Finding the magic to great speaking and writing
So many people are afraid of public speaking, seeing the audience as a potential source of judgment, criticism, ridicule and shaming, rather than as connected to the speaker or as akin to the speaker’s closest friends. Many people write in stilted fashion, reaching constantly for the thesaurus and for intellectualism, rather than finding and writing from their own voice. Granted, we need to polish our first draft of oral or written presentation and advocacy — and the audience will punish the writer or speaker who presents a sloppy, slapdash product, whether or not it is wrapped in glitz and fluff — but the persuasion all unfolds from our own unique voice, rooted in our own history and present situation of feelings and experiences with our six senses.
Speaking and writing from one’s own voice is the only way to be real in communication. Being real is the only way to be honest. Honesty persuades. Candy coating and dishonesty repel and close the eyes and ears of the audience.
Few people are naturally born great speakers and great writers. Key ingredients to being great at speaking and writing is to find a passion and enjoyment for doing so, and to practice, practice, and practice.
Persuasion includes deep listening, to what is said and not said, to what is between the lines, to body language and facial expression, and to one’s intuition. A musician can perform better before an audience than in a recording studio, because the musician can respond to and be invigorated by the energy of the audience, and so can a lawyer or any other speaker before a live audience. On that note, persuasion includes being sensitive to the needs of the audience. Do not bore the audience. Do not unnecessarily offend the audience. Do not speak too slowly or quickly, nor too loudly or softly. Do not invade the audience’s personal space, but do not be too distant, either. Never write nor speak too long; to do so is like overstaying one’s welcome into another’s home. Balance, refine, and retool.
Audiences will listen more closely to and cheer the speaker and writer they like, and will do the opposite with speakers and writers they do not like. Do not kiss the audience’s butts in an effort to be liked. People do not like butt kissers and are not persuaded by them. Be your best real self, listen to and understand the needs and desires of your audience, and respond in kind. Do not try to manipulate; doing so is like cutting off your fingers, slowly, one by one.
Interesting and persuasive writing and talking engages the audience and permeates and infuses the writing or talking with one’s ch’i. The speaker and writer must never talk down to the audience nor to anyone else. The speaker and writer must never think that they are superior to the audience nor that the speaker or writer has better gifts to offer the audience than the audience has. The speaker must never feel that s/he is any more entitled to the speaking podium than anyone else. Furthermore, get rid of the podium altogether. It is just a barrier to the audience. Great speaking and writing should be part of a sharing process.
Interesting and persuasive writing and talking can be informed by good music, including buildup, tension, relief, resolution, crescendos, decrescendos, accents, variations in pace and rhythm, changes in volume, and conversation. Great music can include the oboist conversing musically with the flutist. Even the monologue of writing or of opening and closing argument at trial can include conversational approaches, including posing some questions that might be on the minds of the audience, and answering in a conversational and natural way.
Persuasive writing and talking usually includes storytelling. Storytelling helps transport the speaker and the listeners on a captivating journey back in time to the events being addressed, helping the speaker and listeners to experience the situation in the moment and in word and sound pictures, not only with all five senses, but also with their feelings, their full being, and every cell of their body, as well. All past events involve stories. Rather than recounting events in terms of disconnected, hollow timelines, storytelling brings the events more to life in a way that makes events, names and places easier to conceive of, understand, and recall for the speaker and audience.
Storytelling also protects against aimless speaking and writing and unnecessary repetition, with a good story having a compelling beginning and middle, and often a happy ending, sometimes a happy ending that the jury or judge is empowered to provide.
Persuasive speaking and storytelling involves key theories and themes from which the rest of the arguments and persuasion unfold. A good story is not retold from brute memory, but is told, even performed, in the moment, never told the same way nor with the same words twice, because the speaker, like a river, is ever-changing and growing, always experiencing, envisioning, feeling, and synthesizing new things and ideas, in the moment, each time s/he recounts the story. Great storytelling will captivate the audience so that the listeners do not miss nor get distracted from this sole opportunity to experience the movement, like a river, of the story in this particular way.
Using storytelling in cross examination can disarm the witness, who may himself or herself be captivated by the proceeding story, and can set the witness straight by presenting logical juxtaposition to counter any illogical or exaggerated preceding direct exam testimony. Using storytelling during direct examination empowers the witness to be one with the story, rather than to feel like a fish out of water answering a series of seemingly disjointed questions from the lawyer. For a lawyer’s own witness, let the courthouse walls disappear and the powerfully unblocked testimony begin.
For a lawyer to get the best out of storytelling through direct and cross examination, the lawyer must be comfortable in his or her skin and skills; be fully comfortable and open with the audience, and as trusting as possible in the audience; be satisfied that s/he is thoroughly prepared and has even overprepared; and be comfortable in the moment. If the lawyer wakes up with unease from physical ailments, a cold and drafty room, exhaustion, relationship issues, financial concerns, depression, and the list goes on, the lawyer must not only do what is needed to clear his or her mind and being of such discomfort in the courtroom, but also must engage in developing his or her life, mind, body, spirit, and psychological well being to overcome such discomfort from interfering with giving his or her client full and skilled firepower.
The essence of great speaking and writing starts with dancing, singing, playing, and laughing with abandon, and then refining it for the audience. Great speaking and writing should not be a chore. It should become as effortless as running into the arms of one’s lover, as joyous as bouncing one’s child towards the heavens, and as easy as singing in the shower when nobody else can hear. Great speaking and writing can be a great and fulfilling dance with humans, other beings, and humanity.
To write and speak well, as with all other endeavors and as with life itself, the writer and speaker must give himself or herself permission to be great, without the boundaries of feeling that someone better always is out there. What entitled Jack Kerouac or Gerry Spence — both of whom respectively have written and argued from the deepest of their passion, holding nothing back — to be any better at writing or speaking than you? Nothing