Sunday, March 2, 2008

Speaking with Spark: Dr. Chuck Wall

Part Three of a special multi-part series by Dr. Chuck Wall—president and founder of Random Acts of Kindness. Dr. Wall has kindly agreed to allow excerpts from his newest booklet, Speaking with Spark, to be printed in “The Bookshelf.” Enjoy!

(We ended last month with Tip # 5. Tip # 6 deals with microphones: Dos and don’ts, and helpful suggestions. If you want to know what Dr. Wall has to say about mics, you may purchase his book on his website.)


Above all, keep your hands away from your face and your hair. Nothing good comes from fiddling with your face or toying with your tresses during a speech. Women, in particular, seem to immediately begin rearranging their hair or curling a lock of it around a finger. I once had a student who had a beautiful mop of blonde hair which she draped over her face so she didn’t have to look at her audience. Once I was able to convince her that her hair was just fine where it is supposed to be, and the audience was not waiting to pounce on her, she made a very nice speech.

Women don’t hold a monopoly on odd habits at the podium. We men have our own issues to deal with when speaking to a group. We seem to like putting our hand in a pocket and jingling coins or keys while we talk. Trust me, this can drive an audience crazy trying to figure out which coin denominations are being bounced around. Men also like to put their foot up on the bottom brace of the lectern, as if they are bellying up to the bar. They are also prone to picking up the lectern and moving it around - seeking, I suppose, a better position from which to speak.

Another distracting annoyance many speakers are guilty of involves their clothing. It is unbelievable how many speakers step up to the podium and immediately begin rearranging their clothes. Men tend to hitch up their pants or check their fly at the podium. I suppose they think if they are talking, then no one is watching. Women slide their skirts into more comfortable positions – and it’s amazing how many bra straps need pulled more securely into place! Simple point: Check out your clothes before you go to the podium.

Being aware of these little annoyances prior to speaking will help reduce audience distractions and help them focus on what you are saying.


While you’re getting comfortable at the podium, do not forget the all-important issue of eye contact. Often, the best of speeches fall short of audience receptivity because the speaker cannot engage the audience through eye contact. Even though I am blind, I know the power of this simple tool and work hard to draw my audience into my topic by seeming to make eye contact.

I’ve heard fledgling speakers say, “If I look them in the eye, I will be so scared I can’t go on.” Simple solution: Don’t look into their eyes. Instead, look right over their heads as you scan the room. It will seem that you are making eye contact when in fact you are not.

As you scan your audience from left to right and back again, pick out individuals to speak to for just a few seconds at a time. This draws you and your listeners together, maximizing their content retention. Spend time learning to “read” an audience.

As you speak, identify individuals who seem to be paying close attention to your presentation. Also identify those who are not. Which group seems to be larger – the attentive group or the inattentive group? Since I cannot read faces, I use a quick bit of humor to gauge the audience’s attentiveness. If there is spontaneous laughter, I know the audience is with me.


Now that you have hints on physical preparation within the speaking hall and know some basics about “speaking manners,” it is time to discuss the actual speech.

Assume that you have been asked to speak for twenty minutes at this week’s Lions Club meeting. If you accept the twenty-minute time limit, consider it sacred and hold to it even though the meeting appears to have no specific time structure. Most likely you will be asked for a speech title and biographical sketch, from which someone will introduce you to the members. A bio sketch should be no more than one page in length, and should list highlights, not your entire life story.

A small but important part of your speech is thanking those who invited you – especially the person who introduced you. So, prior to going to the podium, make sure you know the name and Club position of that person. The title of your speech should reflect its central theme. If your theme is making pottery to be used as holiday gifts, do not entitle your speech “Pottery in Ancient Egypt.” That’s dishonest, and it will lose your audience immediately. An appropriate title might be, “Homemade Pottery Gifts for the Holidays.” Now your audience knows exactly what you will be speaking about—no deception.

Next month, Dr. Wall will share more of his tried-and-proven 3-in-1 plan for speech preparation and delivery. You don’t want to miss it!

Dr. Chuck Wall is a published author, lecturer and motivational speaker in the fields of communications, stress management, employee motivation, leadership and "

random acts of kindness."

As of December 15, 2005, Dr. Wall became Professor Emeritus at Bakersfield College. He is the President of Kindness Inc. a California non-profit corporation.

Even though he is blind, Dr. Wall does not consider himself disabled, but merely must spend extra time dealing with one of life’s little nuisances.

Find out more about Dr. Wall’s on his website:

Learn more about Random Acts of Kindness and/or purchase Speaking with Spark—a 53-page spiral bound booklet jam-packed with speaking hints.

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