Garr Reynolds comes to London

Posted on 12 November 2012  |   1 Comment

On Wednesday 7 November 2012, I attended the Presentation Zen conference at the London Hilton Paddington.

It was excellent. Garr Reynolds is a charismatic presenter and he kept us going for the whole day.

However, there was one moment when, as a speechwriter, my heart sank. It was when Garr described an article published in Psychology Today. The title of the article is The 8 Key Elements of Highly Effective Speech…and why your words barely matter.

Garr put up a list of the eight key elements of effective speech – according to Psychology Today –  in order of their importance.

They are:

1) Gentle eye contact
2) Kind facial expression
3) Warm tone of voice
4) Expressive hand and body gestures
5) Relaxed disposition
6) Slow speech rate
7) Brevity
8) The words themselves

I know he had to fill a whole day, but quoting this research was very unhelpful. It’s the kind of thing that will get trotted out at NLP conferences and Toastmaster meetings. By this logic, we should be happy to listen presenters speaking Chinese. It’s up there with the Mehrabian Myth.

Garr quoted some fine examples of presentations like Sir Ken Robinson’s on creativity at TED. Every word of that presentation was carefully crafted. To suggest that it’s viral success was due to any of the first seven factors is ludicrous.

Garr was very keen to say that words are still important, but this research is so open to misinterpretation, that I suggest he leaves it out of future presentations.

One Comment on Garr Reynolds comes to London

  • brian 13 November 2012

    This comment came from Phil Waknell, from Ideas on Stage, based in Paris

    Can’t agree with you on this one I’m afraid Brian, hard though I have tried.

    Garr would never spout the Mehrabian myth any more than you or I would, but Psychology Today is a serious, established and respected scientific journal which does not deserve to be lumped together with the unscientific hijacking of Mehrabian’s work. Could its research be misinterpreted? Yes, I agree it could, like much research. But in this case it wasn’t. And it isn’t wrong either, although the subtitle “why your words barely matter” was rather misleading considering the authors published a book entitled “Words Can Change Your Brain”. Ignore that subtitle and it’s a fine grounded scientific article.

    Personally I think Sir Ken Robinson’s TED speech was mostly successful thanks to factors 1, 2, 3 and 5, together with the stories he told so well. Someone else delivering the very same words in a less funny and genial way would simply not have had the same success. Imagine Marvin the Paranoid Android making the same speech. Now is it so ludicrous that the delivery makes such a difference? A well-written speech is important, yes, but if the speaker fails on the first seven factors on that list, the audience will hate it no matter how well it was written. Get the first seven spot-on and the words good enough, and the audience will love it. That’s why the words aren’t at the top.

    If you are going to put in the last effort to make a good speech great, you’d always be better off focusing on the delivery rather than fine-tuning the words. People forget most of the words they hear, but they do remember how the speaker made them feel. Wouldn’t you agree that a beautifully-written speech read in a boring monotonous voice with no eye-contact is far less impactful than a well-enough-written speech delivered with passion and connection? That should be so obvious that we don’t even need research to back it up, but the research does back it up, that’s Garr’s point in quoting it, and as a speechwriter and speaking coach I couldn’t agree more.

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