Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Will Santa put presentation skills in your stocking?

Christmas presents and public speaking skills aren't an obvious combination but with a bit of creativity, the link can be made!

For your children: encourage "show and tell" by asking children to introduce their new presents to family members. Use questions to develop a framework and help them to expand on the information they are giving. This is a great way to get your children making presentations because their enthusiasm over-rides any fear.

For adults: try a "present debate" in which everyone has to give a one minute speech arguing why they have received the ultimate present. After each round, vote for the most popular gift based on the persuasive speech (not your own preferences!) Winner avoids the washing up.

Effective public speaking begins with a basic interest in the subject and a desire to communicate. Both of these criteria are answered as you unwrap a fabulous Christmas present and can't wait to tell everyone about it!

Happy Christmas...

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Cautionary Tales - more performance poetry

Post Christmas lunch.. full to the brim with turkey and Chritmas spirit, what could be better than to amuse the family with a cautionary tale? These poems/monologues were a strange beastie, incredibly popular in the late nineteeth/early twenties century. The master is Hilaire Belloc whose Cautionary Tales are full of examples of people whose actions bring them to a (normally abrupt) end.

Although the subject matter is macarbre, these poems make wonderful performance pieces. The lyrical language lends itself to reading outloud and you can use pauses to increase anticipation before revealing the climax. At Brandon Learning Centre, we have poetry reading shows twice a year and I have noticed that the audiences will lean forward as performers pause before the high point of their poems.

My father, who is a born performer, used to read "Albert and the Lion" in which the combination of a small boy, a walking stick and a lion leads to a predictable result. The monologue was originally performed in a drawling Lancashire accent by Stanley Holloway I was delighted to find the recording on You Tube.

If you don't feel that you can memorise twenty-odd verses, I am sure that your audience will forgive you using notes. If you choose this option, don't forget the eye-contact, not least to see your audience's reaction as the characters get their come-uppance!

Matilda, whose casual relationship with the truth brought her to a sticky end

Stanley Holloway's original reading

And the whole monologue:

Albert and the Lion - Marriott Edgar

There's a famous seaside place called Blackpool,
That's noted for fresh-air and fun,
And Mr and Mrs Ramsbottom
Went there with young Albert their son.

A grand little lad was their Albert
All dressed in his best; quite a swell
'E'd a stick with an 'orse's 'ead 'andle
The finest that Woolworth's could sell.

They didn't think much to the ocean
The waves, they was fiddlin' and small
There was no wrecks... nobody drownded
'Fact, nothing to laugh at, at all.

So, seeking for further amusement
They paid and went into the zoo
Where they'd lions and tigers and cam-els
And old ale and sandwiches too.

There were one great big lion called Wallace
His nose were all covered with scars
He lay in a som-no-lent posture
With the side of his face to the bars.

Now Albert had heard about lions
How they were ferocious and wild
And to see Wallace lying so peaceful
Well... it didn't seem right to the child.

So straight 'way the brave little feller
Not showing a morsel of fear
Took 'is stick with the'orse's 'ead 'andle
And pushed it in Wallace's ear!

You could see that the lion didn't like it
For giving a kind of a roll
He pulled Albert inside the cage with 'im
And swallowed the little lad... whole!

Then Pa, who had seen the occurrence
And didn't know what to do next
Said, "Mother! Yon lions 'et Albert"
And Mother said "Eeh, I am vexed!"

So Mr and Mrs Ramsbottom
Quite rightly, when all's said and done
Complained to the Animal Keeper
That the lion had eaten their son.

The keeper was quite nice about it
He said, "What a nasty mishap
Are you sure that it's your lad he's eaten?"
Pa said, "Am I sure? There's his cap!"

So the manager had to be sent for
He came and he said, "What's to do?"
Pa said, "Yon lion's 'eaten our Albert
And 'im in his Sunday clothes, too."

Then Mother said, "Right's right, young feller
I think it's a shame and a sin
For a lion to go and eat Albert
And after we've paid to come in!"

The manager wanted no trouble
He took out his purse right away
And said, "How much to settle the matter?"
And Pa said "What do you usually pay?"

But Mother had turned a bit awkward
When she thought where her Albert had gone
She said, "No! someone's got to be summonsed"
So that were decided upon.

Round they went to the Police Station
In front of a Magistrate chap
They told 'im what happened to Albert
And proved it by showing his cap.

The Magistrate gave his o-pinion
That no-one was really to blame
He said that he hoped the Ramsbottoms
Would have further sons to their name.

At that Mother got proper blazing
"And thank you, sir, kindly," said she
"What waste all our lives raising children
To feed ruddy lions? Not me!"

Friday, 17 December 2010

Treading in Greek footsteps

The art of public speaking was developed by the Ancient Greeks. Speeches were not approached casually but carefully crafted paying strict attention to the rules of rhetoric. Aristotle dedicated an entire book to the topic, imaginatively entitled "Rhetoric."

We are so lazy these days that the thought of trawling through classical literature to find inspiration fills most of us with dread. So much easier to buy one of those fabulous airport books with catchy titles promising instant public speaking skills in ten easy lessons, right? Wrong. Why waste your time on pale imitations when you can go direct to the source? I taught presentation skills to a class of fifteen year olds who not only grasped Aristotle's concepts immediately but also identified examples they had encountered. Bear in mind that this was a class of Cantonese speakers who were operating in English. Impressive.

Aristotle on credibility: "Persuasion is achieved by the speaker's personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible." (Book one chapter 2) How do we inform the audience that we are credible?

1: Speak confidently, use eye contact and pauses. A hurried speaker is one who conveys an impression of lack of self belief.

2: Use references - mention past experiences, research and anecdotes.

3: Use transferred credibility. Weave quotations, research carried out by respected 3experts and statistics into your speech. You may not be the expert but you can link yourself to people who are.

Our history informs our present. When it comes to public speaking, we should embrace not beware of Greeks bearing gifts!

Artistotle's Rhetoric with commentary

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Impress family this Christmas with poetry!

The Irish have always had a love of performance and I grew up surrounded by powerful speakers and singers. Family parties would always end up with people reciting, singing ballads and dancing (usually me but there was money involved!) We all had "party pieces" which would be trundled out in front of a crowd of relatives who had heard them a hundred times before.

As a child, performing in front of a non-critical, family audience is a perfect start to a public speaking career. Memorising poetry at an early age helps to develop an appreciation for language and stretches the vocabulary. The love and encouragement that you receive from the family will stay with you forever. So this Christmas, instead of loafing in front of the television, try some of the sites below and start performing.

Wonderful Radio 4 poetry programme with readings of contemporary and classic poetry

A treasure trove of poetry

Use the quote search function to identify half remembered poems

My father's party piece was a rendition of the tragi-comic Bricklayers Tale which incoporates a pulley, a barrel of bricks and the force of gravity! The trick to this poem is the use of pauses and my father's version guaranteed that the audience would be rolling around with laughter.

The talented Gerard Hoffnung's rendition of the Bricklayer's tale for the Oxford Union. Shakesperean diction meets farce. Note the pause before the final punchline.

And my father's version:

Dear Sir I write this note to you to tell you of my plight
For at the time of writing I am not a pretty sight
My body is all black and blue, my face a deathly grey
And I write this note to say why Paddy's not at work today.

Whilst working on the fourteenth floor,some bricks I had to clear
To throw them down from such a height was not a good idea
The foreman wasn't very pleased, the rotten awkward sod
He said I had to cart them down the ladders in my hod.

Now clearing all these bricks by hand, it was so very slow
So I hoisted up a barrel and secured the rope below
But in my haste to do the job, I was too blind to see
That a barrel full of building bricks was heavier than me.

And so when I untied the rope, the barrel fell like lead
And clinging tightly to the rope I started up instead
I shot up like a rocket till to my dismay I found
That half way up I met the blessed barrel coming down.

Well the barrel broke my shoulder, as to the ground it sped
And when I reached the top I banged the pulley with my head
I clung on tightly, numb with shock, from this almighty blow
And the barrel spilled out half the bricks, fourteen floors below.

Now when these bricks had fallen from the barrel to the floor
I then outweighed the barrel and so started down once more
Still clinging tightly to the rope, my body racked with pain
When half way down, I met the blessed barrel once again.

The force of this collision, half way up the office block
Caused multiple abrasions and a nasty state of shock
Still clinging tightly to the rope I fell towards the ground
And I landed on the broken bricks the barrel scattered round.

I lay there groaning on the ground I thought I'd passed the worst
But the barrel hit the pulley wheel, and then the bottom burst
A shower of bricks rained down on me, I hadn't got a hope
As I lay there bleeding on the ground, I let go the blessed rope.

The barrel then being heavier then started down once more
And landed right across me as I lay upon the floor
It broke three ribs, and my left arm, and I can only say
That I hope you'll understand why Paddy's not at work today

Fabulous eh?!

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Here endeth the lesson - the art of Bible reading

Bible reading is an art form unto itself. Firstly, you have to struggle with language, then come to terms with the concept of reading the word of God. Once you have mastered those two points, you have to deliver the message in a way that doesn't make you sound like a hysteric. Simple eh?

The Language: If you are lucky, you will be reading from the King James version. Why lucky? Because the language you are about to encounter stands with Shakespeare in the ranks of richness. Elegant phrasing, resonant sounds that roll off the tongue. Compare Ruth 1:16 "where you go I will go" (New International Version) with "wither thou goest;I will go" (King James Version)

The meaning: read the second site suggested below which displays all versions of the text togetther with commentaries. Instant comprehension will follow!

The delivery: Bible reading is not drama. The key is that the reader fades into the background, allowing the listener to focus on the words. This means working on a smooth rhythm with no jarring emphasis. Disappearing is a difficult task for the speaker but with calm, clear delivery and subtle changes in pace and pitch, you can achieve it.

Bible reading is extremely satisfying, a wonderful way to develop your speaking techniques and you might even pick up some inspiration along the way!

The King James Bible

Wonderful website which combines all versions

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