Sunday, July 3, 2016

Cool fun in the summer!

I have been teaching some really terrific high school students who have come to American University for its Discover the World of Communications summer program. This blog post shares some of the video clips I have used reinforce and illustrate my teaching. Feel free to  skip my musings, but watch these videos! You will be entertained by the first and fourth links below, enlightened by the middle two.

This is my eleventh summer teaching Speaking for Impact, where students learn to find their inner presence and embrace it as a way to quell anxiety and project authority. I give them  much of the theory and many of the exercises I share with my adult clients, because the fundamental problems of nervousness, lack of confidence, and confusion about preparation are the same.

But the teaching tools I use are different: we watch a lot of video! There are many excellent speeches available online that we can learn from. Commencement speeches are great, of course, but there is a virtual goldmine for instructors and coaches in political speeches and debates. Sometimes these provide timeless examples of what not to do,  others show us that even with a textbook perfect speech, your campaign still might fail somewhere down the line.

We also sample TED talks and their progeny. Many of them are quite good, teaching us new things and fresh ways of looking at the world. But the TED mandate to leave the audience with a "charge" or "call to action" is often tacked onto a perfectly wonderful informative speech, and I am often left wondering why sharing information and insight with the audience is not enough of a gift in itself.

And then there is a pervasive TED delivery style: techniques and strategies that get used over and over again because -- well, they work. But when everyone is using the same flavor to spice up their speech it all ends up seeming the same. It becomes familiar, almost bland. Canadian comedian/writer Pat Kelly does a wonderful parody TED talk that hits all the right notes, and has you laughing and cringing at the same time. I just did a TED-style talk (video coming soon!), so I understand the temptation to fall back on the tried-and-true formula. But once you start relying on something so predictable, you dilute its importance. Even if it was once valid or original. Kind of like "passionate" and "passion." Think about it: if there really were as many people who were passionate about saving the planet as you hear on TED talks alone, we would have solved all earth's problems by now.

As I tell my students, there is one surefire way to avoid being a cliché: Don't use them!