By the end of this section, you will be able to:
- Implement various technologies effectively to address an audience, matching the capacities of each to the rhetorical situation.
- Apply conventions of speech delivery, such as voice control, gestures, and posture.
- Identify and show awareness of cultural considerations.
Speaking Genres: Spoken Word, Pulpit, YouTube, Podcast, Social Media
The world today offers many new (and old) delivery methods for script writing. While the traditional presidential address or commencement speech on a stage in front of a crowd of people is unlikely to disappear, newer script delivery methods are now available, including many that involve technology. From YouTube, which allows anyone to upload videos, to podcasts, which provide a platform for anyone, celebrities and noncelebrities alike, to produce a radio-like program, it seems that people are finding new ways to use technology to enhance communication. Free resources such as YouTube Studio and the extension TubeBuddy can be a good starting place to learn to create these types of media.
- Rate of speech refers to how fast or slow you speak. You must speak slowly enough to be understood but not so slowly that you sound unnatural and bore your audience. In addition, you can vary your rate, speeding up or slowing down to increase tension, emphasize a point, or create a dramatic effect.
- Volume refers to how loudly or softly you speak. As with rate, you do not want to be too loud or too soft. Too soft, and your speech will be difficult or impossible to hear, even with amplification; too loud, and it will be distracting or even painful for the audience. Ideally, you should project your voice, speaking from the diaphragm, according to the size and location of the audience and the acoustics of the room. You can also use volume for effect; you might use a softer voice to describe a tender moment between mother and child or a louder voice to emphatically discuss an injustice.
- Pitch refers to how high or low a speaker’s voice is to listeners. A person’s vocal pitch is unique to that person, and unlike the control a speaker has over rate and volume, some physical limitations exist on the extent to which individuals can vary pitch. Although men generally have lower-pitched voices than women, speakers can vary their pitch for emphasis. For example, you probably raise your pitch naturally at the end of a question. Changing pitch can also communicate enthusiasm or indicate transition or closure.
- Articulation refers to how clearly a person produces sounds. Clarity of voice is important in speech; it determines how well your audience understands what you are saying. Poor articulation can hamper the effect of your script and even cause your audience to feel disconnected from both you and your message. In general, articulation during a presentation before an audience tends to be more pronounced and dramatic than everyday communication with individuals or small groups. When presenting a script, avoid slurring and mumbling. While these may be acceptable in informal communication, in presented speech they can obscure your message.
- Fluency refers to the flow of speech. Speaking with fluency is similar to reading with fluency. It’s not about how fast you can speak, but how fluid and meaningful your speech is. While inserting pauses for dramatic effect is perfectly acceptable, these are noticeably different from awkward pauses that result from forgetting a point, losing your place, or becoming distracted. Practicing your speech can greatly reduce fluency issues. A word on verbal fillers, those pesky words or sounds used to fill a gap or fluency glitch: utterances such as um, ah, and like detract from the fluency of your speech, distract the audience from your point, and can even reduce your credibility. Again, practice can help reduce their occurrence, and self-awareness can help you speak with more fluency.
Gestures and Expressions
Eye contact is another form of nonverbal, physical communication that builds community, communicates comfort, and establishes credibility. Eye contact also can help hold an audience’s attention during a speech. It is advisable to begin your speech by establishing eye contact with the audience. One idea is to memorize your opening and closing statements to allow you to maintain consistent eye contact during these important sections of the script and strengthen your connection with the audience.
Although natural engagement through gestures, facial expressions, and eye contact can help an audience relate to a presenter and even help establish community and trust, these actions also can distract audiences from the content of the script if not used purposefully. In general, as with most delivery elements, variation and a happy medium between “too much” and “too little” are key to an effective presentation. Some presenters naturally have more expressive faces, but all people can learn to control and use facial expressions and gestures consciously to become more effective speakers. Practicing your speech in front of a mirror will allow you to monitor, plan, and practice these aspects of physical delivery.
Posture and Movement
- Paralanguage: voiced cultural considerations, including tone, language, and even accent.
- Kinesics: body movements and gestures that may include facial expressions. Often part of a person’s subconscious, kinesics can be interpreted in various ways by members of different cultures. Body language can include posture, facial expressions (smiling or frowning), and even displays of affection.
- Proxemics: interpersonal space that regulates intimacy. Proxemics might indicate how close to an audience a speaker is located, whether the speaker moves around, and even how the speaker greets the audience.
- Chronemics: use of time. Chronemics refers to the duration of a script.
- Appearance: clothing and physical appearance. The presentation of appearance is a subtle form of communication that can indicate the speaker’s identity and can be specific to cultures.
Look at this example from the beginning of the student sample. Stage directions are enclosed in parentheses and bolded.
Several years ago, I sat in the waiting area of a major airport, trying to ignore the constant yapping of a small dog cuddled on the lap of a fellow passenger. An airline rep approached the woman and asked the only two questions allowed by law. (high-pitched voice with a formal tone) “Is that a service animal? (pause) What service does it provide for you?”
(bold, defiant, self-righteous tone) “Yes. It keeps me from having panic attacks,” the woman said defiantly, and the airline employee retreated. (move two steps to the left for emphasis)
Shortly after that, another passenger arrived at the gate. (spoken with authority) She gripped the high, stiff handle on the harness of a Labrador retriever that wore a vest emblazoned with the words “The Seeing Eye.” (speed up speech and dynamic of voice for dramatic effect) Without warning, the smaller dog launched itself from its owner’s lap, snarling and snapping at the guide dog. (move two steps back to indicate transition)
Now it’s your turn. Using the principle illustrated above, create stage directions for your script. Then, practice using them by presenting your script to a peer reviewer, such as a friend, family member, or classmate. Also consider recording yourself practicing your script. Listen to the recording to evaluate it for delivery, fluency, and vocal fillers. Remember that writing is recursive: you can make changes based on what works and what doesn’t after you implement your stage directions. You can even ask your audience for feedback to improve your delivery.
If possible, work with your instructor and classmates to put together a single podcast or a series of podcasts according to the subject areas of the presentations. The purpose of these podcasts should be to invite and encourage other students to get involved in important causes. Work with relevant student organizations on campus to produce and publicize the podcasts for maximum impact. There are many free resources for creating podcasts, including Apple’s GarageBand and Audacity.