Strictly speaking, there are rules to almost everything we can think of. You stay within the speed limit, wear your seat belt, don’t cut in front of others in line, and use your manners with a ‘please’ or a ‘thank you’. For the most part, when we stay within the known guidelines, the outcomes are positive. However, we’ve all heard the old saying, “Rules were meant to be broken”. There is no doubt that in some circumstances, it is downright fun to break the rules. Yet, we also know that sometimes when we do, the outcome doesn’t bend to our favor.
It is with this intent that Strictly Speaking begins its education of public speaking with you; for the understanding that even ‘speaking’ has rules. We’ve learned from a great deal of research and in learning from history that some things work better than others, and when used correctly, create success. With this in mind, hopefully you can recognize that effective public speaking also succumbs to rules. Our goal is for you to educate yourself and implement the strategies that have become effective and created success in the art of public speaking. As is true in many cases, we can learn from the opposite of right, or in other words, the way in which it didn’t work, in order to recognize how it could have been done correctly. Let’s begin here.
Baseball is an American pastime; loved by many and disliked by few. As a Chevrolet commercial echoes, “Chevrolet. It’s as American as baseball and apple pie.” With this, we get a mental visual of red, white and blue, pride and hard work. So, consider back in February of 2009 when then baseball star, Alex Rodriguez, held a press conference to address an interview that he had conducted with an ESPN reporter just a few weeks earlier. It was expected that A-Rod (as he is known by baseball fans) would not only own, but also explain why he had used banned sports-enhancing substances and failed a drug test while playing with the Texas Rangers.Alex Rodriguez's Steroid Press Conference
Baseball fans wanted to see him apologize. Their trust in his hard work and dedication to an American pastime was broken and until the latest surfacing of a failed drug test, Rodriguez was considered to be a lock for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Near the end of his formal statement he said, “To all of my teammates…,” then paused, appearing to tear up, before adding, “…thank you.”
The before and after pictures of A-Rod at his press conference were like night and day. Few questions were addressed or answered, and he went from being a baseball superhero to just another fallen sports hero. What went wrong? Let’s consider another example.
It’s almost common, current day trivia to know the assault on Rihanna by Chris Brown in 2009. With the force of social media in the 21st century, we were privy to details given by the famous female pop star and of photographs on the internet of the horrific assault. The cultural breaking of a very static norm of men not abusing women had rocked those that follow pop culture, and at the very least, followers expected a committed apology by Chris Brown.
“When I look at it now, it’s just like, wow, like, I can’t believe that actually happened.
I’ve told Rihanna countless times and I’m telling you today, I’m truly, truly sorry that I wasn’t able to handle the situation both differently and better” (2009).
According to some sources, there may be at least two concerns in terms of his apology to his ex-girlfriend. In fact, one concern came directly from Rihanna, stating that the apology denied immediate responsibility, rather scapegoating with a perceived sense of insincerity. It seems that of Of greater concern was protecting his fan base. But the second concern was that Brown came up short in terms of making good on his apology in the sense that even two years later, he failed to meet the terms of ‘making good’ on his intentions to right the wrongs.Chris Brown's Apology
What do an athlete and a pop star seem to have in common? To begin, because of their chosen profession, they are in the public eye. This means the public scrutiny of their behavior and actions. Fans expected an explanation for both individual’s behaviors. Such explanation came to fruition via a public presentation where the words and intent behind the words were judged.
In his famous book on rhetoric, Aristotle, the famous Greek teacher of public speaking, spoke of the important relationship between words and self-defense. Aristotelian scholar George Kennedy commented on Aristotle’s public speaking philosophy, stating:
Both animals and human beings have a natural instinct to preserve and defend themselves, their territory, and their group and families. They do this by physical acts and by the use of signs, including utterances such as howls, cries, and human speech. Rhetoric, in the most general sense, is the energy inherent in emotion and thought, transmitted through a system of signs, including language, to others to influence their decisions or actions. In developed human societies, such as ancient Greece, social and political contexts emerge that mold speech into certain conventional forms shaped by the psychology and expectation of audiences. Both literature and public address develop in this way (1991, p.7).
Just as a person has the capacity to defend themselves with their fists, so too does a person have the capacity to defend themselves with words. While most of us no longer need to defend ourselves with fists, Aristotle’s admonition still rings true two thousand years later: all of us should be able to fine tune our symbolic capacity to defend ourselves effectively and explain our actions with words. In truth, those words are scrutinized and perceptions are formed of the individual and perhaps too, their character.
Being a college student, there is an inherent understanding that when you take particular courses, the nature of the subject is obvious. When studying geology, you study earth science, rocks and formations. Mathematics delves into quantities, space, changes, and more. However, few have a grasp of the importance of studying communication. What do you study in a communication class, let alone, in a public speaking course? In this chapter, we will discuss what communication is, investigate the ingredients that compose the communication process, and finally, address how public speaking is a special kind of communication endeavor that yields specific rewards but also requires particular aptitudes different from other forms of communication.