Archive for May, 2010


Sir, that is *not* a speech!

 I was twenty-four years old when I began my career as an adjunct instructor at two community colleges.   One class was at 8 a.m. on a Saturday.  I can still remember walking into the classroom and looking into the faces of my students.  Every one of them was older than me.  No matter.  I introduced the course, distributed the syllabus, and held court.  Despite the age gap,everything was going great until a week before the first formal speech was due.  A male student, over sixty years old said, “Miss, you’ve been telling us how to give a speech and what to do, but I’ve been in the business world more than thirty years.   I know that the best way to give a speech is to show slides.  I don’t need all your ‘rules.'” Without missing a beat I said, “Sir, a slide show is not a speech!” 

 Those were pre-PowerPoint days, but if that curmudgeon was in my class today, I’d give him the same answer.  Too many speakers rely on PowerPoint slides to avoid having to take center stage and deliver a speech.   Think about it:  do political candidates show slides when they speak?  No; (except for Ross Perot)  and why not?  Because they want you to be persuaded by them not numbers, graphs and charts and pretty pictures.  You should only use PowerPoint when there is data that you cannot share without the clarification of a graphic.  Even then, less is more.  Maybe a photo, an object or a single pie chart is enough to make your case.

Keep these in  mind when “powering up” for a presentation with PowerPoint:

* Do you really need to use it or will a lively presentation by you and other visuals make your case better?

* Limit the number of slides

* Limit the information on each slide

* Skip the razzle-dazzle of special effects

*Proof your slides

Joe Downing and Cecile C. Garmon explain in a Communication Education article “Teaching Students in the Basic Course How to Use Presentational Software” (50-2001,218-219) even in business the heads of some corporations are telling their subordinates to use this technology sparingly.  The government has run into  problems with PowerPoint, and another article suggests it makes us all dumber.

Too much use of PowerPoint turns a public speech into a slide show.  And remember: “that is not a speech!”


Running and Speaking Promote Growth

This is the last time I’m going to say this:  “I’m not a runner.”  I said it the other day at lunch and I thought as soon as I said it that I’m not doing myself any favors by talking like that.   My sister Teri, who wasn’t a runner either, is a runner now because she started running and runs  as often as she can. (She’s also very fit and trim).  Saying “I’m not a runner” is negative.  When I join my little running buddy on Monday, you can bet I won’t be making any excuses. I know I won’t be the fastest, and I may very well be the slowest, but  I’ll just say, “let’s go!”  It reminds me of when a student tries to lower my expectations of his speeches by saying  “I’m not a public speaker.”  I would waste no time reminding him that  by the end of the class he will be public speaker.  And to be a public speaker all one must do is speak in public.  And that’s what brings me to the realization that being a public speaker is at least a little bit like being a runner.

1.  You just have to do it. 

2.  You might not be very good at it at first but,

3.  if you keep doing it, you will get better.

4.  You don’t need many supplies.  For running, a decent pair of running shoes.  For speaking, a voice.

5.  It feels very satisfying to finish a run.  It feels just as good to express yourself in a public speech.

6.  Running and speaking in public feel great because both force you to do something that may not feel natural at first. 

7.  Both running and speaking have the potential to have positive effects on your life.

I am a runner and a public speaker.    Let’s go!


Elena Kagan’s Nomination Likely to Have Role-model Effect


News of Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court is certain progress for women’s equal representation at the highest levels of government.   I was a high school senior when Sandra Day O’Connor became the first female Supreme Court Justice, and I remember hearing about it from teachers and thinking that it is only right that women serve side by side with men.  Of course, I still feel that way, only now, my feelings are stronger and backed by research.

 If confirmed, Kagan would be the youngest justice on the court and notch up the number of  women on the Supreme Court to three for the first time in history.  The progress is glacial, to be sure, but women in areas previously unavailable to them is, nonetheless, progress. It is especially important for girls and young women to see women serving at the highest levels of government.   Female politicians often claim that, in addition to providing important public service, their candidacies and terms in office offer  positive models of female political leadership for women and girls. Some studies suggest this may be true.  A few weeks ago I interviewed Linda Lingle, governor of Hawaii and she told me that she is especially careful about how she presents herself in public because she realizes that with so few women at the highest levels of government, all eyes are on her.   It is unusual for male power figures to refer to their role model status, because men and boys do not need proof that powerful positions are open to them.  And despite this encouraging announcement about Elena Kagan, the reality is that politics and the Supreme Court remain  overwhelmingly male enterprises. That we can easily name all the women ever to serve on the Supreme Court –Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor–is evidence of this slow progress.

            In my research about women and the United States presidency, I have found evidence to suggest that even symbolic bids for the presidency, like those made by Margaret Chase Smith in 1964 and Shirley Chisholm in 1972 have indeed paved the way for outsiders (any group not included previously) to consider bids for office.   Margaret Chase Smith had a sense of this in 1964 when she said, “I would be pioneering the way for a woman in the future—to make the way easier for her to be elected President of the United States.”  Shirley Chisholm described the role model effect of her campaign when she said: “…Whether or not the black people are politically sophisticated enough to be aware of the fact that my candidacy is not to be regarded as a candidacy where I can win the presidency at this moment, but a candidacy that is paving the way for people of other ethnic groups, including blacks, to run and perhaps win the office.” 

Maybe at least in part shaped by sensitivity derived from being the father of two girls, President Obama wrote this message about his nomination of Elena Kagan:    “Now, I look forward to the prospect of Elena taking her seat alongside Justice Ginsberg and Justice Sotomayor. For the first time, our nation’s highest court would include three women, ensuring a Court that would be more inclusive, more representative, more reflective of us as a people than ever before.”

Indeed to see more women at every level of government may encourage the belief for girls and young women still contemplating their career decisions. 

Nichola D. Gutgold is an associate professor of communication arts and sciences and author of several books that examine women’s communication skills in male dominated arenas, including Paving the Way for Madam President.


Eloquence Without Truth? I say not!

Over the weekend, I read an article in The Morning Call detailing the career of Allentown attorney John Karoly.  His sister Candy Karoly Pamerleau told the reporter that her brother “put himself above the law…because he’s an eloquent speaker. It’s very easy for him to take a grain of truth and spin it.” I do not know Mr. Karoly or his sister, and I could understand how she might associate good speaking with bad deeds, but I wish to assert that eloquence in the truest sense arises from greatness.    

In many of his writings the Roman orator Cicero notes that the eloquence derives from wisdom and that eloquence and morality could not be separated.    Similarly, another great Roman rhetorician Quintillian said that “no man (I’m sure he meant to add woman) can speak well who is not good him/(her)self.”  

The term eloquence is better reserved for utterances that have proven historical merit.  According to the website, the greatest speeches in American history include: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s  “I Have A Dream” speech,   John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s inaugural address, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first inaugural address and  Barbara Charline Jordan’s 1976 DNC keynote address. 

If utterances are temporarily persuasive, we would do better to call them just that:  persuasive.    Let us

 reserve the more regal-sounding word, eloquence, for speech aiming at a higher purpose than temporary acclaim.


Do young women believe a woman will be president?

I was looking forward to the visit from a junior  broadcast journalism major from University Park.  Her father bought my book Seen and Heard:  The Women of Television News for her for Christmas, and she wanted to meet me and ask me some questions about the book.  A pleasant young woman, her beauty and poise would no doubt assist her in her goals to appear on air as a television news anchor one day.  So imagine my disappointment when, about thirty minutes into our meeting she said, “I just don’t think it will happen. I don’t think we will ever have a woman president.”   It brought back an article that found that  over time, the more that women politicians are made visible by national news coverage, the more likely girls are to indicate an intention to be politically active. Similarly, authors Campbell and Wolbrecht found that in cross-sectional analysis, where  female candidates  are visible due to viable campaigns for high-profile offices  girls report increased anticipated political involvement. Wolbrecht I read about the role-model effect.  The research posits:  “does the presence of female  political role models inspire interest in political activism among young women?”  

So after Hillary Clinton’s near-successful bid for the Democratic nomination for president, I thought young women, like the student who visited me would be more hopeful than ever that there would be a woman president in our lifetime.  This leads me to my next project.  I’ll be conducting a poll of college age girls and asking them whether Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency made them believe that there would be a woman president in their lifetime.    

Stay tuned for results later this summer.  



“Speak Up and Speak Well!” Speaking takes a lifetime commitment

This past week classes ended and in each public speaking class I gave my “please make this class last the rest of your life” speech.  Most students look at me a little funny when I say that because for many of them the last class is a day of celebration. Many of them are thinking:  “Yay!  All done with this one!”  Believe me, the last day of class is a celebration for me, too!    As much as I enjoy teaching, I also take great pleasure in doing many different things and when the semester comes to a close I always have a long list of things I want to accomplish outside of the classroom.   But the directive to extend the class is my way of  reminding  students that public speaking training really never ends.  Mark Twain said, “All good public speakers were once bad public speakers” and though I don’t agree completely (some people are pretty good speakers as soon as they begin talking, I’ve noticed)  I agree with the idea that practice makes everyone a better public speaker.   Keep doing it, I say to the students (and I’m telling you, too).  Each time you  stand up to speak you are improving your skills.  It is a lot like exercise:  the more you do, the more fit you become and the better able you will be to exercise and feel fit longer.

If you are a professor of speech, a student of communication or a practitioner of public speaking, you will want to become a member of the Pennsylvania Communication Association.  Every year for the past seventy years, PCA  (formerly SCAP) has held a convention and has published a journal, The Annual.  This year the PCA convention will be held October 22-24 at East Stroudsburg University.  There will be plenty of panels on a wide variety of communication topics.  Check out the website, and plan to submit your paper or panel to an interest group by the end of this month.   It will be a great opportunity for you to stretch your public speaking muscles and become a better public speaker.   You’ll also meet many communication professionals both from the academic world and practitioners who professionally communicate as a main focus of their work.  Joining PCA is another way you can make that entry-level speech class you had in college last for the rest of your life.   It would be great to see you in East Stroudsburg in October.

Remember:  Speak Up and Speak Well!

May 2010
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