Focus Public Speaking

Speak Like a Fish: Courageous, spontaneous and surprising

Speak like a fish and create bubbles of inspiration!Let’s stay with the 20 most popular TED talks, and move to the fifth one on the list, Mary Roach, 10 things you didn’t know about orgasm. At the time of writing this post, the speech has had more than 20,235, 046 views, which is in fact half of the viewing number of the first one on the list, the speech from Sir Ken Robinson.

First, we have a title, a bit of a provocative title.

And humans being humans, this title is bound to create curiosity. It is very clear and simple, 10 things you didn’t know. The speech here is not so much about giving us an idea, or a call to action, but about sharing with us 10 things the speaker is convinced we do not know. We can question the decision to write the title in the past, versus the present. The past tense pre-supposed I already know that information, and if I already know about the information, why should I watch the talk? In fact the title is fast tracking to when I will have already watch the talk. A title with present tense will keep us in the moment, just right now, at the time we watch the talk.

Then, we have the speaker, and her delivery style.

She appears nervous and the opposite of grounded. She keeps moving back and forth, at times loosing connection with the audience. She uses one arm regularly, while the other one remains fixed onto her hip. She has a smooth rhythm of voice, and pauses at times though sometimes feels slightly out-of-breath. This out-of-breath effect is probably coming from the pacing back and forth, which does impact breathing regularity and therefore speech (remember you speak when we exhale).

Next, the content, and it is very simply organised around the 10 things we do not know.

We have a clear structure, linear; and the slide sets is very simple as well, linear. She moves from one fact to the next one, without labeling them 1, 2, making the full talk a single story. She is factual, each fact illustrated with research data or stories. When we looked at content versus timing, we can pick up a few interesting elements (and in italic comments on their impact):

1 – Introduction: this is actually the first fact. There is technically no introduction to the subject, and the speaker starts with “filler words/sentences” – “all right” “I’m going to show you”.

Maybe the host gave a really good introduction and therefore the speaker could directly goes onto the subject, however this robs the online listener of something to bring her/him into the moment. The “filler words” are more for the speaker than for us, the audience. As an audience, I do not need to hear “I am going to show you”, I just want to be shown, and have the picture/information explained.)

2 – @1 minutes 22: we move to fact 2, without any clear cut with the first fact, this makes the transition very smooth like a story; and the speaker starts to use many stories, making the information interesting and diverse. She is using jokes, she clearly likes her subject, she clearly have a sense of humour, and she wants to share that with us, for instance @2minutes 36 where she pauses after her joke. She has a very natural way in expressing herself, and the speech feels like a spontaneous improvisation, which is relaxing.

The story like smoothness with closed to invisible transition is nice, however it may not help the audience to take into account what are the 10 things. In case the audience is actually visually impaired or using only podcast, they are most likely to miss something. Visuals are to support the speech, at no times visual should replace the speech. She pauses nicely in her speech when she makes a joke, however the nervousness created by a back and forth movement is taking part of the effect away; especially the fact she lower her eyes often, lower her head, disconnecting with the audience.

3 – @3 minutes 49, she moves onto the next fact; while doing so she looks behind her for a second or 2 to check on the slide set. She also introduces general information on a subject, like the notion of reflex.

Though very short, a rule of thumb is to never turn your back/head to an audience (unless it is needed to create a special effect). This is probably another sign of nervousness, since she is supposed to have the same information on the monitor in front of her.

4 – @5 minutes 39: fact 4. We are moving away from research, more into subject history.

5 – @6 minutes 25: fact 5. She is backing fully turning her back onto the audience to check her slides. And she does the same thing @7 minutes 16, with the fact 6. In between she bring more filler words/sentences like “I love this article” “I love that”. These two last facts are more presented like historical data, or specific occasions. She does that more around 7 minutes 21 “which I thought was interesting”.

There is this very nice intent to be humouristic and bring us in. These filler sentences could have been replaced with hypnotic linguistics patterns which will give us, the audience, higher flexibility to engage with the jokes. Also on these two facts, I am a bit left hanging as a listener, am I supposed to do something with these? Are these really something to know?

6 – @12 minutes 31, fact number 8 which is actually still the same as fact 6, 7, and 8.

You’re right, she never calls them fact, and this is my interpretation as a listener. Am I here experiencing effects of a mismatch between expectation –by reading the title- and experience –by listening to the speech?

There is a good reason behind my chosen title, Courageous, spontaneous and surprising; this is a bold and provocative subject, which is still unwelcome in some circles. And to be honest, at the end of viewing the speech, I feel cheated.

I am expecting something new and bold. I have instead  something kind of already known, still wrapped in its traditional box –that is the delivery and nervousness usually associated with the subject. It feels as if the speaker is stopping on the edge of boldness, fun , humour, and ground breaking evolution of societies… maybe starting by naming the elephant in the room, with a very sharp and witty introduction, would have actually free the speaker to be more than courageous, and instead brave and bold. I can’t help having that question bubbling in my head: what is the speaker intention with her speech? (if needed, take a moment to review our post When the content loses the thread.)

If you have done that exercise on your side, please use the comments section to share your thoughts. Of course you have come up with different details, different impressions, picked-up on other elements. That’s okay. 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 –however here she does not always keep that connection up; the speaker sparks an emotional reaction at the audience –however it’s not clear what type of emotions; the speaker uses factual information.

See you tomorrow with our next episode “Ten tips for  speakers”.

You like our blog series, Speak like a Fish, exploring public speaking in 21 days. Join us then early 2017 and discover our upcoming eBook Speak like a Fish, 30 days to crack the aquarium.

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