Pacing Yourself on the Podium

By Peter Jeff
The Leadership Mints Guy

Here’s an idea to take more command over your public speaking skills. Reading time: 5:34

          Speak very s-l-o-w-l-y and people will listen more attentively to you, observes actor Kirk Douglas who suffered a stroke in his 80s that forced his slower paced speech.

Kirk Douglas starred in the movie Spartacus
Kirk Douglas starred in the 1960 movie Spartacus

          The most effective leaders know that pacing intensifies listening in much the same way classical music paces progressively to a crescendo. Martin Luther King Jr. brilliantly paced his “I Have a Dream” speech. He started at 90 words a minute (well below conversational pace of 140 words a minute). Then he concluded at a passionate 150 words per minute.

        Radio commentator Walter Winchell commanded attention with his staccato paced news delivery, gushing at twice the normal rate of speech —more than 237 words a minute—often without a breath for 20 seconds.

       The staccato voice of a passionate speaker can then be heard even faster, almost as fast as the violinist who plays 2,528 consecutive sixteenth notes for 158 measures in Ravel’s Sonata for violin.

       Whew! Meanwhile radio commentator Paul Harvey was famous for his ever-changing syncopated delivery peppered with pregnant pauses and abrupt topic changes that attracted millions of listeners for more than 50 years on ABC Radio.

     Silence Can Be Deafening

      Paul Harvey leveraged the power of the pregnant pause: “GOOD…..DAY.” The silent interval can be deafening.

      The pause heightens interest in the words to follow. With the pregnant pause, you can surprise your audience much like the long pause in composer Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 94. In the 16th measure of the second movement, there is only one sound, a single loud chord that SURPRISES the audience and gives it its namesake, The Surprise Symphony.

         Pull a Haydn. Surprise your audience. With the pacing of your voice. From staccato. To silence. To surprise.  That’s what the most effective leaders do from the podium.

           Let’s study the deliberate pacing of three famous speakers: Martin Luther King Jr., President John Kennedy and President Barack Obama. Continue reading “Pacing Yourself on the Podium”

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Part V – Obama’s Inaugural Spice: PACING

By Peter Jeff
The Leadership Mints Guy

This is the last in a Series of 5 posts
on Rhetorical Tips and Techniques
that President Obama could have used
to make his Second Inaugural Address
more memorable.

          roller coasterwinePacing is a speech writing tip that President Obama could have used to make sure his worldwide audience would savor the verbal champagne he poured from the podium  long after it was consumed on Inauguration Day . Instead it fell flat.

      Click here for a final restructuring of President Obama’s Inaugural Address– in this last of a 5 part series on speech writing tips- to see how the President could have accelerated  the pace of the speech and exhilarated his audience on a roller coaster ride.

      Study that restructured Inaugural speech to see how President Obama could have commanded greater attention and retention of his message in much the same way a symphony orchestra builds to a crescendo. Notice how the use of repetitive phases and short sentences speed the speech to its climactic ending.  Compare  that product of this 5-part series to Obama’s  Original Script.

           Unfortunately, President Obama virtually slow-walked to the finish line in his Second Inaugural. Over the last five minutes The President averaged only 118 words-per-minute with a high of 143 (vs. 106 words-per-minute with a high of 116 over the first five minutes.)

          Compare that flat performance to his  2007 speech to the NCAAP or  his 2008 victory speech following the Virginia Primary or his 2008 Election Night speech.

         In 2007, over the last five minutes of his NAACP speech, Barack Obama averaged 146 words-per-minute with a high of 174 (vs. 104 words-per-minute with a high of 116 over the first five minutes.)

In 2008, over the last five minutes of his Virginia Primary Victory speech, Barack Obama averaged 134 words-per-minute with a high of 161 (vs. 110 words-per-minute with a high of 126 over the first five minutes.)

         And on November 4, 2008 in Grant Park, over the last five minutes of his Election Night Victory speech President-Elect Barack Obama averaged 137 words-per-minute with a high of 155  (vs. 105 words per minute with a high of 117 over the first five minutes), albeit  slowed by 63 seconds of applause in that first five minutes vs. 22 seconds of applause in the last five minutes.

           Continue reading “Part V – Obama’s Inaugural Spice: PACING”