I’m a labor organizer/advocate and I’m writing to you because I need some advice on speaking in public. I’m terrified as soon as I’m in front of more than four people. I’m leading my first rally soon and I want to do a super job. Thanks for your advice.
You’ve come to the right place. Many of these pointers are available in my book, Tips for Engaging an Audience While Speaking Publicly, but I’m happy to summarize them here, for you, free of charge.
Rule #1: Establish Command. Most Americans, at any given moment, have no idea who’s in control. As a nation of solipsists, we each imagine ourselves to be the masters of our own universe, until someone armed pipes up and says something like “This is the police, stop doing that.” This isn’t the case everywhere, or even most places. There are huge tracts of the globe where everyone knows who’s in charge, all of the time. Have you ever noticed there are no vice-tyrants? No second fiddle dictators? No silverback mountain gorilla runners-up? That’s because being “in charge” means no plan B. The point is: if you want to lead the discussion – and this goes for things like meeting your boy/girlfriend’s parents for the first time; arraignments, labor marches, etc – be the first one to speak and say something like “I’m sure you’re all wondering why I’ve called you here.” From that moment forward, the spotlight is on you. Your rules. Your agenda. Showtime.
Rule #2: Establish Ground Rules/Expectations. For example, if you walk into a room and say “This is a stick-up!” Everyone within earshot knows who you are, why you’re there, and what to expect in the immediate future. Clarifying statements like “if you move I’ll fucking shoot you!” and “Stop looking at my face!” can shore up remaining doubts about your authenticity and motivation.
Rule #3: Call to Action/Validation. At some point in a speech, and all speeches are ultimately persuasive or qualifying, you will issue a call to act on a principle or validate a viewpoint. This is best accomplished via heart wrenching personal stories. Good boilerplate language includes phrases like “my struggle through adversity,” “against all odds,” or “welcome to Ft. Lauderdale.”
Rule #4: Supporting Statement/Closing Argument. Archimedes once said “Give me a long enough lever and I shall move the world.” Everything you say in a speech is garbage, ultimately, if you can’t wrap it up in a concise manner and in a way people don’t have to think about too much. In my best selling book you’ll read and study all 10 classic statements, but highlights include: “…and that’s why you should crown me Miss America!” “…because you’ll get ants.” and “…how I learned the true meaning of Christmas.”
Good luck at your fun/run,
Any questions? firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 182
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