Speak for Yourself

Claire Duffy's blog about public speaking and communication (in real life). Speak well, do well!

Getting mad with dignity – Let the words do the work

When do public speakers and presenters  need to get mad? Well…. If you are involved in a cause, or you’re an activist, a politician, or just someone who needs to  win arguments to get the  job done, you may  know what I mean. Appealing to emotion is vital to success, you  need to use anger to build momentum for your cause or to show how high the stakes are.  But when you’re trying to infect your audience with your passion, you musn’t lose your self-control. You can’t behave as if you were angry in a social setting, or having an argument with a spouse or friend. If you raise your voice too much, speak too fast and  gabble, lose control of your sentence structure or  start to gesture too wildly, you become  that dismissable stereotype:  ‘hysterical’.

Female presenters  are especially prone to being called ‘shrill’. It’s a throwback to the bad old days of fishwives and  harridans.  Critics will ignore what a woman is saying, but instead  get stuck into the way she’s saying it.  

Whatever your gender, it’s never alright to lose your audience. If passion and strong feelings are putting them off,  just let the words do the work.

Say something that conveys the seriousness by itself, without having to shout. Craft a piece of prose that is touching, serious, and drops the point on your audience in a way that will leave them shocked and still – but not feeling bombarded or overwhelmed. Deliver it seriously, gravely, deliberately. Then be silent while your point sinks in. Often this type of delivery will be more effective  at conveying anger than if you’d got all worked up.

Fictional character CJ Cregg shows us how it’s done. She’s angry about the deaths of schoolgirls in Saudia Arabia. Her voice is calm and her manner collected, she could be delivering a budget report. It’s the  words alone that show her white hot fury.

Postscript: Since this post was  first written two  important examples of public anger have emerged, each is  a great model for speakers. Here’s Australia’s Chief of Army telling men who demean women to ‘get out’.  And here is the ‘Misogyny Speech’, a global sensation when Australia’s  Prime Minister caught fire with rage at the leader of the opposition.

Can you help me? I am  developing a toolkit to help public speakers and presenters deal with confrontation and opposition. Your experiences will help. Please comment here to  share your tips  if you’ve ever met this challenge. 



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