Guest Posting: What’s Your Rate of Speech? by Kate Peters

Kate Peters is the Founder and President of Vocal Impact, Inc. a network of communication impact professionals dedicated to guiding and inspiring leaders to be real and relevant heroes in their own stories and the stories of their organizations or causes; heroes who transform hearts and minds, and create solutions for a vibrant and peaceful world, every day. Read her full bio here.

Kate PetersLanguages spoken in Southern India are among the world’s fastest languages. In fact the native speakers of one of those languages,Tamil, speak faster with each other than the native speakers of any other language. They also tend to speak English faster than native English speakers. The world record for the fastest talking woman is held by Fran Cohen, a New Yorker, who can talk at about 600 words per minute. Go ahead and listen to her telling the story of The Three Little Pigs, and you may get a feeling for what Tamil native speakers speaking English sound like to other English speakers.

In the US, researchers have found that the rate of speech varies from state to state, with the fastest talkers in the state of Oregon, while the slowest are in Mississippi. The rate of speech in the US is picking up, but it is unlikely ever to be as fast as Tamil.

How fast is fast? Native speakers of English tend to speak from 140-165 words per minute. Auctioneers speak 250 words per minute. As you may have noticed if you have ever been to an auction, native English speakers have a hard time hearing what’s said by an auctioneer, and by anyone when the rate is faster than 180 wpm. However, most 8th graders in the US are now expected to read 150 wpm by the winter of their school year.

If you think you might be vying for Fran’s position or if you are from South India and your communication impact is suffering because you speak fast (and you don’t want to set a record) you can find out how to pace your voice just right by reading my post, Are you talking too fast?

Bookmark and Share

Trevor Noah on the language of Donald Trump

Trevor NoahIn a wide-ranging interview on Fresh Air, late night TV host Trevor Noah comments on the appeal of Donald Trump, specifically the language he uses. This is worth quoting at length since it confirms what Bob Lehrman writes about, Kate Peters advises, and I’ve observed about Trump’s rhetoric:

I came to realize the power and the importance of language.

It’s more than just language and the way we perceive it. If you look at this election, I feel like Donald Trump was speaking a different language to Hillary Clinton. Y’know it’s not dissimilar to what we saw in South Africa with our president Jacob Zuma.

I remember sitting with people laughing when they would watch the debates, and they’d go “This guys a buffoon. Oh man, he has such a low word count, he’s got the grammar of a five-year-old, the vocabulary of a toddler.” And I said, “Yeah, but do you know how many people find that appealing right now? He’s up there and everyone understands what he’s saying.” Like: “Can you imagine this guy as a President?”

And I said, “Yeah, but think of how many people who, for the first time, are listening to a Presidential candidate and understanding every single quote and policy that he puts forward?” And sometimes that’s a thing that, I will call the elites, not even liberal elites, just people who are educated, forget sometimes.

Communication is more important than your grasp of language.

Can you communicate effectively as a person?
You’ve got to be careful in deciding what your intention is. Are you using language as a flourish or are you trying to communicate effectively as possible with another human being? And that’s what Donald Trump, in my opinion, did very, very well.

Truth is: Trump’s communication style resonates with many Americans.

Bookmark and Share

Acts 2:19

I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. – Acts 2:19

While I’m not a superstitious type I looked out of my window as the sun rose this morning and, lo, to the east their appeared a wondrous sight:

Sky Smoke

I’m no prophet…but a thought did occur to me:

Trump Smoke

However, this Thursday I’ll be gathering with friends and family to give thanks for what Is, not what might be:

They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts… Acts 2:46

Bookmark and Share

Public Speaking for Fun and Profit

While there are many Toastmasters and National Speakers Association members who speak for fun and profit, none can touch the stellar earnings that retired (but not retiring) politicians can rake in at the podium.

As I reported back in 2008, ex-President Clinton (well, I suppose there’s still only one, so no need to clarify like there is with the confusing Bush, Snr and Bush, Jnr) earned beaucoup bucks from the podium.

Now the UK Independent newspaper is shocked, shocked! to hear that ex-PM Cameron (no need to clarify, unlike Pitt the Elder and Pitt the Younger) earns £2,000 per minute speaking about the defining issue of his premiership: the Brexit vote. They note that

While Prime Minister, Mr Cameron earnt £143,462 per year, the standard salary for the role.

Now he’s no longer forced to slum it in Number 10 he can jet around the world in Tony Blair’s footsteps, who knows how to earn a few bob post-Westminster.

Of course, career politicians of this ilk can cash in giving an hour speech here and there, while lesser ones must make money the old fashioned way, as lobbyists and board members.

David Cameron Speaks

Bookmark and Share

She said / He said …

As the dust settles on the recent US election it’s fascinating to read the draft acceptance speeches that were penned by Democratic pundit Bob Lehrman and Republican Aram Bakshian. Bob was Al Gore’s speechwriter and Aram used to write for President Reagan.

Note that these speeches were written 36 hours before the results were known and are ‘what if’ exercises by two professional writers asked to imagine what kind of victory speech Clinton and Trump should give.

Of course, we now know which candidate actually delivered a victory speech in the early hours of November 9th. But both of these drafts are great examples two masters of the art of craft of speechwriting worthy of study.

The Hillary Clinton Victory Speech

Hillary Clinton by Andy FriedmanBob writes a speech that Hillary would have delivered if things had turned out differently. She opens with a subtle nod to the glass ceiling the first woman to become President would have broken. She covers the thanks she would have expressed to her husband; to Obama who had broken the racial barrier that previously kept black men out of the Oval Office (save the slave laborers who helped build it); to her supporters. She does not pull punches in criticizing Donald Trump for debasing the tone of political debate (in a country we now know was base enough to value each midnight tweet, every ‘ugly insult’). She reaches across the divide to embrace the ‘deplorables’ she’d previously dismissed (who we now know did not forgive that blunder, no more than they previously forgave Romney).

Bob employs many of the techniques he explains in his excellent book The Political Speechwriters Companion.

It’s instructive to compare with the victory speech President Obama gave back in 2008.

However, as we all know, this speech, or the version of it that Hillary’s own speechwriters had drafted, was not delivered. Both, together with the candidate, have been consigned to the dustbin of history.

Instead we heard…

The Donald Trump Victory Speech

Donald Trump by Andy FriedmanAram writes a speech that deserves to be read in parallel with the one President-elect Trump actually delivered. What’s immediately apparent is that there are certain required elements in these speeches that any candidate, even one as contrarian as President-elect Trump, must touch on. Thus, thanking your opponent and your supporters; calling for unity; avoiding going off-script … OK scratch that. It’s obvious that Aram’s draft is entirely too coherent for the unique style of this winning candidate. Contrast the measured repetition of

The best trade negotiators…
The best resources for law enforcement…
…the best judges…

with the randomness of

And Lara, unbelievable job, unbelievable.
Rudy Giuliana. Unbelievable, unbelievable. He traveled with us…
Governor Chris Christie, folks, was unbelievable.

Speechwriters are often judged on how well they capture the ‘voice’ of the speaker. I’d venture to suggest that no speechwriter can truly capture The Donald’s voice. However, Aram fails to even include the word ‘beautiful’ which his candidate used frequently during the campaign and again on election night:

Tremendous potential. I’ve gotten to know our country so well — tremendous potential. It’s going to be a beautiful thing.
We’re going to dream of things for our country and beautiful things and successful things once again.
…if Secretariat came in second, Secretariat would not have that big, beautiful bronze bust at the track at Belmont.

He also severely underestimates the use of the all-purpose adjective ‘great’ which he used only three times in the whole speech, whereas it appears that many times in a couple of short sentences:

We’ll have great relationships. We expect to have great, great relationships. No dream is too big, no challenge is too great.

That said he does include the campaign slogan ‘make America great’ which the actual speech omitted.

The differences in the speech prepared by the Bush-era professional and that delivered by the President-elect are highlighted by comparing the visual representations below:

As scripted

Aram Bakshian Draft Wordle

Click to enlarge – Image by Wordle.

As delivered

Trump Victory Speech Wordle

Click to enlarge – Image by Wordle.

Indeed, applying Lehrman’s recommendation, Word returns an 8th grade Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score (a 13-year-old level of understanding) for Aram’s draft, while Trump delivered a speech at was scored at a 4th grade, or typical 9-year-old’s, level of understanding. ‘Nuff said!

I find it fascinating that as a candidate Donald Trump broke so many of the rules of politics, including the speechwriting nostrums in Bob Lehrman’s book, and in so doing destroyed the hopes and ambitions of political professionals of both parties. Perhaps this bears out the truth H.L. Mencken’s trenchant observation.

Hey, it’s all part of the rich tapestry of life in the good ole’ US of A.

Bookmark and Share

The Next Hot Job in Silicon Valley Is Speechwriting

OZY Cover

An interesting post in OZY explains why the next hot job in Silicon Valley is speechwriting.

Leslie Nguyen-Okwu does a great job interviewing David Murray, head of the Professional Speechwriters Association, who comments that

When twentysomethings get “spit out of the administration after working 23 hours a day and [making] shit money,” they’re “interested in working for people who are looking forward and involved in the future.”

She also quotes the views of Google’s Matt Teper.

The claim is that “freelance speechwriters in Silicon Valley get paid more handsomely at $200,000, and in-house speechwriters like O’Conner and Teper can make even higher” which is good news for those at the top of their game with a White House pedigrees. Others might find the rewards are less handsome.

Bookmark and Share

I read the news today, oh boy…

I read the news today, oh boy
About a lucky man who made the grade
And though the news was rather sad
Well, I just had to laugh.
— The Beatles, A Day In The Life

I’ve made a decision to avoid reading the news for the rest of 2016. This might strike some as an eccentric, even foolhardy, decision. After all, things are happening in the world: a Presidential election is underway in the USA, Brexit in the UK, conflicts in Syria, refugees in the Med.

The News book coverI’m inspired by reading the provocative book The News: A Users Manual, by Alain de Botton which suggests a number of reasons to treat the ‘news’ with caution. In a trenchant analysis of the news de Botton not only takes issue with the selectivity and bias of the news in the usual way of political critique from various quarters, he raises fundamental questions about the philosophical underpinnings of the activity of reporting and editorial control:

The news may present itself as the authoritative portraitist of reality. It may claim to have an answer to the impossible question of what has really been going on, but it has no overarching ability to transcribe reality. It merely selectively *fashions* reality through the choices it makes about which stories to cast its spotlight on and which ones to leave out.

The news knows how to render its own mechanisms almost invisible and therefore hard to question. It speaks to us in a natural unaccented voice, without reference to its own assumption-laden perspective. it fails to disclose that it does not merely *report* on the world, but is instead constantly at work crafting a new planet in our minds in line with its own highly distinctive priorities.

As important as the stories the news covers, claims de Botton, are those stories that are not considered ‘newsworthy’:

…the cloud floating right now unattended over the church spire, the gentle thought in the doctor’s mind as he approaches the patient’s bare arm with a needle, the field mice by the hedgerow, the small child tapping the surface of a newly hard-bolied egg while her mother looks on lovingly, the nuclear submarine patrolling the maritime borders with efficiency and courage, the factory producing the first prototypes of a new kind of engine and the spouse who, despite extraordinary provocations and unkind words, discovers fresh reserves of patience and forgiveness.

So as an experiment I’ll be cancelling my FT subscription, avoiding the TV, unplugging from social media and turning off radio bulletins. I’m not completely alone in this, as I’ve discovered others who have made the same decision, some many years ago. Instead of reading and watching the news, I’ll be paying more attention to the ebb and flow of the tides, phases of the moon and birdsong.

I hope to fill the evening hours considering the Dharma, perhaps reading Proust for the first time, or tackling an epic like the Mahabharata or The Bible.

I might blog as the experiment unfolds, but you won’t find me on social media as I ease into the experience of this fast from the headlines de Botton has enjoyed:

We need relief from the news-filled impression that we are living in an age of unparalleled importance, with our wars, our debts, our riots, our missing children, our after-premier parties, our IPOs and our rogue missiles. We need, on occasion, to be able to rise up into the space of our imagination, many kilometers above the mantel of the earth, to a place where that particular conference and this particular epidemic, that new phone and this shocking wildfire, will lose a little of their power to affect us — and where even the most intractable problems will seem to dissolve against the aeons of time to which the view of other galaxies attests.

Bookmark and Share

A conversation with Bob Lehrman

On Thursday September 1, members of the Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable hosted a conference call with with renowned author, speechwriter and professor Bob Lehrman.

Bob LehrmanRobert A. Lehrman served as Chief Speechwriter to Vice President Al Gore and, in 2004, as Chief Speechwriter for the Democratic National Committee during his more than three decades of experience writing speeches. His 2009 book, ‘The Political Speechwriters Companion‘ is one of the best books I’ve ever read on speechwriting, period. He’s an editor of the new book ‘Democratic Orators from JFK to Barack Obama‘ (Palgrave/Macmillan 2016) and authored the chapters on the oratory of J.F.K. and Barack Obama.

Bob has written for political figures, celebrities, heads of nonprofits, and corporate CEOs. He created and co-teaches the political speechwriting course at American University, speaks often at other campuses, conferences, and associations, on the topic of political speechwriting, and has conducted four workshops in Hanoi for Vietnamese diplomats. Author of a number of award-winning novels, and many articles for publications like The New York Times, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, and Politico, Bob has a B.A. from Tufts University and an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he studied with Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Yates.

I was going to summarize the topics we discussed on the call, but Rob Cottingham did a great job capturing this in an awesome Sketchnote:


(Click to enlarge)

To listen to the first half hour of the call, click on the podcast icon below.

Bookmark and Share

NSA September Event: Make Your PowerPoint Slides Sizzle

Mike RobertsonThe Northern California Chapter of the National Speakers Association (NSA/NC) welcomes Mike Robertson to the Bay Area on Saturday September 10.

Mike is an author, gifted storyteller, and has more than 20 years of graphic design experience. He views his PowerPoint presentations as works of art, designed to entertain, inspire and dazzle audiences through his humor, insight and artistic approach to the visuals which accompany his words.

In his opinion, blaming PowerPoint for boring slides is like blaming the paintbrush for a lousy painting. His workshop will give you dozens of ways to transform your own slides into works of art that will delight your audiences and help them retain your information much longer.

Here’s a couple of examples of his work showing the ‘before’ and ‘after’ versions of slides.

Mike Robertson PPT Design
Mike Robertson PPT Design

The event is being held at the Sofitel San Francisco Bay, 223 Twin Dolphin Drive, Redwood City, CA 94065.

Click here to register.

Bookmark and Share

128 Words to Use Instead of ‘Very’

Thanks to Luke at Proofreading Services for creating this very interesting (OK, OK, captivating) infographic:

128 Words to Use instead of Very

Click here for full-sized view.

Bookmark and Share