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In a New Textbook, SC&I Lecturer Offers Alternative Methods to Improve Public Speaking Skills
In a New Textbook, SC&I Lecturer Offers Alternative Methods to Improve Public Speaking Skills

Stammering, fidgeting, spilling water, forgetting the point in the middle of a sentence, and losing track of notes are all things many people have done when speaking in public .

As mortifying as these occurrences are, they are fairly typical, because most people, at some point during their careers, will be asked to speak in public and yet will have had no training and will feel completely nervous and unprepared. What is the best way academics and professionals alike can be ready, confident, and deliver a great speech every time?

In his new textbook, titled “Public Speaking: A Meta-Communicative Approach,” SC&I’s Part-Time Lecturer Jerald Goldstein provides the training and skills both academics and professionals need to become successful, effective and polished public speakers.

Some of the novel approaches the book offers are, as Goldstein explains, “stressing passion as an elixir to a successful speech; a prismatic-way-of-thinking; incorporating micro-teaching; emphasizing that the speaker is making a promise, not just incorporating a ‘central idea’; using orbital outlines from conceptualization through delivery; relegating the primary discussion of ‘fear’ to a later chapter; enhancing the impact of one’s verbal component by considering ‘looping back’ and other means to effect cohesiveness; the power of anecdotes; end-of-chapter devices; real-world scenarios; and, the significance of defining, or capturing the essence of one’s initial focus.”

One major point of departure from Goldstein’s book compared to other books about public speaking, is his “meta-communicative” approach. “The title of my textbook alone implies that meta-communication is a constituent part of public speaking,” Goldstein said. “Meta-messages are in a sense a natural occurrence among experienced speakers, but non-existent among the uninitiated. In fact ‘going meta’ has many advantages: one, it provides the audience insights into how the speaker has developed his thoughts and any reservations he might have while formulating same; two, it provides a real-time live commentary on how the speaker sees the very words he is using; three, it provides a sense of levity.”

Goldstein explains that meta-messages are “messages that consider/interpret/take umbrage with/underscore/detract from/contradict (and so much more) both the verbal and nonverbal message one is attempting to communicate. As such they provide a deeper, more involved take on the primary message being conveyed as they assume their own significant perch. Among other advantages, they provide insights as to how the speaker sees the very words he is using.”

Prior to writing the book, during the research he did for the book, and during the course of his career, Goldstein has evaluated many public speaking books and textbooks, and realized that, as he said,  “Most public speaking books are informed by a singular focus and reflect to some large extent the same breakdown. It’s almost as if the author of a ‘new’ textbook surveys what’s out there and modifies ever so slightly the given while still reflecting the basic chapter assignments of which almost all public speaking textbooks make avail. Most don’t have an overview of the entire public speaking enterprise. Instead the reader has to piece together the disparate information from individual chapters. This detracts from understanding the overarching themes comprising public speaking, such as ‘making an impact,’ or simply ‘connecting,’ and much more. My textbook does have a comprehensive second chapter that briefly discusses the major components of a speech, providing that ‘wide shot.’ Subsequent chapters go into more detail.

“Most public speaking textbooks don’t account for the persuasive element in every speech; instead, they insist on incorporating a separate chapter on so-called informative speeches.  To the contrary, all speeches can be considered persuasive. It’s not an all-or-none proposition, but posited on a sliding scale. Most public speaking textbooks also do not devote precious space to speaking on the job.” 

Goldstein thus set out and succeeded to write a very different kind of textbook, one that offers specific suggestions that are supported by solid communication theory. In addition to “meta messages,” Goldstein also discusses at length in the book the benefits of a “prismatic way of thinking” and the “public speaking enterprise,” subjects which also set his textbook apart from others. The book also includes photographs, graphs, and illustrations that add clarity and even humor to the text.

A “prismatic way of thinking,” Goldstein said, is “is a means to conceptualize, structure and deliver one’s speech based on using prisms. By using prisms and subprisms, etc., one is encouraged to deal with concepts as defined by phrases, rather than getting involved in word-smithing. Phrases allow one to consider one’s thought processes and speak extemporaneously, rather than getting lost in the forest of words. One is thus encouraged not to script one’s thoughts, but consider their (relative) merit. The prismatic-way-of-thinking is also well-suited to using an orbital outline, one that can be used in both the conceptualization stage, as well as a speaker’s outline, especially if one is speaking extemporaneously. As explained in a separate chapter, one uses prisms, too, to capture the essence of the concept, person, object one is, in essence, defining.”

“The public speaking enterprise,” Goldstein said, “reflects the vast array of impulses, attitudes, accepted behaviors, and guidelines that comprise all the component parts of a speech from conceptualization through reception. This ‘enterprise’ consists not only of material found in textbooks and taught in a course of instruction, but also the myriad opportunities to observe both professional and amateur speakers practicing their wares on a daily basis. Each speaker nolens volens extracts from that sliver of the public speaking enterprise to which he is privy a wide array of components in piecing together and delivering a speech. In a sense all speakers, knowingly or not, become part of the enterprise. Speakers especially focused on what’s been done will tend to emulate those who have already made a contribution, but also those who simply articulate their thoughts in all daily contexts. Thus, the public speaking enterprise is the entire undertaking, all things that contribute to delivering that one-of-a-kind speech. My entire textbook draws from, illuminates, and expands this ‘enterprise.’” 

Asked what are the top five pieces of advice he gives anyone hoping to improve his or her public speaking skills, Goldstein said he would focus on this list:

  1. Have a game plan. Be focused. Make and fulfill a singular promise. Don’t wind up saying a lot about nothing.
  2. Connect with members of your audience. Enter a discussion with them even if you are the one doing most of the talking.
  3. Take advantage of audience feedback. Even if the audience is “silent”, they are still capable of formulating a message through the nonverbal. It’s up to the speaker to pick up on these meta-messages and incorporate them spontaneously into his speech. Make avail of their feedback, both positive and negative.
  4. Keep the audience oriented from start to finish. Use the tools accomplished speakers use:  a preview statement, internal previews and summaries, a conclusion. But also consider “going meta” to ensure both you and the audience are in the moment and that you are closing that gap while piquing their interest.
  5. “Go meta” whenever appropriate.  Allow the audience to partake of how you relate to the subject matter, to them, as well as to the very words you are using. Being in the moment will bring you closer together and allow you to share those magic moments all speakers strive for.

Goldstein explains that he also takes these additional steps if he is not familiar with the venue. “I like to show up early, chat up the conference coordinator, and check out the room I’m to speak in. I pick up on the environmental factors, including seating arrangements, and have changes made that accommodate my style. I call this my space to pace. At times, I’ll meditate. I also chat up someone directly prior to the talk, if at all possible. If not, I’ll make eye contact with one or two individuals sitting in the front rows. I will address them continuously throughout the talk and feed on their feedback. This again provides that comfort zone.”

Does Goldstein have mentors or actors or politicians he thinks are particularly talented public speakers? While noting he does not have a specific mentor, Goldstein said he does take note of effective speakers. “I have rather observed all I come in contact with and how they express themselves,” Goldstein said. “Over the years I’ve learned much from my students, but also from colleagues and friends. At times, I felt mesmerized by the tenor, the undertones expressed by accomplished speakers, not only in academia. I’m enthralled with actors and actresses, but also radio and talk show hosts who are able to convey nuanced perspectives and make a mark . . . I think spontaneously of Charlton Heston and Ashley Judd, but also Tom Brokaw and Denzel Washington, as well as Barak Obama and a host of others.”

An effective speaker, Goldstein said, “is one who has a solid command of the elements that comprise a speech—from conceptualization to final remarks. All those who speak, both in professional and private settings, can profit from acquiring additional means to enhance their speaking prowess.”

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