Guest blogger: Below is an excerpt from Will Ozbun’s blog as part of the DC Summer Institute on Leadership and Community Engagement. He agreed to have the blog re-posted for other students to enjoy.
On Monday June 4th I joined my friend Dana at the Italian Embassy to celebrate the 66th anniversary of the Italian Republic. It was a wonderful party with great food, distinguished guests, and a stately atmosphere. But the elegance and the splendor of this event was not what inspired me to write this piece. Instead, I was instantly captivated by the pose and expressiveness of the guests. From the ambassador’s charismatic speech to veterans recounting stories, diplomats exchanging compliments and good wishes, the entire night seemed more like a contest of eloquence than an official state ceremony. That night at the embassy I realized one thing above everything else: the amazing power of speech.
Speech is not only simply the way humans communicate through voice. Speeches are strong weapons that can be used to inspire, persuade, excite. A great leader is definitively someone who is able to inspire others not only through actions, but also through the power of speech. Speech has definitively changed the course of history in the past, by lifting spirits, thrilling crowds, giving hope. History and popular culture are crammed with such speeches: Winston Churchill’s “We shall fight them on the beaches,” Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death,” and Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream,” which lead to the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. It is no surprise that some of the world’s greatest leader’s were also very competent orators.
But how does one become a good public speaker? Is it an innate characteristics or can the skills be acquired through exercise? Experts disagree on a perfect formula for success, but most concur that a series of traits and approaches will help even the most novice spokesperson mature into a fledgling Cicero. In my opinion, first and most importantly, a great speaker is a confident speaker. It’s vital to be knowledgeable and assertive to convince the listeners that you know what you are talking about. To quote Napoleon Hill, 1937 author of Think and Grow Rich: “Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” A great speaker is also persuasive; he or she is not successful just by uttering words and phrases. The speaker must make a difference by linking language to emotions and strong feelings. No one enjoys listening to a monotonous, dull or repetitive speech, so an effective speaker should try to have the right tone, use creativity and vision to inspire others to listen and participate.
And my personal favorite: a great speaker is adaptable. Now you will probably be thinking—this advice makes a lot of sense, but how do I apply the theory? Practice. Recite speeches in front of friends and family or really anyone who can provide constructive criticism. Ask your closest friends to observe how you interact with others that you know less well, and have them provide you with advice on what to do and what to avoid. Did I talk too much or try to dominate the conversation? Did my mannerisms and choice of words annoy or delight my listeners? And if you feel this is not enough take the Public Speaking class! At least you won’t have to worry about fulfilling your GER 6.