When I attended a guest speaker session this week which was organised by the School of Law at the university where I work I wasn’t sure what to expect. All I knew was that it had a central theme of how to present with confidence and clarity. It sounded interesting and worthwhile and in truth I was hoping to pick up some tips myself as I often find I am speaking in lecture halls to 80+ students, which needless to say, you have to hold your nerve! It is also easy to understand how relevant and important personal presentation is within the field of law (think representing defendants in court, presenting to business clients, etc). For aspiring solicitors and barristers they need to be able to perform in moots amongst their peers, present their work and of course eventually pitch their skills to employers.
But public speaking isn’t just for select job roles. With students paying a premium for their degree there is a shifting emphasis on graduate level outcomes with employability high on the agenda for HE institutions as a whole. (As an aside and related, my colleague Tom Staunton wrote a nice piece about how “communicating value” is a key attribute of the Employable Graduate Framework).
So public speaking, as far as I can see, isn’t given much priority across education as a whole. In truth, how many of us when we were in school, FE or even HE remember having some form of specialist training on how to effectively get our message across? It’s not like there is a core module that deals with this on every undergraduate course. We tell students they need to research before interviews and instruct how to deliver excellent answers but what about how that answer is delivered? I suspect not much.
I had this very same conversation with our presenter, Maggie Ford, who agreed that it was somewhat perplexing that this hugely important skill is often neglected with students usually learning though trial and error through their studies in the hope they get better as they go along.
To give you some background, Maggie is a RADA trained theatre/screen director, actress and voice coach with many years experience working with high profile personal and corporate clients. In other words she knows her stuff. We had around 35 law students in the room and Maggie got everyone standing up performing breathing exercises. This was paired up with vocal exercises that caused murmurs and pockets of embarrassed laughter. All this was part of a warm up working towards the mantra that the “body relaxes the mind”. I had to agree.
Once warm ups were complete we were introduced to some essential issues around public speaking. Namely, logos, pathos and ethos. Yes, these are the three musketeers of the vocal performance world. We need all three of these in our performance when speaking in public. Let me explain.
Logos – is the logic and reasoning of what you are saying, your content. Let’s hope it makes sense.
Pathos – Is the emotion that is conveyed to the audience. Don’t be monotone.
Ethos – Is your credibility, making the story personal to you.
A brilliant example of this in action was given. Imagine reading a 5 year old a story. Hopefully your approach would be to try and make it sound interesting with your voice. When I thought of how I read to my son I understood instantly what I should be trying to achieve in my presenting. I needed to tell a story.
More great advice was how to start off your public speaking: Breathe, make eye contact, smile and begin.
By the end of the 1.5 hour session Maggie had students coming down to the front of the lecture theatre introducing themselves using those steps. Most had a go, and made a very good job of it. What they had learned could be implemented straight away and improved on over time. But these are just snapshots of the session. I found Maggie to be engaging, inspiring, humorous, authoritative as well as being very passionate about the importance of public speaking. I’m hoping we will see more of her but should you be curious here is a link to her website www.springrites.co.uk
I left the session with a feeling of having learned some vital skills. I also left wishing I had attended a session like this 15 years sooner. Better late than never.