Friday, April 24, 2009

Pubic Speaking

That's right, I said pubic.

As in mons pubis, from late 19th century Latin, meaning ‘mount of the pubes.’ Today let's talk about the oft overlooked importance of this particular bodily habitat and its relation to our speaking.

I was working with a wonderfully exuberant woman named Patti who wanted to appear at her most confident in front of groups. She was already a powerful speaker, and came across confident - she just was honing her edges, so to speak. Because of her experience working as a teacher, school administrator, and education speaker for years, our coaching session was not going to be about working on her fundamentals. What we started talking about was her style.

Specifically, Patti's natural exuberance came across in a 'rock and roll' manner. This was fine. Her fiery and bigger-than-life presence was just striving to successfully and fully translate when she addressed groups. So we started talking about some of the mechanics lead singers of rock bands use. This seemed to connect well for her.

One thing many lead singers do is push their hips forward, their (shh) pubic area forward, especially when they are front and center at the edge of a stage. Whether intentional or unintentional, they adopt a primal, sexual posture, and it conveys a strong confidence. Now, knowing that she probably did not want to be so brazen as to sexually shove her she-junk at audiences, we toned it down, distilling the hips-forward stance into a working, confident posture.

This can work for women and men when your style is earthy enough. Place your feet one-and-a-half to two times shoulder-width, while holding a two or three inch push forward of your hips. It is better to have your hips forward (pelvis, belly, etc.) than your shoulders or head. And this is not an 'always on' stance - just something to use for certain big and bold moments where you are really rockin' a point. I have found it a valuable addition to my own posture where my body wants to curve forward, leading with my shoulders. Thinking about "pubic speaking" keeps my shoulders back and helps me feel more confident in my delivery.

Too much?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What Is Public Speaking?

The most respected communicators hold an uncommonly broad definition of Public Speaking:

Public speaking is intentional human-to-human communication.

When we have a message to get across, whether it is developed beforehand or developing as we go, we have intention behind our words. When we have compelling intention we are more interesting and people want to listen. The instant someone stands up in front of a group, be they a politician or standup comic, the audience expects that person to have something important to say. To be a dynamic act, public speaking must be intentional.

"Human-to-human" means speaking is not limited to formal, public settings with lots of people. It can be that, but when we open up our definition to be 'anytime, anywhere, with anyone', we start to open up to all of the methods and dynamics available to us. Speaking happens constantly with friends on the phone, family in the car, and coworkers at lunch. Learning to communicate naturally in multiple human dynamics is a skill-broadening endeavor.

And consider the modes in which the public speaking can occur. It can be live or prerecorded, on phone or video, amplified or organic. But although the available delivery modes have increased since its earliest documented teachings thousands of years ago, the one mode that has remained constant is the actual act of speaking. Mimes are still not considered public speakers.

In addition to verbal communication skills, public speaking uses visual skills (body movements, graphics, and use of props), and physical skills (engaging the audience in physical activities or purposeful movement during the presentation).

Regarding the word "communication" in the definition, although most presenters do not view public speaking as dialogue between the presenter and audience, it can be useful to approach presentations as conversations rather than monologues. (This becomes more difficult as group size increases, i.e. forget interactive conversation with a stadium full of people.) Pose interesting questions to your groups, elicit responses, and consider what they say in return. Allow yourself to engage people in short conversations if your mind is so present. The Politician Speech where one waits until the end of their monologue to ask for questions is boring as spit. Avoid it unless you are a celebrity or giving fire drill instructions.

Expanding our definition of public speaking lets us more frequently practice our skill sets in varied dynamics, more comprehensively honing our communication ability. How often can you allow yourself to be your most engaging, emotionally resonant, and clear with your communication?