Speaking Like Your Talk – On Your Feet

 I teach people to think on their feet and speak from their hearts.  My greatest challenge as a presentation teacher is to persuade people to accept their natural ability to speak and to let it flow without expecting themselves to be perfect in their speech. Verbal communication does not require the same sentence structure that writing does.  In fact, if you write a talk the way you write for an article, you can count on it sounding stilted when you speak the way you write.

 My favorite story about thinking on your feet and being willing to speak like you talk comes from trial lawyer Gerry Spence’s book How to Argue and Win Every Time. Here’s the story.

 Early in his career, Gerry was arguing a case before a jury.  He had written and practiced his argument, but his fear was so great that he could only read it to the jury panel.  Suddenly, his notes flew from the lectern and went flying across the floor.  Unable to retrieve them or find his place in his notes, he was forced to speak without notes.  In stark terror, he started with words to the effect “I wish I could talk with you without my notes from my heart.  My client is innocent, and you know why I know.” Then suddenly, his magical argument had begun.  He spoke for an hour until he was out of things to say.  As he spoke, he felt supported by an invisible force which carried his words, body, gestures and emotions in a flow all the way to the end of his argument.  He said that this invisible force wrote the script, choreographed the movements and gestures and expressed his emotions, even created a perfect ending.  Hi jury was out for less than a half-hour before returning a verdict for his client.

 While he was overjoyed by his experience and his victory, he was perplexed when he read the transcript recorded verbatim by the court reporter.  His sentences had been stop and start, his grammar incorrect and syntax illogical at times.  His speech was far from perfect.  Yet it was brilliant!  It had moved the jury by its passion and truth without having to be perfect. It had won the case through speaking from the heart and telling the truth.

 In my speaking classes, I guide people step by step to think on their feet and speak in the moment. My students speak brilliantly on their feet, putting stories, lessons and points together without notes. The method I teach for stringing beads of content together frees them to create brief but very compelling talks.  But, I sigh when they criticize themselves for not being perfect.  The hardest thing I have to teach my speaking students is to let go of perfection and stop self-judgment and criticism.  When they finally get that they don’t have to be perfect, they soar with passion and inspire with words born of their hearts. Like Gerry Spence, they learn to allow an invisible force, which I would call soul, to take over and guide their ideas, words and emotions as they speak.


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