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Speaker's Digest | Fundamentals of Public Speaking | EMS Glossary of Terms

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Speaker's Digest

January 2017
Volume 16, Number 1

In this issue:

Welcome to another year of bringing you Speaker’s Digest, our monthly publication full of valuable tips and ideas on how to become a more effective leader by improving your speaking skills. We are so pleased to continue to provide you with regular looks at people who excel or could use improvement in their content and delivery, and look forward to being with you for another year!

This is a fascinating time to be interested in the art of public speaking. First, we are in the middle of award season, which brings so many different kinds of thank-you speeches from award winners. Then, this past month featured two presidential administrations—the outgoing one and the incoming one, with a full array of goodbye speeches from Obama and his team members, and hello speeches from President Donald Trump and his new leadership team. (Not to mention hours and hours of hearings featuring politicians who love to hear themselves talk!)

Since they’re just getting started, we’ll wait a while before addressing the new administration and their various speaking styles. So in this month’s issue, we look at two outgoing interviews with prominent members of the former administration, comparing how each handled himself during Q+A. But first, we’ll introduce you to a type of presentation that is growing across the world, particularly among—but not limited to—people in the artistic communities, called PechaKucha.


What began fourteen years ago in Tokyo as a creative way to use a meeting space is now an international series of public events that take place across the world. What they have in common is this: they all feature presentations that last exactly six minutes and 40 seconds.

It’s called PechaKucha 20x20 (pronounced p-TCHA k-TCHA), the Japanese word for chatter. It began in 2003, started by two architects to draw groups to a public gallery/meeting space they had created in Tokyo. Their vision was to create dozens of public meetings where people could openly share a variety of ideas—big ones, small ones, artistic ones, even world-changing ones. Rather than let presenters ramble at will, they created the 20x20 format: twenty slides that remain on screen for twenty seconds each, with a speaker articulating the concept and context. Do the math in your head and you’ll get the proscribed length of 6:40.

PechaKucha presentations are meant to be heard live, or viewed online in blogs and on the website at PechaKucha.org. According to the site, PechaKucha Nights have been held to date in “bars, restaurants, clubs, beer gardens, homes, studios, universities, churches, prisons (disused), beaches, swimming pools, even a quarry!” People present research, special projects, works of art, collections, passions, big ideas and anything else that fits the format.

We first heard about PechaKucha earlier this month from our friend Ali, a New York artist finding many different creative outlets for her work. As we did more research, we found that PechaKucha Nights have been held in 964 cities worldwide. There’s no specific goal for these events, other than the sharing of ideas and information. The website contains a list of scheduled events, a daily blog featuring a new PechaKucha with each post, and lots and lots of presentations you can watch at your leisure. (Visit www.PechaKucha.org)

The idea is exciting, but if you watch a few PechaKucha presentations, you’ll see that success takes more than finding 20 slides and sticking to the time limit. Delivering content for only twenty seconds per slide means you can’t just ramble as you might if there was no clock. An effective speaker in this setting must be concise, selecting just the right words to make an impact in a small window of time.

At the same time, since the audience’s eye contact is typically focused on the slides, there’s a priority on using your voice to project the confidence, personality and passion your body usually provides while speaking. As we’ve discussed before, a successful speaker in this setting will still need to overdo their gestures and facial expression—any EMS “graduate” can tell you that this is the best way to increase your vocal variety.

We recommend planning a PechaKucha event for your next team meeting. Imagine the impact this format would have as a communication and team-building exercise. It would be a fun and engaging way to teach participants about keeping their content concise and relevant, while using intonation and variety to capture people’s attention. (And if you really want to put them on the spot, consider “PowerPoint Karaoke” as a follow-up exercise. We highlighted this in our April 2012 Speaker’s Digest—Google it or search it up on YouTube and you’ll see what we mean!)

Take a few minutes to visit the PechaKucha website and watch a selection of online presentations. Better yet, check it out for yourself by attending a local PechaKucha night, or take the plunge and plan an event for your team. We’ll be interested in hearing about your experiences.


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Many members of the Obama administration had opportunities to share final thoughts before President Obama’s term ended last week. Earlier this month, we watched extensive interviews on consecutive nights with two prominent Cabinet members: Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry.

Each interview, conducted by anchor Judy Woodruff on the PBS News Hour, gave these two veteran statesmen ample opportunity to discuss their ideas, their accomplishments and their perspectives on national and international issues. Those of us watching were also reminded why Biden will go down as one of the most popular Veeps in history, while Kerry, despite remaining deeply engaged in world affairs in his role as chief diplomat, showed us why he never really connected enough with American citizens to win a presidential election.

For these two men, each of whom has spent nearly two generations in the public eye, the difference was all in their facial expression—or lack of it. In each of these one-on-one interviews, conducted in chairs with no outside audience, we saw smart, articulate, experienced leaders talk about their career. Both brought to the table complex messages, more than a few SAT-type words, and big-picture thinking.

Whether you’re a fan of Joe Biden or not, you have to admit that he brings his repertoire of emotions and perspectives with him to an interview. He clearly brings more of his REAL SELF to the table. You could easily see it in the range of facial expressions that he used: big smiles, little smiles, bemused grins, grimaces, frowns, anger, sadness, deep concern and most everything in between. His vocal variety followed his facials: he sped up, slowed down, moved from loud to soft, and paused many, many times for emphasis.

Biden also used big gestures that were visible to his audience despite the fact that the camera spent most of the time focused on his chest and above. He adjusted his posture as well, sitting up straight, crossing his legs, and moving forward in his chair to connect more directly to Ms. Woodruff. He was an active listener and participant, showing that he was eager to be there and that he was fully engaged in the conversation.

Kerry was a different story entirely. He sat in one place, showed us virtually the same facial expression for nearly 12 minutes, and spoke in pretty much the same volume and tone throughout. Though he gestured a bit, most of his movements were contained and thus not clearly visible. Rather than coming across as engaging, he appeared to be emotionless.

Complicating Kerry’s onscreen presence was some cosmetic work that he’s obviously had done in recent years. This was significant because—beyond moving his eyes and mouth—his face held virtually the same expression without change. It reminded us of the old Clutch Cargo cartoon, where the animation was rigid except for the human mouths that moved as the characters talked.

The point here is not to criticize Kerry, but rather to demonstrate what a dramatic effect facial expression has on how you’re perceived as a speaker. Biden came across as a friend, an inspirational leader, someone we’d want to spend time with. Though his interview was almost twice as long as Kerry’s, the latter seemed to move much more slowly. Kerry seemed reserved and unapproachable, lacking any appearance of passion or excitement.

In terms of words, thoughts, ideas and approaches to their jobs, Biden and Kerry were very much in sync, praising the president with whom they served and grateful for their opportunities to lead. But in terms of their styles, you can clearly see why Biden has managed to win a warmer spot in the hearts of Americans.

Watch the two interviews for yourself by clicking below. We’ll be interested in hearing what impressions these two politicians made on you in these final interviews.

Kerry https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsxVzl6Vznk

Biden https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0TTfqOXdEk

Thanks again for reading. Stay warm and we’ll see you next month!


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