Letters Live Public Speaking Olivia Colman reads a letter written by Queen Elizabeth
01 October 2022
Live Letters video
A framework guide for public speaking
Guidance for a topic speech
Speech evaluation training
Letters Live Royal Albert Hall in 2019
Olivia Colman reads a letter
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The SLSC Vice President John Entwhistle
Here is an example of the Topic section transcript:
B2 The Topics Session Purpose
The purpose of the Topics session is to encourage and develop the speaker’s ability to speak spontaneously without any previous preparation. The term 'Impromptu speaking' is used to cover the situation in which as you rise to your feet, you are beginning to consider the form of words with which you will begin to express your thoughts.
The session is a vitally important part of your training and should never be considered as a form of light relief from what has sometimes been referred to as the serious part of the evening. Your reputation as a speaker will be substantially enhanced by your ability to rise to the unexpected occasion.
Most new members regard the topics session with varied degrees of apprehension. This tension, the butterflies in the stomach, is quite normal when the body prepares for a special effort. Rather than overcoming your nervousness what you should be aiming for is to control it, channelling your nervous energy into the effort you are about to make.
A Good Topic
Take your time and remember to breathe. Silence at the beginning of a topic is preferable to a hackneyed cliché. The opening sentences can be of a general nature enabling you to gather your thoughts. You do not need to spring into action immediately with profound statements of opinion. You are thinking on your feet. Try to keep the audience guessing. Develop your theme and try to be thinking of a strong ending. Remember all the speaking skills of voice, body language etc and use them to full effect.
Just as when a topic of conversation arises in a social situation, you do not reach for your notes or keep everyone waiting while you marshal your thoughts, so it is with the Topics session. You can embellish, adapt, alter and bend reality a little in order to enjoy the topics session.
Hybrid meetings developed during the COVID epidemic
A topic should be a mini-speech in itself, with a beginning, middle and end. It should be well constructed with balance and a logical flow through to a conclusion. Try to start and finish with a memorable statement. Although this is not always possible, it is something to aim at - the first and last words you speak are the ones your audience will remember.
Another factor that must be considered is time. Within ASC most topics have a time limit of up to three minutes. The aim is to use that time to best advantage in speaking on the subject. There is no need to use all of the time - it is far better to stop short rather than waffling on to the allotted time but spoiling the balance of the topic. There is a vast difference between the first two minutes of an hour-long speech and a two-minute speech. The aim in topics is to combine clarity with conciseness; to match what needs to be said with the time allowed. With this in mind, you should consider the topics session timing device as being there to help you, not to rule you.
There is not the slightest NEED to be funny in speaking to a topic. Humour suited to the subject and tone of the speech is helpful, but unrelated jokes and wisecracks should be left out.
You must also bear in mind that an audience is a group of individuals. Try to address phrases to individuals in every section of the audience. Establish eye contact with each of them, but watch that this does not lead to jerkiness.
No one pretends that it is easy, but it can be done with practice and it is essential if you are to achieve a successful rapport with your audience.
Topics provide an excellent opportunity to practise the presentation of your speech. You don't have a script and are not tied to notes, so your hands and body are free to demonstrate gestures. You can see your audience, and can involve them visually. Concentrate on your voice by developing variation in pace and volume. When you are stuck for a word, then you can experiment with the length of the pause.
Diana Dougles's training sessions provide another example of the advice, guidance, and training delivered by the South Lancaster Speakers Club:
Evaluation is part of the very heart of the aims and objects of the ASC.
Good evaluating is a skill. Not learnt overnight. It is a skill which should develop you, and for you, as your ASC membership proceeds.
The most important essence of evaluation is to be sensitive. We don’t want to lose members because we were insensitive. Be constructive not destructive. Strive to enable someone to go home happy and happily thinking, I learnt something to-day from an evaluation which will help me in my future speech delivery.
We are all here to learn. The evaluation is delivered to the entire audience. Therefore we don’t refer to the speaker by forename. The whole audience learns from an evaluation. Sometimes it may be one or more points raised by the evaluator which we had never thought about or an aspect where we too felt the speaker could improve. Or perhaps we realise how not to give an evaluation.
So down to basics. Start with praise. Don’t we all like to be praised? There must be something good you can find to say. A new speaker may have made an enormous effort to give a speech. Praise them just for that. No need to fawn, just be convincing that you appreciate the effort it took to speak to us, the audience.
We have all heard the speech so there is no need to re-tell it. Comment briefly on the content in the sense that it was an appropriate choice of subject, perhaps it was topical, well researched, interesting, colourful, enchanting, sobering. Pick out a few points, quoting examples, which worked - such as alliteration, humour, effective word pictures, suitable gestures but do not re-tel
l the speech. The points to look for are all mentioned within the assignments in the Speakers Guide. Surreptitious use of notes to enable good eye contact, good use of the pause, changes in the voice from loud to soft, varying tones. These are some of the points which can be praised, yet without re-telling the speech.
As the evaluation develops, mention a few points which did not work as well as they could. Too quiet a voice, too monotonous, intrusive and large sheets of notes which were fiddled with. Too few gestures, too many gestures, even too dramatic a performance …
So we come to the most valuable aspect about a good evaluation. To give advice. We all learn from advice given. Mention up to, but no more, than 3 points. Explain, with examples if possible, how the delivery could have been improved. But above all, be sensitive.
Club evaluations tend to be for 4 minutes. Competitions 6 minutes. In a competition there are no penalty points for over-running because you are stopped by the Chair at 6 mins. Either way, at club or competition level, the evaluator should strive to give a well-rounded evaluation, which is itself a speech, within the time limit.
As your membership of the ASC continues you will find yourself evaluating other people all the time. The hotel receptionist, the waiter, the bank clerk, shop cashier, your friends. Hmm! You will be so much more observant of other people and their behaviour. Not necessarily a good thing.
For newer members, initially evaluating can be daunting. When you start to evaluate to an audience, you may feel you have no right to criticise another speaker but you are not trying to criticise but help someone improve. How else can we progress? But to see ourselves as as others see us.
For your first evaluation just refer to one or two pleasing aspects which struck you about the speech and then try to mention one or two points which could be improved upon. Finish.
Evaluation is one aspect which many Clubs do not do well. Members so often just re-tell the speech. Let SLSC be a Club which gives beneficial evaluations. Beneficial to us all.
Call and contact David Knox, President, South Lancaster Speakers Club now.