Talk in Action – Interactions, identities and institutions

Research proves that to speak successfully in public, eye contact with audience is crucial.

The contrast is the most common and diverse weapon in a speech.  Contrast is a play on words in which the meaning of words is phrased.  The audience has time to foresee the applause.

Types of contrast:

–       Contradictions – not this but that:  advice is judged by results, not by intentions.  Ronald Regan stated “The house we hope to build is not for my generation but for yours”.

–       Comparisons – more this than that:  Aristotle famously said “I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who overcomes his enemies”.

–       Opposites – black or white:  Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever (Napolean)

–       Phrase reversals – John F. Kennedy’s words “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country’”.

Contrasts are powerfully linked with the audience response.

Lists can also predict when the audience should react.  The most important point about lists is that they negotiate in threes, both in speeches and in normal conversations.  In normal conversations, lists are associated with emphasis.  The receiver hesitates for a speaker to generate the third item of a list, and frequently start to respond on a completed third item even though the speaker may continue the list.

Three-part lists are active in speeches, and combine emphasis and predictability of the response on the third item.  For example Bob Dole 1996 Repulican National Convention said “I can tell you that every family, wage earner and small business in America can do better”.

Lists take several shapes and are more helpful in motivating audiences’ to respond after a short delay prior to when the last item is mentioned or when the last item is longer than the other three.  In both cases, the audience has a little more time to get ready to applause, and the chances are that other members will do the same.

There are four types of lists:

  • Three identical words:  first delivery, second delivery and third delivery (Cicero)
  • Three different words:  I came, I saw, I conquered (Julius Caesar)
  • Three phrases:  Government of the people, by the people, for the people (Abraham Lincoln)
  • Three sentences:  dogs look up to us.  Cats look down on us.  Pigs treat us as equals (Winston Churchill).

Researchers Heritage and Greatbatch announced that approximately 6.5 percent of all applause events at the British conventions were twice as likely to be applauded as unformatted statements (Heritage and Greatbatch 1986:  142).

The puzzle-solution is another speech arrangement.  The speaker awakens the audience by instituting a problem or puzzle.  Then delivering the point as the solution to the puzzle, the speaker stress the point while giving the audience advance warning that an applauded point is coming, so this invites applause at the first point at which the solution starts evolving.  Puzzle-solutions can fix problems and gain solutions to combine humour with a political message, and produce laughter and applause.

Puzzle- solutions are less regular than lists but have higher success rates (Heritage and Greatbatch 1986:  142).

The above systems can send the message.  Combinations can bond puzzles with contrasts.  Not every contrast or list has a positive effect.  Mistakes in the making and implementation of the speech can cause any one of these rhetorical systems to be unsuccessful.  But all is not lost – the audience can have a second chance.

  • First there is the argument structure – most likely against opponents.
  • Second, there is a level at which certain points are made and are rhetoricaly structured to build towards a specific slot.
  • Finally, there is a micro-structural level of inflection, rhythm, timing and gesture which guides the audience towards an exact opening in the talk where response can be initiated.

Great speakers link all these levels to produce a faultless argumentitive structure.

Form and content are equally important in a speech.  Content is needed to allow the audience to applaud, however it is not always enough to make a successful speech.  Form is also required to improve applause as this allows individual audience members to express their support for positions that they feel strongly about.  In summary, the rhetorical formats serve both the interests of speakers and their audiences.  The researchers concluded that speakers want immediate, substantial and enthusiastic bursts of applause in response to their assertions.  Audiences want to show their support for speakers while reducing the risk that they will be clapping alone.  This is a “game of pure coordination”.

Chapter 18: Interaction en Masse: Audiences and Speeches in Heritage, J and Clayman, S 2010 Talk in Action: Interactions, Identities, and Institutions, Wiley-Blackwell, West Sussex, pp. 263-287.

News & Entertainment Interviews

News Interview – Frost Over the World – Julian Assange

How was the interviewee introduced?  Frost introduced Julian formally.  He was introduced briefly as the most talked about man in the world at the moment.  He is the founder of the Wikileaks website which is currently releasing over a quarter of a million confidential information and not necessarily top secret American diplomatic cables.  He is currently in the UK fighting extradition to Sweden on charges of sexual behaviour.

The most important facts were introduced first and then the interview began immediately.

2.    What types of questions were asked?  Frost asked the Why, Who, When, Where, What and How questions.  When Julian started to ramble off, he was steered back to the subject, so as not to waste any time.  The questions were frank and not flowery.

3.    How was the potential for conflict managed?  There was no conflict – it was an objective, logical, intelligent and calm interview.

4.    Was humour evident and how?  Due to the seriousness of the topic, no humour was used.  Frost’s most important job was to keep constituency.  His strategy was to inform the audience with balance, impartial, objective and accurate information.

5.    How did the interview conclude?  The interview ended abruptly.  Frost told Julian that they look forward to talking to him again and thanked him for his time.

Entertainment Interview – BBC:  Parkinson and Ewan McGregor

1.    How was the interviewee introduced?  Parkinson introduced Ewan McGregor as a great celebrity and enlightened the audience of the enormous roles he has played in movies.

2.    What types of questions were asked?  The most relevant questions were asked:

  • Why did he do some of the movies?
  • Parkinson allowed Ewan to open up through humour and entertainment
  • According to Barbara Walters, small talk is a smooth ice breaker
  • Parkinson created an atmosphere – better than frankness.
  • Questions were asked from his role played in Star Wars to his Polar bear adventure, maintaining an easy flow of conversation.
  • Parkinson discussed Ewan’s agenda, success and childhood adventures
  • Asked about Ewan’s “moments” in his adventures
  • Parkinson reinforced the angle of the interview.

3.    How was the potential for conflict managed?  There was no conflict.

4.    Was humour evident and how?  Yes, it was very entertaining and humorous.

5.    How did the interview conclude?  Light hearted with a joke and Ewan was thanked for coming onto the show.

6.    What were the differences, if any between the types of interviews?  The main differences between the two interviews was the atmosphere.  The news interview seemed hostile and formal, while the entertainment interview was light hearted and had “feel good” moments.  The news interview started and concluded immediately.  It was serious with no story telling.  The entertainment interview had a story within a story and inspiring.


In our culture (I am South African), we always say hello and how are you?  It does not matter whether you know the person or not, a friend or enemy, you still say hello and how are you?  If it is a friend you might say “Howzit”, meaning ‘hi how are you’ – all in one go.  The next response from the receiving person would be “I’m fine thanks and you”.  It does not matter how you feel, you still say I’m fine thanks (South African attitude).  So, at work or socially I always say Hello to people with a ‘How are you’?  If it is a good customer, I will say ‘Hello, are things well on your side?’

When I say good bye, it is usually ‘Good Bye, have a fantastic day’, if it is a customer.  When it is a friend or colleague, I’ll say ‘Bye, have a great night’.  When I say good bye to my really close girlfriends, it will be ‘Cheers, see you later’.

I really dislike uncomfortable moments and I often find myself talking the biggest amount of nonsense just to fill the silence.  I don’t often have those uncomfortable moments because I talk a lot and ask people about their lives and that keeps the conversation going until intuition kicks in and I know its time to go with a humourous closure.

Writing for Television, Radio, and New Media

Chapter two of ‘Writing for Television, Radio and New Media’ speaks of the execution and production of a script.  Environment impacts on our performance because different production tools and techniques are used for each individual situation.

How will the script be performed?  What medium will be used and to what audience.  A script can be written for Radio, however the same script would need to be modified for TV.

The environment in which the orator finds himself needs to be measured as Chapter two explains.  What sound affects and music will be used?  What camera shots will be used and at what angle?  How will the editing be done?  The director is responsible for these production elements, but it is also vitally important for an orator to understand the making of a script.

When talking on radio or TV, be mindful of the following:

  • Voice, volume and tone;
  • Expression; and
  • Nerves such as fidgeting, crackling, talking too fast or dry throat

‘Professional voice’ is a performance.  Radio and TV presenters perform their broadcasts (they do not sound that way in their personal life).  It is all part of an act.

Radio, TV, film and new media are the main income of news and entertainment and have grown considerably.  Without effectively planning a script (argument and speech), the audience will not pay attention.

The orator must focus all their attention on how they are going to tell the story – what techniques and style will be used?

Chapter two also explains how a person must think when writing a script.  Imagine the performance and make a decision as to the suitability of the audience and the media.

These elements and techniques on how to prepare and conduct a good speech is imperative in today’s competitive media industry, but it can also be very helpful in day to day speech.


Hillard, R.L.2011, Writing for Television Radio and New Media, 10th Ed, Boston, USA

Re-recording of my voice

This is my re-recording of the news.  This news reading is more powerful than the previous recording.  I sound lounder and more confident.  I used a lot of breathing techniques, lifted my chin and put my shoulders back which enabled me to pronounce my words clearly and loud.  Yes, there is definately a difference from the first recording.  A good way was to practise my voice overs.  I re-recorded myself about 3 or 4 times.

I do believe that I need more practice.  I feel that I breathed too many times at different intervals and still not completely confident in some of the pronounciations of the names.  But like anything you try, practice makes perfect.

In Defence of Rhetoric: No Longer Just for Liars

In the web link, the key discussion about Rhetoric are:

  • Dispel
  • Defend
  • Answer

Most people do not understand Rhetoric and that is why it is extremely controversial.  When communicating, the components of an argument should be broken down.  When persuading people, the orator is more self-conscious about practices – they should clear what they are trying to say and tailor to individual situations.

People do not realise, that in today’s modern society, there is Rhetoric every where.  Everybody has to talk at some point and they must have the ability to speak, whether it is for a job interview, going shopping, drawing a picture, communicating with a cab driver or even searching on Google (a person is making a decision as to their career opportunities).

The rhetorical triangle consists of:

  • What messages do we want to create or communicate?
  • Who are the audiences and what are their expectations or needs?
  • Communictor – how to address them.

Choose what to say and how to say it, then the audience can understand, believe and agree with the orator.

Another point the video makes is that Rhetoric is the science which refreshes the hungry, renders the mute, articulates, makes the blind see and teaches one to avoid every lingual ineptitude.  It is not just a language, but also a culture.

Rhetoric is a discipline.  All fields of study are determined by discipline.  Rhetoric is epistemic which is used by everything from mundane to the bible.  Finally, Rhetoric is about making one’s own decision, not somebody else’s.  Gather the facts and start talking….