoming the ideological divide that causes some people to resist the actions needed to reduce emissions and limit climate change. A big part of this problem is that special interests that benefit from the status quo actively support a disinformation campaign that seeks to cast doubt on the science, just as they did in the tobacco wars when it became clear that smoking was a cause of cancer. Another pressing issue is to communicate the urgency with which we must tackle climate change if we are to avoid catastrophic effects. We need to cut emissions as much as we can, as fast as we can. Fortunately, the technologies needed to do this exist and have a wide array of benefits for our health, security, and economy. We just need to put effective policies in place to scale these technologies up even more rapidly than is occurring now.

You also wrote a documentary for HBO about climate change called “Too Hot Not to Handle” in 2006. Tell us a little bit about that experience.

What was really important to me in writing that documentary was to focus on the impacts we’re experiencing now in our own backyards, and to devote half the film to solutions that Americans are pursuing now. Both of these things help bring the issue home for people. I also wanted to put the faces and voices of my scientist colleagues in front of our viewers so they could hear about climate change right from the horse’s mouth. There was no narrator, no disembodied voice of the network heard so often in documentaries.

How do you help scientists improve how they communicate with the public?

I’ve given many talks and workshops for scientists to help them become more conscious of the problems with how they communicate and to learn the techniques of doing it more effectively. This ranges from connecting on values and establishing trust, to avoiding jargon and words that mean different things to the public, to establishing more of a dialog and less of a lecture. I’ve taught them to anticipate the public’s misconceptions, and how they can make themselves more human and accessible and less intimidating. I’ve also worked one-on-one with many scientists to help them refine their writing and speaking, such as when they’re preparing to give Congressional testimony. I’ve used videotapes of the good, the bad, and the ugly in science communication to help them see what works and what doesn’t. And I give them lots of opportunities to practice and receive feedback. I’ve seen great improvement and a lot more interest among scientists in learning how to communicate well.


Extent of surface melt over Greenland’s ice sheet on July 8 (left) and July 12 (right) 2012. Measurements from three satellites showed that on July 8, about 40 percent of the ice sheet had undergone thawing at or near the surface.

You have worked on major projects that have been in the spotlight for years. How do you see the tide turning when it comes to communicating about climate change?

I think we’ve laid the groundwork by clearly showing that climate is changing, that humans are causing it, that scientists agree on the basic science and cause, and that the effects are apparent now and will grow much worse unless we change our emissions trajectory. What I see turning the tide is that the solutions are available now and make great sense economically. A much greater focus of communication should be on speeding the transition from the dirty energy system of the past to a clean, renewable energy future.

What can climate change communicators do to improve their message and increase public understanding?

Talk to people about values we all share. No one wants more killer heat waves, floods, and insect-borne diseases. We don’t want to leave our kids with a problem they can’t solve. Talk about impacts that are close to home; the polar bear is not the best symbol of climate change when people are feeling its effects in their own backyards. And place the greatest emphasis on solutions. Everyone wants a clean, healthy, prosperous future. Renewable energy is increasing rapidly in many places, but it’s not happening fast enough. We need policies in place that speed this transition because we have just enough time to avoid the worst if we do as much as we can as fast as we can.


Map from illustrating the impacts from climate change to human health.

Do you have any referrals for more information, or any other ideas you can share?

Our website has a wealth of information, so I’d point people there as a good place to start. For example, our Resources section links to videos, articles, other websites, and more. Our narrated animations provide a quick way to learn about the science and share the information with others.


We move from how we speak to what we say

Maybe public speaking isn’t all it’s hyped up to be. Maybe it’s simple. A conversation. Odds are most of us had a conversation today. Whether it was at work, school, or the dinner table, you spoke to someone and were doing a form of public speaking. Is a simple conversation, with no formal audience, public speaking? Yes, the one overarching theme we learned during our series this month on public speaking is that maybe it really is as simple as conversing.  Learning to view speaking to an audience as just a conversation with many different people – and not as a performance in front of a panel of judges – reduces speech anxiety and improves your overall delivery. Yes the fear of failing in front of others may always hover over us to some degree, but know this – the audience is rooting for you and wants you to succeed. Have a meaningful message and just talk like you would to a friend.

Credit: Kiwi Commons

Credit: Kiwi Commons

We also learned that you don’t have to be a lawyer, politician, or celebrity to give a great speech that commands people’s attention and compels them to take action. But you can learn a thing or two from watching speakers like that.

Credit: Media, Inc.

Credit: Media, Inc.

You can also learn from people just like you, seeking to improve their public speaking in a no-pressure environment, by attending a Toastmasters International meeting at one of their 13,500 chapter clubs.

In April we wanted to explore public speaking because verbal persuasion is a powerful skill.  We communicate every day and knowing how to do it well makes all the difference. Good communication and effective public speaking are essential to your success whether you are a CEO, architect, teacher, yoga instructor, or public outreach professional like us.

This month we heard from a variety of experts in public speaking, including a world champion. We want to thank them for taking the time to contribute to our series and for offering their knowledge and great advice on the subject. They are:

Ryan Avery, 2012 Toastmasters International World Champion of Public Speaking

John Lau, 2012 President of Toastmasters International

Professional public speaking coach Geraldine Barkworth

Molly Bishop Shadel, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Virginia and co-author of the book Tongue Tied America: Reviving the Art of Verbal Persuasion

Michael T. Motley, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Davis and author of Overcoming Your Fear of Public Speaking: A Proven Method, and other publications on speech anxiety.

Next month we turn our focus from how we speak to what we say. We will explore words and how and why we use them. We’ll look at word origins, meanings, new words and even words we wish we could get rid of altogether. Words are beautiful, fun, and fascinating.

We love words. (Credit: Cincibility)

We love words.

We hope you will keep reading our words and the words of the experts we interview. Then please provide a few words of your own and send us your feedback, comment on our blog or Facebook page, or tweet us at @CollaborateInc.

Catherine Smith, President
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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Facing our fear. What to know about conquering speech anxiety.

Sweaty palms, dry throat, butterflies in the stomach . . . you know the feeling. These are the symptoms that come on just before you are about to speak in public. You’ve spent hours preparing and organizing your message, and know your topic inside and out, but you still can’t shake the feeling of speech anxiety creeping on. Chances are most of us have battled with a case of speech anxiety at some point in our lives. According to some studies, public speaking is the number one fear among American adults. The fear of death comes in second.

So why are we so afraid of public speaking? How can we tame this practically universal fear?

 Michael T. Motley, Ph.D., a Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Davis, has studied this topic and written several books and articles on it. Motley believes our fear comes from our mistaken belief that public speaking is a performance. When we start to associate the pressure to speak with the pressure to perform we add a whole new level of anxiety. Performing in a dance recital, a concert, or even competing in a talent contest is typically evaluated and scored in some way.  Speaking in front of others is usually not, yet we tend to put performing and speaking in the same category.
As it turns out, however, speaking in public is much more like speaking in normal conversation, says Motley, and recognizing this can help to reduce the anxiety.

As we continue our look at public speaking this month, we wanted to learn more about this number one fear and what causes it. We spoke with Motley on why people are so afraid of public speaking, how we can manage and eventually overcome speech anxiety, and what to remember if that moment of panic strikes during a speech. We welcome his insights.
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The number one fear of American adults is the fear of public speaking.  The fear of death comes in second.  Why are we so afraid of public speaking?
The most common answer to this question is that the fear comes from having had a traumatic public speaking experience in the past, but I really doubt that this is the case very often.  A more accurate answer for most people, I think, is that they mistakenly think of a speech as a performance instead of as a communicative effort to get certain points across to listeners.  Accordingly, they mistakenly believe that the situation calls for formal or “proper” behaviors — special gestures, special eye contact, special vocabulary, and so forth — and mistakenly believe that the objective is to be evaluated positively by a scrutinizing audience.   These two conditions — thinking that one is being evaluated “under the microscope” and believing that the situation requires unfamiliar behaviors — happen to set off anxiety in all kinds of social situations, such as job interviews, meeting your boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s parents for the first time, and so forth.   The good news is that the typical speech audience in fact is not focused on evaluation (after all, is that your main objective when listening to a speech?); and that the gestures, expressions, inflections, and other behaviors needed for a speech are the familiar behaviors of everyday conversation.

Credit: Empower Network

Credit: Empower Network

Are adults more prone to the fear of public speaking?  Do youths also experience this fear?
In our culture, people of all post-adolescent ages experience public speaking anxiety.

Your book, Overcoming Your Fear of Public Speaking: A Proven Method, recommends viewing speeches as a conversation rather than a performance.  How does adopting a communication orientation toward public speaking, instead of a performance orientation, reduce anxiety?
Let’s start with the ways that performances and conversations differ.  Think in terms of true performances like music recitals or Olympic gymnastic routines, or in terms of a speech being approached as a performance.  Notice that in each case the performance is almost bound to cause more anxiety.

As for the order of the behaviors, they are scripted in performances versus spontaneous in conversation.  As for the behaviors themselves, they need to be specialized and artificial in performances, but need to be natural and familiar in conversation.  As for the objective, in a performance it is to impress people and score points, while in a conversation it is simply to get an idea across.  As for error tolerance, in a performance, mistakes are noticed and cause real or figurative points to be deducted, while in a conversation, glitches such as hesitations, false starts, slips of the tongue, and so forth, are hardly even noticed.  And unless they are excessive to the point of distraction, they are not held against the speaker (indeed, they make us “human”).  As for what the audience prefers in speeches, all other things being equal, they usually don’t like a speaker who seems to be up there to show off skills and get the practiced routine over with, and they usually do like a speaker who is genuinely trying to communicate a message he or she believes is important.

To put it another way, true performances put considerable pressure on the performer and failure is a real possibility.  But conversing is something we have proved to ourselves that we already know how to do successfully, because we do it  successfully every day.  Add to this the fact that a conversational style — natural gestures, natural facial expression, natural vocal inflection, and so forth — actually improves the speech as well, and it becomes easy to see how abandoning a performance orientation should reduce anxiety.

McKayla Maroney 2012 Olympics

McKayla Maroney of the United States women’s gymnastics team after a vault competition during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
(Credit: Inquisitr Ltd.)

What motivated you to study and write about public speaking and speech anxiety?
I was a contest orator in high school.  Contest oratory is definitely performance oriented, and I had high stage fright.  In college I had an instructor who emphasized a communicative, non-performance, approach to public speaking, and as I adopted it, the anxiety went away.  Then, at about the same time, another professor invited me to be his research assistant.  Part of his research involved using heart rate to measure public speaking anxiety.  I got to work on studies about how anxiety vacillates before, during, and after a speech.  I think the combination of my own experience with the two extremes of stage fright, along with assisting on my professor’s work, made it sort of natural for public speaking anxiety to be one of my first specializations when I began doing my own research.

Different people experience different degrees of speech anxiety.  For some it is the feeling of butterflies in their stomach before speaking, for others the fear is paralyzing.  What causes this range of symptoms and why does the interpretation of these symptoms matter?
I think the only way to have zero anxiety for a speech is to not care at all about the success of the effort.  Obviously (I hope), to not care at all would not be a good thing.  So even the experienced communication-oriented speaker is likely to have a twinge of anxiety, because a lot of planning and effort has already gone into the speech, presumably, the opportunity to communicate the message is finally here,  and he/she wants the communication effort to be successful.  But extreme anxiety — “paralyzing fear,” as you call it — is almost certain to be the result of a performance orientation toward the speech.  As for the interpretation of the symptoms, that’s not the trick.  The interpretation of the speech situation and the speech objectives is what matters.  For most people, interpreting the speech as a performance is going to jack up the anxiety and the more troubling symptoms, while interpreting it as a communication task will reduce the anxiety and leave only the milder symptoms.

Credit: The Presenters' Blog

Credit: The Presenters’ Blog

People don’t naturally interpret the physical symptoms of speech anxiety in a positive way.  How can we work to change the negative interpretation of these symptoms into a positive one?
Since there are ways to reduce the anxiety, the objective, I think, should be to change the intensity of the symptoms rather than to change our interpretation of them.  Even when one reduces the intensity of the symptoms, however, it is helpful to have realistic targets.  You’re simply not likely to completely eliminate the tiny bit of anxiety that virtually all speakers have right before getting up to give the speech, for example. Even low anxiety speakers have minor symptoms and it can be helpful for the high anxiety speaker to make these the goal. 

Many people regard the fear of public speaking and stage fright as the same thing.  Is there a difference and if so what is it?
The anxiety felt by most musicians in a piano recital, dancers in a dance recital, participants in a contest debate, and public speakers may all be called “stage fright.”  They are examples of  what is also referred to as “performance anxiety.”  The primary difference is that the assumptions of a performance orientation — being there to have the performance scrutinized, showing off special skills, being penalized for mistakes, receiving a final performance score, and so forth — may be true for many piano recitals, figure skating competitions, contest debates, and so forth.  But the assumptions simply are not true for most speech situations.  And as soon as we realize that a speech is not like these other performances, the causes of “performance anxiety,” “stage fright,” “public speaking anxiety” –whatever you want to call it — subside considerably.

Credit:  Service Scout, Inc.

Credit: Service Scout, Inc.

Speech anxiety can strike at almost any time.  Probably the most mortifying is during an important presentation or speech.  What are some important things to remember in that moment that can help someone struck with speech anxiety get back on track and make it through to the end?
Two points here.  First, the near total meltdown you seem to be alluding to tends to happen only when one has the speech content down too pat — too word-for-word planned out.  Most every public speaking instructor would agree with me that one should never, never, never try to memorize a speech, or write it out word for word to read, or use as a prompt.

Any time we think there is only one right way or best way to say it, three bad things happen:  The anxiety goes way up (because we’re afraid of forgetting or losing our place), we sound phony and artificial (because we’re missing the natural rhythm that comes with conversational talk), and, as you suggested, a minor glitch can throw us completely off kilter.

The idea is that we should plan very carefully what points we’re going to make, the order in which we’re going to present them, the examples we’re going to use, and so forth. But we need to be spontaneous — as we are in conversation — with respect to the exact words we’re going to use.  If we take that approach, then an outline with brief notes is all we need to get through the speech or to get back on track if something throws us off.

The second important point here is to realize that all of the objects of the “fear” are irrational.  My book spends about 15 pages on this so I’ll have to be give a very abbreviated version here, but in a nutshell, it simply isn’t true that, “The audience will ridicule me if I make a mistake,” “I might make a fool out of myself,” “This needs to be perfect,” and so forth.  It can be very helpful to have a more rationale and realistic understanding of these and the other dozen or so common answers to, “What am I afraid of?” about giving a speech.

Credit: Pat Alexander

Credit: Pat Alexander

How can the average person use public speaking in his or her daily life?
Let’s begin by noticing that there is hardly any difference between a speech and an ordinary conversation.  Indeed, there are only three differences.  And if we take a communication orientation, all three of them actually make the speech preferable in some ways:  First, with a speech we get more time to plan what we’re going to say — more time to think before we speak.  Second, we get to share our information without being interrupted or having to digress from our message.  Third, we get the efficiency of sharing our message with several people at once.  Assuming that we have something important to say, the more people who can hear it at one time, the better.  So, getting back to the question of how we can use public speaking in our everyday lives, we can use it virtually any time we have something important or valuable (to others) to say, and have time to plan an effective way to present it, and have a group of people who might want or need to hear it.  Depending on the message, that group might be colleagues, clients, the PTA, the City Council, a group of wedding guests, and on and on.

A Peterson, New Jersey resident speaks before the City Council during a discussion on limiting the hours of some late-night businesses. (Credit: George McNish/ North Jersey Media Group)

A Peterson, New Jersey resident speaks before the City Council during a discussion on limiting the hours of some late-night businesses.
(Credit: George McNish/ North Jersey Media Group)

What are some resources and practices you recommend for people looking to manage their speech anxiety and improve their public speaking?
There have been about a dozen or so research studies in the past few years to test various kinds of public speaking anxiety therapies against one another.  Over and over, the most effective approach is to replace the performance orientation with a communication orientation.  I’ve only scratched the surface in this discussion, of course.  The complete therapy takes about 1 1/2 hours face to face, or about 150 pages in print.  I know several university instructors who can help with this approach.  But I stopped doing therapy myself a few years ago when I realized that I was saying the same thing to practically all clients and decided to put it into a book.  In most of the research studies that compare therapies, the communication-orientation therapy is administered simply by having the research participants read the first four chapters of my book — Overcoming Your Fear of Public Speaking: A Proven MethodBy the way, the “A Proven Method” part of the title comes from the fact that all of these studies have shown that people who read the first four chapters have significantly more public speaking stage fright reduction than those who received other therapies.   There are other solutions, of course, but this is the easiest and works well for most high- and very high-anxiety speakers.
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So next time it’s your turn to speak relax and remember its just a well thought-out conversation between you and the audience.

Click here to purchase a copy of Overcoming Your Fear of Public Speaking: A Proven Method.

Liz Faris, Associate
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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From Bill to Condoleezza to you – Great Speakers in the Making

Politicians and public speaking go hand-in-hand. Some of the best public speakers out there are the people we have elected to lead us. While politicians are known for having a way with words, they also need to be able to back up their words with facts.  A great speech is only as good as the information in it. A well delivered speech filled with errors and misinformation may have had a nice ring to it, but it discounts the credibility of the speaker. The best politicians use their words and their facts to compel and convince us.

During this past year’s presidential election, our nation and the world watched speakers from all parties drum up support for their chosen candidate at the national conventions. Those who watched the Democratic National Convention (DNC) will remember the return of Bill Clinton and his speech, all 48 minutes of it, calling on the delegates to officially nominate Barack Obama for a second-term in the White House. While Clinton is known for being a charismatic speaker, his speech at the DNC was also recognized for something else: All of the facts he presented in it checked out. The media scoured the mountain of statistics and claims Clinton made for major inaccuracies only to turn up empty handed. Opponents tried to build a case for criticism but in the end could only comment on the speech’s length.

President Bill Clinton delivering his speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Credit: Hearst Communications, Inc.)

President Bill Clinton delivering his speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.
(Credit: Hearst Communications, Inc.)

To one person in particular, Clinton as a speaker and his speech at the DNC is the perfect case study for successful public speaking. Molly Bishop Shadel, an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Virginia and co-author of the book Tongue Tied America: Reviving the Art of Verbal Persuasion analyzed speakers from both parties during the 2012 Presidential campaign.  She and her colleague Robert Sayler critiqued the public speaking skills of the candidates on their blog, Tongue Tied Applied,which they created to show how the lessons of their book apply to the real world.

But don’t count out Republicans when it comes to public speaking during the 2012 presidential campaign. Shadel highlights former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice‘s speech at the Republican National Convention as one of her favorites. Rice established her credibility and captivated the delegates gathered in Tampa, Florida – and the viewers at home – by using facts to back up her points and emotion to relate to her audience.

2012 Republican National Convention: Day 3

Condoleezza Rice at 2012 Republic National Convention

But these skills don’t just apply to politicians. Shadel says having effective communication and good public speaking skills is important in every field and especially for her students entering the workforce.

Continuing our focus this month on public speaking, we spoke with Shadel to learn more about the art of verbal persuasion and what makes a great public speaker. She shared with us her observations from the 2012 presidential campaign, her favorite public speakers, and why successful public speaking is so important. We welcome her insights.
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You co-founded your blog Tongue-Tied Applied with your colleague Robert Sayler to analyze speeches delivered during the 2012 Democratic and Republican National Convention and demonstrate how the lessons of your book, Tongue-Tied America: Reviving the Art of Verbal Persuasion, apply to the real world. Why did you decide to focus on the political speeches?
We focused on political speeches because they matter.  We live in a representative democracy, and people make decisions about who will lead our country based in large part on what those leaders say and how those speeches make them (the voters) feel.  Understanding how politicians are trying to persuade you—the rhetorical tools that they are using to make an argument—gives you a better understanding of how to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their positions.

We also thought these speeches would provide a terrific lens through which to study effective verbal persuasion.  Learning how to say what you think in a convincing way will empower you, both professionally and personally.  Watching skilled speakers at work is a great way to start improving your own public speaking skills.



Who did you consider the top public speakers at each convention and why?

If you’re looking for a master at public speaking, it’s hard to get much better than Bill Clinton.  He’s got an authentic style that convinces through charm and good humor.  Take, for example, his opening salvo in his Democratic National Convention speech, delivered with perfect comic timing:

Now, Mr. Mayor, fellow Democrats, we are here to nominate a president… and I’ve got one in mind.

The Democrats had been waiting to cheer for quite some time, and Bill Clinton gave them a reason to.  Clinton is also worth watching because he is a lawyer, and knows how to make a closing argument.  You start with a pithy theme (known in lawyering terms as “the theory of the case”):

In Tampa, the Republican argument against the president’s re-election was actually pretty simple, pretty snappy. It went something like this: “We left him a total mess. He hasn’t cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him and put us back in.”

Then you support that theme by stacking fact upon fact to make your case. (Here, that Obama should be re-elected):

Everybody, when President Barack Obama took office, the economy was in freefall. It had just shrunk 9 full percent of GDP. We were losing 750,000 jobs a month. Are we doing better than that today?
. . . In 2010, as the president’s recovery program kicked in, the job losses stopped and things began to turn around. The Recovery Act saved or created millions of jobs and cut taxes — let me say this again — cut taxes for 95 percent of the American people.

And in the last 29 months, our economy has produced about 4.5 million private-sector jobs.
We could have done better, but last year the Republicans blocked the president’s job plan, costing the economy more than a million new jobs. So here’s another job score. President Obama: plus 4.5 million. Congressional Republicans: zero.
During this period — during this period, more than 500,000 manufacturing jobs have been created under President Obama. That’s the first time manufacturing jobs have increased since the 1990s.
And I’ll tell you something else. The auto industry restructuring worked. It saved…
It saved more than a million jobs, and not just at G.M., Chrysler, and their dealerships, but in auto parts manufacturing all over the country. That’s why even the automakers who weren’t part of the deal supported it. They needed to save those parts suppliers, too. Like I said, we’re all in this together.
So what’s happened? There are now 250,000 more people working in the auto industry than on the day the companies were restructured.
So — now, we all know that Governor Romney opposed the plan to save G.M. and Chrysler. So here’s another job score. Are you listening in Michigan and Ohio and across the country?
Here — here’s another job score. Obama: 250,000. Romney: zero.

Credit: Fazzio Law

Credit: Fazzio Law

It is an effective lawyering technique to line up facts to point to your conclusion. It is even more effective if you can do it in a way that paints a picture for your audience, as Clinton does here. And it is most effective of all—required, in fact—if you do it with facts that are true. Clinton’s speech was chock-a-block with facts, and much of the media coverage that has followed has marveled that they all check out. As Bloomberg News reported succinctly, “No False Claims in Clinton’s Speech.

My favorite speaker at the Republican National Convention was Condoleezza Rice.  Aristotle, who is the father of classical rhetoric, said that we are persuaded by the speaker who exudes credibility (ethos) and who engages our emotions (pathos).  Rice established her credibility by offering plenty of facts to back up her points.  You are more likely to be credible if you actually know what you are talking about because an audience at a speech can sense it if your knowledge is only surface level, either because you won’t understand the complicated topic well enough to make it comprehensible to an audience, or because you will give yourself away through a hesitant delivery. Rice’s command of foreign policy issues is clear, and you can see this in the way that she calmly and clearly takes us through the information.

It was Rice’s pathos that really made her speech stand out.  She talked at one point about being a little girl raised in Jim Crow Birmingham, who couldn’t eat at the Woolworth’s lunch counter because of her race, but who could rise to be the Secretary of State of the most powerful country in the world because of the opportunities that America offers its citizens.  Effective pathos is achieved by finding your own emotional connection to a topic, and letting yourself feel that connection while you are talking about it, while at the same time not letting the emotion overwhelm you so much that you seem out of control.  You can see on Rice’s face as she talks about her own story that she can feel how far she has come, but even as emotion flashes across her expression, she remains composed and poised.

A young Condoleeza Rice at home with her mother Angelena Rice in the late 1950's in Birmingham, Alabama.  (Credit: AP Photo/Coutesy of the Rice Family)

A young Condoleeza Rice at home with her mother Angelena Rice in the late 1950’s in Birmingham, Alabama.
(Credit: AP Photo/Coutesy of the Rice Family)

You also analyzed the 2012 presidential debates on your blog. How is analyzing public speaking during a debate different then during a speech?
A debate requires some different preparation for the speaker because you are fielding questions that might come at you in an order that you didn’t expect.  You have to keep your cool because the person that you are debating is likely to say things intended to rattle you. And you have to think on your feet, to figure out a pithy way to fairly answer the question while tying it back to the main points that you want to make.

But when I analyze the effectiveness of a debate, I find myself employing many of the same tests that I would apply to a prepared speech.  I think about that helpful rubric from Aristotle:  Speakers persuade through ethos, pathos, and logos (credibility, emotional engagement, and logic).  For both debates and prepared speeches, your ethos will be higher if you know whereof you speak, and if you avoid exaggerating the facts.  You will achieve pathos if you think about what your audience wants to know and if you keep your own emotions in check, while at the same time sounding like an authentic person rather than a talking head.  And your logos will be improved if you have a few, well-selected, concisely stated points that you make more than once so that we can process them.



The book you co-authored with Robert Sayler, Tongue-Tied America: Reviving the Art of Verbal Persuasion argues that public speaking is an essential skill for every American. It is certainly important in our industry of public outreach. Why do you believe mastering the art of public speaking is so important?
Being able to speak clearly and with confidence is professionally empowering.  I started thinking about this because I am a law school professor, and I teach law students how to make arguments in court.  But I quickly realized that the students who could make those sorts of formal presentations had the tools in hand to do well at job interviews—even in that sort of informal Q&A, you will impress people if you have a few points firmly in mind (e.g. why you would be a great fit for the job), can back those points up with some evidence (your excellent writing skills, for example), and can articulate those points in a succinct, convincing way (which requires practicing out loud until you feel comfortable). And those students who aren’t afraid to speak their minds are also more likely to succeed in a job, because that’s how you persuade colleagues of an idea, connect with clients, impress the boss, and win the day in court.  This isn’t just limited to law.  I’ve been asked to speak about how effective verbal persuasion works in all sorts of venues—I’ve spoken to bankers, nurses, fundraisers, librarians, businesspeople, and they all tell me that a requirement of the job is being able to explain ideas to sometimes skeptical, sometimes intimidating audiences.  I think that’s going to become true for more and more people as we transition from a manufacturing economy to a service economy.  Most of us will find ourselves in jobs that require us to talk.

Credit: Kauai Economic Opportunity

Credit: Kauai Economic Opportunity

I also strongly believe that having the confidence to speak up empowers women, students of color, and students who come from less advantaged backgrounds.  It’s certainly true in law school—and may be true in other settings as well, though law school is the one with which I am most familiar—that the people who are most likely to speak in class are men, often white men, and often white men who come from relatively affluent backgrounds, from which they received the training and the confidence needed to express their ideas.  Female students particularly are much less likely to raise their hands or their voices.  I look at law school as an incredible opportunity to arm these students with the skills they need so that they will feel confident putting themselves forward once they are out in the real world.  I wish all high schools and colleges contained a component to teach our children, especially our daughters, how to say what they think in a way that will move other people to action.



Most of us aren’t lawyers, politicians, or CEO’s who address large crowds. How can the average American use public speaking skills in their daily lives?
There are opportunities all around you to speak to an audience, but you have to be willing to reach for them. It’s so easy to be passive and to say, “Oh, I couldn’t possibly make that presentation to our colleagues; let Joe do it instead.”  But you won’t improve your public speaking skills if you don’t make yourself try.  If you’re nervous about doing this at work, try a non-work venue at first—at your daughter’s Girl Scout meeting, or in church, or (if you are a student) at a meeting of your favorite extracurricular activity.  Then offer to make a presentation at work over the lunch hour to some colleagues about something that you are working on.  Then move on to a presentation to a client or a sales pitch or what have you.  If you really need practice, I highly recommend Toastmasters, which is an organization that you can join that lets you practice making speeches before an audience.

Credit: Toastmasters International

Credit: Toastmasters International

What is more important in public speaking, delivery, body-language, or tone? Or can you not do one effectively without the others?
I think that delivery includes both body language and tone, so I’m not sure that you can separate them.  Body language means the physicality that you use when you are speaking (your eye contact, the way you carry yourself, what you’re doing with your hands).  Tone means the attitude you are taking towards the words that you are saying (inspiring, or understated, or humorous, or sarcastic—the latter of which I do not usually recommend, by the way).  Delivery includes body language, tone, the way your voice sounds, pauses, paces, using props—all sorts of things. In my classes, I usually focus on body language first because if you are feeling nervous, your body language is likely to reflect this and your credibility will be shot.  It’s pretty easy to fix awkward body language, believe it or not—take a look at Tongue-Tied America, chapter 5, for ideas on what to do.

Confident body language is key for effective public speaking. (Credit: Public Speaking International)

Confident body language is key for effective public speaking.
(Credit: Public Speaking International)

In your book and on your blog you discuss “ethical speech” and describe it as honoring facts, allowing the other side to be heard and avoiding using emotion manipulatively to cloud reason in the minds of the audience. In today’s world social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blogging allow for more interaction between users, but also provide people with the ability to have more control over their message. Do you think social media and other advancements in technology are helping or hurting ethical speech?
The great thing about social media and being part of the digital age generally is that it is easier to check facts.  Some of my Facebook friends are academic types who love nothing more than to dig up the truth about what someone has said.  I’d say my own digital experience has made me more aware of when a speaker is playing fast and loose with the facts, because some people in my social network are interested in that question and happy to post links to give you more information.



But I do think social media could also encourage you to ignore facts.  It is very easy to surround yourself with like-minded people who repeat a skewed vision of truth to one another in a sort of digital echo-chamber.  You might think that the whole country agrees with a particular idea because all your Facebook friends believe it, and that might cause you not to investigate a contrary position.  I also worry that the rise of social media has eroded the ability of traditional news media to support itself.  If our newspapers are closing their overseas offices, laying off reporters, or shutting down altogether, then the fact-checkers that our country has traditionally relied on to keep our government honest will disappear.  It takes time, training and resources to check many complicated facts (for example, claims about conditions in a foreign country or information about scientific topics).  When I am looking into whether what someone has said is true, I want information from someone with the expertise to actually investigate the claim, not from a layperson who has formed an opinion about it that sounds catchy so it’s getting re-tweeted.

Credit: Ethics Alarms

Credit: Ethics Alarms

Is public speaking different for men and women? Do different genders need to focus on different things or utilize different skills for effective public speaking?
I do think there are differences.  The goals are the same, regardless of gender:  You want to seem credible, engaging, and you want your logic to be clear.  But sometimes women are judged by a different metric than men are—for example, a man who says “um” too frequently might seem irritating, but a woman who does it might trigger the stereotype of the ditzy, Legally Blonde-type.  Her credibility may take a greater hit than a male speaker’s would because that stereotype lurks out there in our culture.  There might also be a difference because of habits of communication that the speaker has, that also may fall along gender lines.  For example, most women have some sense of what constitutes “ladylike” physical behavior, which often translates into taking up less physical space when you sit or gesture.  Amy Cuddy, a psychologist who teaches at Harvard, talks about how we perceive power in open, expansive postures.  The thing that strikes me when you look at the pictures of what she’s talking about (which you can see below) is that these open, expansive postures are very male, and might seem unladylike if a woman were to assume them.  The trick for a female speaker is to find those power poses—standing up tall, moving with assurance, taking up a little more space at the table—in a way that still feels socially acceptable.


Credit: Dana R. Carney, Amy J.C. Cuddy, and Andy J. Yap

In my male students, I sometimes see a struggle with finding the right tone in situations where you have to be aggressive.  Law school teaches you that the law is inherently adversarial, and for many men, that means talking and acting like Rambo.  But that can backfire. If you’re a bully from the moment you first open your mouth, the audience will tire of you pretty quickly, and it will be difficult for you to show any nuance in your performance.  Sometimes, reaching for a more understated tone makes your attack even more deadly, because we focus less on your aggression and more on the points that you are trying to make.

Credit: PopScreen, Inc.

Credit: PopScreen, Inc.

On your blog you provide examples of good and bad public speaking throughout history. Who is your all-time favorite public speaker and why?
I love Barbara Jordan.  She was a freshman Congresswoman during the Nixon impeachment hearings, and one of the first women of color to serve in Congress.  Those differences—gender, race, lack of experience—might make a less confident person shut down.  Instead, she delivers this amazing speech, the “Statement on the Articles of Impeachment,” that may have been the final nail in Nixon’s political coffin.  You can listen to the speech here:  The speech is notable because she chooses her words so carefully, and every word is precious.  She lays out her argument in a clear, logical way.  And her voice is full of power. People expect female voices to be high-pitched, but she demonstrates how strong lower notes can be.  I also love her Democratic National Convention keynote address, which you can see here:  She is full of joy—and you can hear how positively the audience responds to that.

Barbara Jordan (Credit: The University of Texas at Austin)

Barbara Jordan
(Credit: The University of Texas at Austin)

What advice can you provide to people looking to improve their public speaking skills?
Public speaking is essentially just a conversation, in which you are doing all the talking.  You’ve had thousands of conversations before in your life, and if you can do that, you can do this.  Lower the mental stakes for yourself.  Don’t tell yourself that it is a performance and that it has to be perfect—it doesn’t.  If you get your idea across, you’ve accomplished your goal.

You will also get better at this the more you do it.  So keep trying.  If you make a speech and it bombs, so what?  Get up and try again.

Finally, take a look at Tongue-Tied America: Reviving the Art of Verbal Persuasion, and Finding Your Voice in Law School: Mastering Classroom Cold Calls, Job Interviews, and Other Verbal Challenges.  (That last sounds like it’s only for law students, but it really can help anyone.)  These books are full of practical tips that can help.  You can also look at for video clips of terrific speakers.

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Thank you Professor Shadel for your great thoughts and encouragement on public speaking.

Liz Faris, Associate
Collaborative Services

Making a difference one conversation at a time

Geraldine Barkworth wants you to do one simple thing, slow down. In our lives – constantly moving, constantly changing – it can be easy to forget to slow down and be at ease with ourselves.

Barkworth, a professional public speaking coach, has been using this outlook to help people  improve their communication skills for more than a decade. The Goddess of Public Speaking, as she is known to her clients, believes that we practice public speaking every day and that speaking to an audience should be no different than having a conversation at the dinner table. Whether you are a CEO or an average Joe or Jane, Barkworth says the same skills apply for effective communication.

Credit: HubPages Inc.

Credit: HubPages Inc.

Located in Byron Bay, Australia, Barkworth has developed a range of alternative methods and tools to allow her clients to practice their public speaking with her from anywhere. Whether using  her self-paced e-books,  taking part in a session via phone or Skype, or attending a four-day workshop, Barkworth has designed her training to be delivered and doable by everyone, everywhere.



As we focus on this most common form of communication this month, Collaborative Services hears from Barkworth on her “polar opposite” approach to public speaking  training, how men and women communicate differently, and how we can continue to practice our communication skills and maintain our confidence. We welcome her insights.

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When did you first become interested in public speaking and why did you decide to pursue it as a career?
As a child, speaking in front of an audience came naturally; I just shrugged it on and off like a coat. I didn’t consider it a skill or a career option. I spent most of my life assuming that “real public speaking” was a formal, insincere, hyped-up performance and I wanted none of it. As Spock would say: “How illogical.” After six career changes I was retrained as a life coach and noticed that my clients were essentially looking for their authentic voice. I decided to focus my career on helping people overcome their fear of public speaking and become comfortable in their own skin, any time and anywhere, formally or informally. Imagine if we all felt genuinely at ease with ourselves… “Oh the places we could go!”



Many of your clients are what some might call average people: small business owners, yoga instructors, and case workers, not politicians and CEO’s  who are usually associated with public speaking. How can the average person use public speaking skills in their daily lives?
Ah, that is exactly what I teach my clients! The same skills to effectively communicate from the platform are the same skills to be used at the dinner table. My definition of public speaking is: “Every time you have a conversation with anyone other than yourself, you are… public speaking.” If you change your mindset from assuming that public speaking is a formal speech in front of a huge judgmental crowd, and change it to public speaking is merely a conversation, being present with one human being at a time… it really takes the pressure off feeling self conscious and separate. The vast majority of my clients are  professionals who need help to overcome their speaking fears to build their business and inspire change. They are there and they are making a difference, one conversation at a time.

Credit: ScienceBlogs

Credit: ScienceBlogs

Among the coaching and training services you offer there are some tailored specifically for women or available to women only.
I always recommend building a connection and rapport first and let the content follow. I think this appeals to women who often understand that you must open and give something of yourself first before you gain anything in return. I run an annual four day public speaking retreat just for women because I include dance classes, gourmet food and playing dress ups. I have found that men aren’t so keen on swanning around in a feather boa. It’s remarkable how being away from your everyday routine and simply trying on a different hat makes a difference in how you speak. Our beliefs come to dictate who we are, but beliefs and behaviours can be changed.

You also talk about how men and women communicate differently on your blog. How do men and women communicate differently and are there different skills and practices that can benefit women more when it comes to public speaking?
As you mention, in my blog article Do Men & Women Do Public Speaking Differently?” I offer a generalisation that I have observed in my clients: Generally, men compartmentalise into narrow specifics and thus need to use more descriptive language and join more dots. Women open many interconnected doors to a broad picture and thus need to to focus and hone. The ability to speak with presence however, crosses the gender borderline and we all get goosebumps whether the speaker is male or female.

Credit: The Times of India/Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd.

Credit: The Times of India/Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd.

What do you believe is the biggest misconception surrounding public speaking?
The biggest misconception is that you have to be more than what you are – as if ordinary ol’ you is not good enough. People freak out trying to be more formal, more cool, more perfect, more, more, more and yet, the biggest revelation my clients experience is that they just have to get out of their own way. It’s a major part of my job helping them to do just that. Less is more, actually!

Like any skill public speaking takes practice. What can people who have already worked to improve their public speaking do in order to maintain this skill and their confidence?
That’s the beauty of the down-to-earth blend I’ve created – you can practice your “public speaking” skills at a team meeting or at the dinner table. It’s simply learning to slow down, and genuinely and sensitively be with another human being. My public speaking techniques build emotional and social intelligence because in order to speak effectively to people, you have to be effective within yourself.

To gain practice in delivering a prepared presentation, I recommend you put your hand up and volunteer for speaking opportunities at work and in the community. I recommend connecting with people in every day situations as the number one fundamental speaking practice. If you can’t connect, no one will listen to your content, no matter how well it’s written. And if you are not comfortable with yourself, then no one else will be either. It can be useful to attend supportive public speaking and business networking clubs where you are welcome to practice and try out your ideas. I am often hired to constructively critique a workshop or speech (thank goodness for video) to help people improve their presentation skills or craft their core message – the key is to find an honest, objective expert with sensitive insight to help you grow and build confidence and skill.

Credit: Mercuri International

Credit: Mercuri International

You use new media with the services you offer including coaching sessions via Skype and Do-It-Yourself guided e-books. You also offer advice through your blog and on Facebook and on YouTube. Have you found that providing public speaking training via these alternative methods is just as affective as it is in person and if so why?
My approach to public speaking has been described as the “polar opposite ” to standard programs. I help people to speak from the inside out, which is where my professional coaching skills come in handy. I’ve designed alternative resources to working with me face-to-face, in order to reach a wider audience and meet different needs. Some people just want to dip their toe in the water while others are ready for full immersion and some simply can’t travel to Byron Bay, Australia! It’s surprising even to me how well my clients learn public speaking skill and confidence over the telephone. I guess that’s because when you give people space and permission to be themselves, they flourish naturally with strategic guidance and support behind them. And it’s easy for me to share the technical bits of message crafting, workshop facilitation and professional speaking in written or video form. Recently a business owner hired me just after watching one of my 3 Minute Video Tips because just watching and listening to me made her feel confident enough to do it herself. I have deliberately designed my delivery methods to be simple and do-able by everyone. It is your right to have the freedom to express yourself with natural ease – often that permission must first come from within.

Credit: English Club

Credit: English Club

You have been helping people master public speaking professionally for more than a decade. What have you learned over the past ten years and what are your goals for the future?
Mmm, if I was to distill my experience and intuition to one essential ingredient, this is it: slow down. It’s a motto for life, really, not just public speaking. It’s taken me 10 years to hone to that level of simplicity! Mind you, it’s probably taken me 10 years to accept that it is that simple. An editor recently said to me: “Oh that seems too simple – we can’t really use that” – and she chucked in some complex jargon to make my article sound more important. My continuing goal for the future is to help people find and retain their centre, to have the strength to stay true to their course and the flexibility to know when to adapt with wisdom. My public speaking method is really a personal growth program toward self actualisation and the bonus is you get to be terrific at this thing called “public speaking.” I would love to contribute to and live in a world with people at peace both inside and outside of themselves.

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Thank you Geraldine for sharing your experience and findings with public speaking with us. We wish you the best of luck as you continue to help people learn to slow down, be comfortable in their own skin, and find success through public speaking.

Liz Faris, Associate
Collaborative Services, Inc.

Tagged , , ,

Speak up and lead with Toastmasters International

There is an organization dedicated to changing lives and making leaders. With a membership of 280,000 it’s likely that you probably know someone who is part of it. This non-profit that started with humble beginnings in Santa Ana, California has grown to have a global reach that now includes 13,500 chapter clubs in 116 countries. This organization is Toastmasters International, and for the past 88 years it has been working to empower individuals to be comfortable in their own skin and find success in their daily lives through public speaking.

The 14 regions of Toastmasters International (Credit: Toastmasters International)

The 14 regions of Toastmasters International (Credit: Toastmasters International)

Using a learn-by-doing approach, Toastmasters International is helping its members practice and sharpen their speaking and leadership skills in a no pressure environment.  Their wide range of members has included 1997 Miss America  Tara Dawn Holland Christensen, former coach of the Boston Celtics K.C. Jones, U.S. Senator from Kansas Pat Roberts, and author and television host Chris Matthews. All were looking to improve their communication skills in one way or another. So next time you find yourself discouraged about speaking up or speaking in front of others, remember that at one point these famous names also needed some help…and then maybe look up your local Toastmasters club.

Credit: Toastmasters International

Credit: Toastmasters International

The organization also hosts an annual convention that culminates with the World Championship of Public Speaking. This competition encourages those who are ready to showcase their public speaking skills and compete against other members globally for the honor of World Champion of Public Speaking. The competition involves a six-month long process starting at the local club level and advances until nine finalists emerge who are then judged at the convention. The competition has produced winners from the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland, including  Ryan Avery who we heard from earlier this week.

Whether you struggle to just say your name in public, are prepping to give a speech to hundreds, or are an aspiring world champion, Toastmasters International is here to help. This week as we continue our exploration of public speaking, Collaborative Services spoke with Toastmasters International President John Lau to learn more about the organization’s history, the services they offer, and how we can get past doubting our public speaking skills and grow into great leaders. We welcome his insights.

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Toastmasters International has grown from its start in a YMCA basement in Santa Ana, CA in 1924 to a renowned international organization with a membership of more than 280,000 today. To what do you attribute the organization’s success?
For more than 88 years, Toastmasters has offered a proven education program that empowers people to become better speakers and leaders. Through a supportive and friendly club atmosphere, members sharpen their communication and leadership abilities. These timeless skills apply to people of every ethnicity, education level and profession. The skills taught help not only business and community leaders; they also build confidence in coaches, parents, mentors and others.

The YMCA in Santa Ana, California where the first Toastmasters club meeting was held in 1924. (Credit: The University of California)

The YMCA in Santa Ana, California where the first Toastmasters club meeting was held in 1924.
(Credit: The University of California)

Approximately three out of every four people suffer from public speaking anxiety. According to the Toastmasters International website, a Toastmasters meeting is a learn-by-doing workshop in which participants hone their speaking and leadership skills in a no-pressure atmosphere. How has Toastmasters International managed to remove the pressure from practicing public speaking?
Through a hands-on approach, lots of practice and regular feedback, members learn to control emotional triggers and physical symptoms associated with public speaking anxiety. Members participate in the self-paced, step-by-step program in which their leadership roles increase as their confidence as speakers grows.

Why do so many people experience anxiety when it comes to public speaking?
Public speaking anxiety is generally triggered by fear of failure or worrying about what others think. Through regular practice giving speeches and impromptu talks, as alluded to previously, members gain confidence and learn to recognize and control emotional and physical conditions that cause anxiety.

For tips on how people can control public speaking anxiety, view this Toastmasters video or listen to this podcast interview with Matt Abrahams, author of “Tame Your Stage Fright,” in the Toastmaster magazine, March 2013.

Credit: Living Large

Credit: Living Large

Toastmasters International hosts the World Championship of Public Speaking at its annual convention. How does someone become the World Champion of public speaking? What type of process do they have to go through to get to the championship and what criteria do the judges use to determine the world’s best public speakers?
The International Speech Contest begins every January. With more than 30,000 contestants in 116 countries, the contest is the world’s largest of its kind. To be eligible, all participants must be active Toastmasters members, age 18 or older. They present a five-to seven-minute speech in English on any topic. Judging criteria includes content, organization, gestures, style and timing. To reach the semifinals, the contenders advance through club, area, division and district-level speech competitions. Nine finalists emerge to compete for the title of World Champion of Public Speaking.

2012 Toastmasters International World Champion of Public Speaking Ryan Avery accepting his award. (Credit: Toastmasters International)

2012 Toastmasters International World Champion of Public Speaking Ryan Avery accepting his award from 2012-2013 International President John Lau.
(Credit: Toastmasters International)

How does successful public speaking go hand in hand with great leadership?
Communication and leadership complement each other. For instance, Toastmasters’ leadership program is an exercise in applied communication. By regularly giving speeches, directing teams and guiding others, leaders emerge from the Toastmasters program. Leaders command influence, and Toastmasters helps build the leaders of tomorrow through developing personal and public communication skills.

Once members gain the confidence to speak in front of others, they often find that they are ready to tackle other challenges or goals in their lives. It’s not only about becoming better communicators. Members perform a variety of roles during club meetings that help them gain leadership skills. For example, they lead meetings, give and accept feedback, organize, plan and deliver special events, and learn to listen critically.

Credit: Toastmasters International

Credit: Toastmasters International

How can the average person use public speaking and leadership skills they learn from Toastmasters International in their daily lives?
Toastmasters’ membership is one of the greatest investments individuals can make in themselves and their careers. For example, it fosters better communication with family members, and improved listening skills and evaluation sessions at work. By joining a club, people enter a friendly community of learners who share similar self-improvement goals. These goals can include building confidence, giving more effective presentations, increasing interpersonal communication skills, overcoming the fear of public speaking, combating a speech impediment, or simply inspiring others.

Toastmasters Club, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (Credit: Toastmasters International)

Toastmasters Club, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (Credit: Toastmasters International)

What are the most important things to remember when speaking to an audience?
It’s important to remember that audience members want you to succeed. They’re rooting for you.

These additional key points can lead to success:

  • Focus on your message and your audience, not on yourself
  • Know your subject and your speech
  • Know your audience and your space
  • Never apologize for a minor mistake
  • Imagine yourself giving a great speech

(Read more Toastmasters public speaking tips here.)

Credit: Toastmasters International

Credit: Toastmasters International

There is an abundance of free resources available on your organization’s website and 13,500 Toastmasters clubs in 116 countries. How does the availability of meetings and resources help contribute to the success of the Toastmasters?
Through local Toastmasters’ clubs, manuals and other instructional materials, members gain flexibility to work at their own pace. To improve their speaking and communication skills, they aspire to gain their Competent Communicator designation. Or they can focus on a leadership track. Anyone over age 18 can take advantage of the Toastmasters program and join a club. Clubs meet in corporations and communities at different times and days, offering a range of options. People are encouraged to visit and join a club that fits their schedule.  To find a local club, check out

What are the organization’s goals for the future?
Toastmasters International aspires to be the first-choice provider of dynamic, high-value, experiential communication and leadership skills development.

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Thank you, John for introducing us to Toastmasters International. We are excited to practice our public speaking, and watch as Toastmasters International members flourish into great leaders all around us.

Liz Faris, Associate
Collaborative Services, Inc.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Enjoying the ride all the way to the top

This is the story of a young man from a small town in Texas. He went to college, met the love of his life, married her, and landed his dream job. This is what most of us can only hope for, but Ryan Avery isn’t like most of us. Ryan Avery is a dedicated and driven young professional who also happens to be a world champion. Last year, after realizing his passion for good communication and nine months of round-the-clock practice, Avery won Toastmasters International World Championship of Public Speaking, making him, at twenty-five, the youngest person to receive the honor. With help from his wife, parents, and a “league of extraordinary mentors,” Avery took himself out of his comfort zone and onto the world stage of public speaking less than a year after his first Toastmasters club meeting in Portland, Oregon. Beating out 30,000 contestants from 116 countries delivering his speech, “Trust is a Must,” Avery took his audience on a journey straight from the heart, weaving the value of trust back and forth from his days growing up in Texas, to his first experience being ripped off after a summer of honest hard work, to standing at the altar, promising forever to his new bride.

Credit: Oregon Live LLC.

Credit: Oregon Live LLC.

While Toastmasters World Champions aren’t allowed to compete to reclaim their title, Avery says he does use the public speaking and leadership skills he learned from the organization every day and wholeheartedly believes good communication is the key to success. In fact, Avery’s belief is so strong that he made the difficult decision to leave his dream job as the Director of Marketing and Communications with Special Olympics Oregon in order to pursue his passion for public speaking full-time.

This month as we explore public speaking, we thought there would be no better place to start than at the top. Avery took some time to speak with the Collaborative Services blog about his experience with public speaking, how he became the world’s top speaker and why communication matters.  We welcome his insights.

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When did you first become interested in public speaking?
I was with Special Olympics Oregon at the time and I butchered a television interview. I said “like” every five words. “Like, these athletes are great, totally, awesome”. My dad said that I needed to join Toastmasters. When and I told him I didn’t have the money to join he said, “Perfect, I’ll pay for it,” and I said “Dang it!” But I’m really glad he did because I now understand the power of communication and why communication matters because it is the key to success. I’ve been involved with the Toastmasters ever since, for about two years now.

Public speaking is one of the things people fear the most. Did you ever experience anxiety related to public speaking or did it always come naturally to you?
My belief is that it’s not public speaking that is scary, it’s not knowing what to talk about that is scary. It’s being in front of a group and thinking, “What am I going to talk about?” For me what was hard was getting that message down, so I absolutely felt nervous and I felt worried, but once I got it down to a message I am sending from the heart and a message that I absolutely believe in, I became less nervous and more empowered. It took a long time to get that way and I did a lot of crazy things. I went to Pioneer Square in downtown Portland and gave my speech. I gave my speech in the middle of a gym sauna just so I could get used to feeling nervous. This is also what I do with my clients. We emerge them in nervousness, and they come out feeling empowered. I would hike up my pants and comb my hair weird and  just try to feel the most uncomfortable that I could possibly feel at the time and still deliver my speech.

Pioneer Courthouse Square, Portland, OregonCredit: Live, Work, Play, LLC

Pioneer Courthouse Square, Portland, Oregon
Credit: Live, Work, Play, LLC

What type of process is involved in getting to the finals of Toastmasters International World Championship of Public Speaking? How long did you prepare and practice your winning speech?
There are 30,000 people from 116 countries who compete in the contest each year. There are six rounds that are defined as club, area, division, districts, semi-finals, and the world championship stage where there are nine finalists.

At the time I had only been with Toastmasters for almost a year. When I discovered that I wanted to get into the World Championship I completely immersed myself in training. I would wake up at 5:00 a.m. and work on the speech until 8:00 a.m. and then I would spend an hour with my wife every morning because family is very important to me. I would then go to work from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Sometimes I would take my lunch break to go and give a speech or to practice. Then I would work on it more from about 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. or later, seven days a week for nine months. I spent a minimum of six hours a day on my speech, which included writing and delivering, practicing and recording, re-writing and giving speeches, reading, and watching videos. What I wanted to do is find out what the difference was between first and second place so I dissected first, second, and third place from the past twenty-five years and found the formula I was going to use.

What criteria are the speakers competing in the World Championship judged on?
At the international level there are 14 judges and they are looking for a variety of things. There are three categories: Content, Delivery and Language. Content is worth 50 percent, Delivery is worth 30 percent, and Language is worth 20 percent. In the Content category, the judges are looking for speech development, structural organization, effectiveness (meaning how well did your message get across to the audience), and speech value (meaning was the idea and logic original). In the Delivery category they are looking at physical aspects (meaning how well did you look and use body language), voice, (meaning flexibility and volume) – Did you whisper? Did you get loud? [Also] manner, meaning directness, assurance, enthusiasm (as in, did I absolutely believe in what I was speaking about?). For the Language category they are looking for appropriateness and correctness, which is your grammar, pronunciation, and word selection. This was the hardest for me since I’m from Texas and I like to drop off my “G’s”.

Did you have a mentor for your public speaking practice or did you study any other well-known speakers? If so, what have you learned from them?
Absolutely. In my very first speech at my club contest, I videotaped it and a woman came up to me and asked if she could share the video with her friend. Her friend happened to be the 2004 World Champion of Public Speaking Randy Harvey. He saw my speech and invited me over to his house to talk about the speech. He only lived 45 minutes from where I lived so I went over to his house and he sat me down and asked why I wanted to win the world championship. I told him that I really felt I could do this and that I was in the mood to push myself to a new limit and I wanted to give a great speech. He offered to coach me as long as I promised one thing, that I would give a speech from the heart. I promised I would and he became my coach.

I also went around to different Toastmasters clubs in the Portland area and gathered a bunch of people who were good at one aspect of public speaking and built what I like to call my “league of extraordinary mentors.”  I would send them videos of my speeches and ask them to critique me and send their advice. My parents were also part of the league.

Ryan Avery and his mentor Randy Harvey.(Credit:

Ryan Avery with his mentor Randy Harvey after winning the Public Speaking World Championship.

You are the youngest person to win Toastmasters International World Championship of Public Speaking.  Was there any added pressure because of your age?
Absolutely, I believe its called the “diaper syndrome.” This is where people who are older don’t necessarily want to listen to advice from younger people because they used to wipe their butts. Instead of giving advice, I wanted to remind people that my generation has a lot to learn but we’re going places. I wanted to let them know that I was raised by good parents and am embarking on a new and very meaningful journey with my wife.

How did you decide on the topic for your winning speech, “Trust is a Must”?
This goes back to my mentor asking me to give a speech from the heart. After I won the District championship my wife and I went on a trip to the Grand Canyon.  I was struggling with what to write my speech on for the next rounds and my wife said to me, “What would you cross the Grand Canyon to tell me?”  I thought back to how my mother taught me how important trust is and to trust your partner. Eventually the speech became “Trust is a Must.”

The Grand CanyonCredit: Trip of World- Is About Best Trip in The World

The Grand Canyon
(Credit: Trip of World- Is About Best Trip in The World)

While delivering your winning speech “Trust is a Must” you move around the entire stage. How does movement and body language aide in effective public speaking?
It is absolutely critical. People will only remember about 20 percent of what I say, but will remember 70 percent of how I communicate through my body. I found that while I was practicing my speech some people wouldn’t get what I was trying to say until I tilted my head a certain way, or made a certain face, or physically got on the ground and acted out picking up cigarette butts. Every gesture I did was purposeful.

Ryan Avery during the deliver of his award winning speech "Trust is a Must."(Credit: Toastmasters International)

Ryan Avery delivering his award winning speech “Trust is a Must.”
(Credit: Toastmasters International)

How have you benefited from your involvement with Toastmasters?
I’ve become part of a amazing community and built wonderful relationships with friends all over the world. Toastmasters is like a fraternity or sorority of people wanting to better themselves. When I travel for work I always look up Toastmasters clubs in the areas I am going to and attend a meeting. I have had fellow Toastmasters pick me up from the airport or let me stay at their house when I am traveling. Being a part of Toastmasters also helped me get the position of Director of Marketing and Communications for Special Olympics Oregon.

Credit: Toastmasters International

Credit: Toastmasters International

How do you use your public speaking skills in your daily life?
I use it with one-on-one communication. It has helped me to know where my hands are or how to make eye contact with someone I am speaking to, or how to more effectively sell a sponsorship. Whether you are speaking one-on-one to someone or one-to-5,000 people you can use public speaking. It helps you know how to communicate to the certain group you are in. If you want to be successful you absolutely need to have good communication skills.

You’ve won the World Championship of Public Speaking, where do you go from here? What’s next for you in the realm of public speaking? Are you looking for a repeat?
Unfortunately, once you win the World Championship you can never compete again.  My goal is to write a New York Times best-selling book called Communication Matters to teach the importance of good communication. I have also left my position with the Special Olympics to completely pursue my speaking. Next, my wife and I plan to do a lot of traveling and give speeches on how to be a better communicator and speaker.

Ryan and Chelsea Avery(Credit:

Ryan and Chelsea Avery

What advice do you have to those who are looking to improve their public speaking?
First, join a Toastmasters club, it is a great way to learn and build confidence. I have known some people in Toastmasters who have had to practice for nine months before they can say their names out loud. Next, I suggest picking a song lyric you know well, and really like, whether it’s AC/DC or Lady Gaga, then repeat it over and over in your head before you are about to speak. This will help get the negativity out of your head and replace it with something positive during the few moments when you are the most nervous. Lastly, some of the best advice I received from one of my mentors was “No one rides a roller coaster to get to the end. Enjoy the ride.” I used to solely focus on the destination and not the journey, and this mentor explained that enjoying the journey was one of the most important things you can do.

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Thank you Ryan for taking the time to do what you do best and speak with us. We enjoyed learning about your journey so far and wish you the best of luck as it continues.

To learn more about Ryan Avery visit

Liz Faris, Associate
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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Finding your voice through public speaking

Last month we explored the rapidly changing virtual world of social media. These new and powerful online tools have helped change the way we report and read the news, connect with friends and family, and have even overthrown regimes. People are now able to state their opinion and start a movement without ever having to speak one word.

Credit: Chris Perry/Career Rocketeer

Credit: Chris Perry/Career Rocketeer

This month we transition to a topic that encourages you to find your voice…yes, your actual voice, and we explore how to use it successfully. Public speaking is an important skill to have in almost every industry. It certainly is in ours, public outreach. Whether we are breaking down the technical information behind a roadway widening or rail line extension at a public meeting, or trying to find the most effective message for a conservation campaign, we recognize the value in good public speaking and communication.

While social media may be helping the leaders of today through digital grassroots movements, good public speaking has always been used to motive and inspire us by great politicians and leaders like John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., It has also been used to entertain and even comfort us by other public figures like comedian Ellen DeGeneres who had the difficult task of taking the stage shortly after the 9/11 attacks to host the Primetime Emmy Awards and bring some normalcy back to a grieving country. But, you don’t need to be a world leader, celebrity, or Fortune 500 CEO to be a good public speaker. Knowing how to communicate well within different groups is something we experience in our daily lives  whether it’s participating in a class, recognizing and taking your turn to speak in a meeting, or making a toast in front of family and friends at a wedding.

Credit: American Profile

Credit: American Profile

However, according to some studies public speaking surpasses death as people’s number one fear. As comedian Jerry Seinfeld once observed, “This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”  So why are we so afraid of public speaking and how do those who do it well make it look so easy?

Credit: Level Up Living

Credit: Level Up Living

This month as we explore public speaking, we will hear from leading experts. We will learn how to incorporate public speaking skills in our daily lives, whether that involves speaking one-on-one to someone or one-to-a-stadium full of people. We encourage you to try your voice out and let us know how it goes. Keep reading and let us know what you think and what else you would like to learn.

The Collaborative Services Blog Team

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Taking the Human Voice where it’s never gone before

If most people remember last October’s first presidential debate at all, it’s probably for President Obama’s oddly lackluster performance. But for those who closely track political, technological and sociological changes, the night was a watershed moment in communication. Why you ask?

The first presidential debate between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama in Denver, 2012. (Credit:

The first presidential debate between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama in Denver, 2012. (Credit:

That debate was the most Tweeted event in U.S. political history, and one of the most Tweeted events of all time.

Does that matter? It’s a stretch to say it matters for the same reasons as Gutenberg’s moveable type machine, but it does represent a leap towards a new way of communicating. One that’s indirect, instantaneous and often limited to 142 characters.

This month, we interviewed people who work with and study social media. And even with recent changes to social media, they’ve shown us that we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of its potential.



We want to thank the people who took the time to discuss social media with us, and show us how it’s changing our participation in an ever-changing world.

Warren Webster, co-founder of

Scott Lewis, CEO of Voice of San Diego.

Dr. William J. Ward, social media professor at Syracuse University.

David Jones, CEO of Havas Worldwide and author of Who Cares Wins.

Our experts shared a wide range of innovative examples of social media in action, from hyper-local news to corporations giving back to the Israeli Defense Forces and Middle Eastern protestors . If there is one common thread joining these together, it’s that this technology has elevated your voice to an unprecedented level.

The old filters that used to edit and abridge stories are rapidly fading away. The most successful movements are still comprised of groups, but those groups are made of individuals who’ve been given their own platform by these “social” resources like never before.



Social media shows that your one human voice can be a powerful instrument. In the next month, we’re moving from how your voice sounds when it’s tweeting to its impact when it’s speaking.

With a lifetime of daily practice, we should all be Mozarts of the larynx by the time we’re adults. And yet, even the best of us become tongue tied or terrified when faced with an audience to listen to what we have to say.

We’re delving into that most basic – and yet fear inducing – form of communication: Public speaking.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. leading a civil rights march on the National Mall in 1963. (Credit: USA Today)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. leading a civil rights march on the National Mall in 1963. (Credit: USA Today)

From the soapbox to the National Mall, public speaking has moved ideas that moved the world, and we want to find out how it’s done. We’ll get tips from Toastmasters International’s World Champion and others, as we try to unlock the secret to compelling an audience with only the sound of your voice.

Thank you for reading. Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments section, or tweet us @collaborateinc in the months to come.

Elizabeth Malloy, Associate

Collaborative Services, Inc.