Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Speaking From The Heart When Your Heart Isn't In It

I was elated. For the past several months, I had lived and breathed all of the details and discussed them as much as I could.  The chronology, the statistics, the impact: I knew it all inside and out.  After nervously watching the clock tick down the seconds until go-time, I finally snatched at the sacred slip of paper with shaking hands and hesitantly turned it over.  When I was greeted with the words “Benghazi: sideshow or scandal?,” I was on cloud nine; if there was one domestic question I wanted, it was this.  During the 37 minutes that followed, I constructed and delivered the most intensely passionate, and subsequently the best extemp speech I have ever given.  
If the euphoria hadn’t quite worn off by the time the next round rolled around, it certainly did when I excitedly flipped over my next set of questions.  The future of plug-in electric cars held absolutely no interest for this politics junkie; I knew even before I started sorting through articles that my speech was going to be an absolute bore. 

After all, passion produces picket fences, as my Benghazi speech showed me.  For thousands of years, orators have considered passion an integral component to successful speaking; Aristotle even considered it to be one of the three keys of persuasion.  It is easy to be passionate about something you love; where your interest lies, there a drive will be born.   The fact of the matter is in order to succeed as a speaker, you have to have speak from your heart. Your engagement in the topic carries over to the audience, drawing them into your speech.  When you are captivated by a topic, others will want to know why and will pay close attention as a result.  However, when you are uninterested in the topic of your speech, it can be almost impossible to find that authenticity.   
Here are five tips on how to deliver an energetic, heartfelt speech even on the most tedious topics:

1. Make it matter 
One of the main reasons that speeches that lack passion generally fall flat and earn poor rankings is because they aren’t memorable. If your speech doesn’t matter to you, it won’t matter to the judge, they will have no reason to remember it.  When they are sitting the judge’s lounge filling out their ballots, your judges will be probably rank speeches they connected to highest.  
How do you draw judges into your speech when you yourself are uninterested in the topic?  Start by finding the impacts of the topic.  Why does tax reform matter to average Americans?  How does an over-reliance on gasoline affect the people on your street? By connecting privacy to the bullying of innocent school children, you have given the judge a reason to care.  Drawing on the hypothetical consequences will give you something to be passionate about and will make your speech memorable.

2. Be personal 
In order to deliver a heartfelt speech on less-than-intriguing topics, try adding personal stories or anecdotes.  After struggling to connect with judges, I began to give personal introductions or examples throughout my speech; you would be amazed at how my speaking style changed.  Sharing about yourself allows the judges to connect with you and gives them something to remember.  Being personal breaks up the monotony of an uninteresting topic, allowing you to show energy and excitement that otherwise would not come out.

3. Use analogies and illustrations 
Another way to generate enthusiasm both in yourself and in your audience is to use analogies or other illustrations.  For the most part, it isn’t the content of your speeches that will win you tournaments; it is the way you deliver them.  Humorous word pictures will give you a chance to express yourself naturally and establish a connection with the judges even when no one is enjoying the topic. For example, I remember watching a debate round on trade policy with Russia, which I did not find a particularly engaging.  However, because the debaters started their speeches with jokes and anecdotes, I enjoyed the round and had a reason to pay attention.  Using analogies and illustrations allow you to connect with the audience and give them a reason to listen to what you are saying.

4. Draw the judge into the speech
I suppose I have used the word “connect” much too frequently in this article, but that is because I cannot emphasize enough how important it is.  The simple fact of the matter is that speeches that don’t resonate with you are boring.  If you don’t have any fascination with hard monetary policy, having a debate resolution on quantitative easing could feel like a death blow.  The reason you would find the year a snoozer would be because the topic doesn’t connect to you.  In the same way, you run the risk of putting the judges to sleep if you don’t find a way to draw them into your speech.  

One of the best ways to make the topic relatable and prevent boredom is to take time to explain how the topic will or could affect the judge.  Tell them why quantitative easing isn’t simply an abstract fiscal concept but rather has pertinence to their lives.  Another way to connect with judges is to speak conversationally, making them feel that you are sharing enlightening news with them rather than reciting heady facts. 

5. Don’t let your boredom come through
Most importantly, though, don’t ever let your audience know that you are uninterested or bored.  This is a sure way to lose the attention of your judges and lose their ballots.  Vary your delivery and facial expressions, look for ways to connect with the judges and act interested.  Do your best to make the speech engaging even when you find the topic tedious.

Following the above tips certainly won’t give you a passion for a topic you previously were put to sleep by; however, they will help you to deliver a heartfelt, authentic and genuinely passionate speech every time, regardless of your opinions on the topic. 

Katie is a 17-year-old from Placentia, CA. She loves reading the classics, discussing philosophy and playing the organ; she aspires to enter journalism.  She has won Mars Hill Impromptu and took second in Impromptu at Concordia, won Extemp at the Inland Club Challenge, placed second in Apologetics at the Sonoma County Classic and finished third in Original Oratory at the Point Loma Classic. This year she ranked 15th in the nation in both Speech and Debate and 7th in speech alone. 

2 Responses so far.

  1. Well said! Thank you for this article, Katie! :)

  2. Great job, Katie. I really love your take on this topic.

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