Focus Public Speaking

Speak Like a Fish: Structure, idea and connection with the audience

Speak like a fish and create bubbles of inspiration!For our review today, another of my favourite talks, Amy Cuddy, Your body shapes who you are. At the times of publishing this post, more than 37,282,079 people viewed the speech. I have been using this speech in training over and over to assist people in understanding the role of their body and their posture in boosting their confidence, and I am sure many of you are familiar with its content. As we did yesterday, let’s leave that aside for a moment, and rewind to the first time you or I watched that talk.

First, the title “Your body shapes who you are”.

No doubt, the idea is there,  and since we all have a body, we all are to concerned. The title is given as a statement, we have no choice:  we are either interested in knowing more or already bored with the idea. However, “who are we” “who am I” being a recurrent question for most of us… we are most likely to be hooked just with the promises of the title.

Then, the delivery style of the speaker.

She is clearly nervous. She is pacing back and forth more than needed. She stands a bit rounded at the shoulders. She uses her hands a lot, at times purposely to make a point or give an example, at other times out of habit to calm herself down. She speaks relatively fast without any real break or pause, still she remains easy to follow, just not that relaxing, and as a listener we may have to go back to the speech to integrate all given information. Interestingly, as the speech goes along and we are reaching the end, the speaker style, especially her nervousness, adds a positive note, since it complements one of her statements.

What about the content?

The structure is very simple and classic: an introduction, a main body -split into two sections, and a conclusion. The speaker uses visuals which are funny at times and support her arguments. When we looked at content versus timing, we can pick-up a few interesting elements (and in italic comments on their impact):

1 – Introduction and the first section of the main body: this is about 10 minutes, where background information on body language is presented and the traditional accepted facts about body language. The speaker also introduces vocabulary which will be used through the speech, e.g. notion of power poses.

This established a common ground for the current discussion, we all have the same base knowledge now. It also brings credibility.

2 – Reaching 9 minutes, we have a slight “off track” point; out of nowhere the speaker moves briefly to the notion of gender gap, then forgets it as we go back to body language itself with more background information being presented.

It would be great to know the intention of the speaker there, to understand how this could have been presented in another way and remain aligned with the main thread “Your body shapes who you are”. For instance, by using a question instead, it would have been easy to make a short link to culturally defined positions depending on gender, and then come back to that point later on in terms of cultural defined position shaping who we are.

3 – @10 minutes: we move into the research really linked to the idea “Can body language influence who we are” versus the traditional established fact “body language influences how people see us”.

Presentation of research data gives a very strong foundation and therefore high credibility, still presented in an easy-to-follow way.

4 – @12 minutes 30: a question “Can we go further?”, “now that we know our body change our mind, could we change our life with that information?”; the speaker is now giving the true idea, which is the application of the research she is presenting. This is really the point that matters.

We have now the real idea, the message the author wants us to keep with us.

5 – @15 minutes 15: the speaker emphasizes on the key point: “your body (body language) changes your mind. Fake it till you make it. Use those power poses”. For the next 4 minutes, she moves onto a personal story to illustrate the “Fake it till you make it” and her own journey in doing it.

Here we end up with actually two ideas Your body shapes who you are fake it till you make it; and since there are many ways to fake it till you make it, this section seems a bit of a digression. Did she use her own finding to achieve it? How does the story complement the information given? I have mixed impression here -in the context of that speech, this section makes it stronger, I can see how the audience will connect by identifying to some of their challenges or to what she is doing live at the same times I did disconnect for a few minutes; simple fact, it’s harder to keep connecting with something I will never experience.

6 – @19 minutes 30: the speaker wraps-up “practice your power poses for 2 minutes” “share it”. She moves to a directive mode “go and do that”.

By becoming herself, and really excited by her own idea Share it, the speaker does convey strong emotions to the audience. We can feel she is living her idea from the inside, and our automatic empathic reaction is more likely to be engaged.

So much is about connecting with the audience in the moment. The start of the speech is very clever. The speaker gives an exercise to the audience, by doing so she actually takes “control” of the audience; and still keep their curiosity engaged.

When we talk about “taking control of the audience”, it’s always from the perspective of something called “rapport”.  Rapport will be defined as a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other’s feelings or ideas and communicate well. Techniques to build rapport will include items such as pacing and leading. With that first exercise, the author take a lead. At the same she does not tell them why or what they are doing; she leaves something open. This creates curiosity at the audience, who will keep listening until they have the end of the story. Here we actually won’t, and this is another clever trick, inspired from story telling.

We analysed two speeches so far. Very clearly we have two very different type and style of talks, still both works and both are in the TED talks top 20.

The difference found in the title, the question versus a statement, is actually reflected in the style of the speaker. Sir Ken Robinson plays with the approach “What do you think” asking for ideas and energy to change education; while Amy Cuddy using a fact, chooses the “Go and share” approach with that strong sentence “Share the news, this can change people’s life”.

If you have done that exercise on your side, please use the comments section to share your thoughts. You will have come up with different details, different impressions, picked-up on other elements. That’s great. Each listener brings their own sensibility in such analysis exercise.

Still common elements will be there:  the speaker does connect with the audience and creates curiosity; the speaker sparks an emotional reaction at the audience; the speaker uses factual information.

What would you add?

See you tomorrow for our next episode, an exploration into another excellent speech, this time Simon Sinek and his talk How great leaders inspire action. 

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