Public Speaking
Particularly the Lecture and the Sermon

Most people do not consider what kind of notes are required for speaking. For the very confident, no notes may be used AJP Taylor style. The notes may be a full script where every detail is reproduced in the talk or simply prompts. A full script like written prose would be quite boring, and should be written as if spoken, which is a rare skill, and in any case involves a lot of looking down at the paper and not looking at the people in front or around. Its detail is lost on the audience who may as well just have the script for themselves. Then there are notes. Poor notes when speaking in public can constrain the talk, restrict the pace and at worst cause loss of place.

I have given lectures with effectively a script, detailed notes and no notes. I have given sermons with notes, but mainly with full scripts. Twice there were no notes and I had questions and answers in a debate with one other.

The no notes lecture involved revising beforehand what I wanted to say about my Ph.D to students planning research. There was some thinking and writing about general points. And with these in mind I just spoke, and the aim of being unscripted at that point was to look at everyone and generate enthusiasm about researching. The no notes sermons were debates. These were very intensive around the area of philisophical non-realism applied to religion and religious humanism with theists and one liberal Christian. The dynamic was of the moment in each case.

Most of my lectures have been driven by some notes and assisted by visual aids. The visual aids are invariably wipeboard and dry markers (more impact than a blackboard) and overhead projectors with hand drawn and written acetates. The wipeboard allows quick cartoon like illustrations and are punctuation marks where the illustration happens in front of people. The acetates are prepared in advance and are an instant illustration in drawing and few words of what I am saying. Flip charts are an alternative for smaller numbers of people. These are not alternative notes which is when they could start to run the talk. The danger indeed is that visual aids end up running the talk. This should not happen. It often happens with the dreadful Powerpoint (etc) presentations where knowledge seems to be reduced to summary points that the speaker looks at and slavishly follows. I believe that their apparent guaranteed clarity actually gives an impression that knowledge can be broken down into simple statements, which is not a philosophy of knowledge I understand. Knowledge should be discussive and open and transitory. The notes instead should guide the talk. However, the visual aids still may be prompts for more depth and so may substitute for notes; however, all too often, speakers end up talking around the visual aids and they predominate. The speech becomes secondary and rather tedious, and so a similar outcome happens with a full script - give the acetate based notes (like revision notes) and let's go home. More than this, they can be used far too quickly, and be lost whilst they are invariably copied down, or they can stay in view whilst the speaker has moved on. So visusal aids should be used sparingly and as support and not as the dominant feature.

An important point is that spoken language is not as in written language. Certainly day to day conversation does not write well, but written language with proper grammar does not speak well. The best use of written language, or writable language, comes from news journalists. They punch words for effect (sometimes in the wrong places, sometimes way over the top) and keep words as simple as possible. This of course is to avoid the monotonous result of reading, and yet if we engage in speaking we do not need to go in for false stresses and staccato techniques. I do try these with written sermons in particular, aware that assistance is needed by the use of voice in getting a message across. It isn't simply raising and lowering the voice, words need stress, speed needs to change, and I often ad-lib as a way of making the talk more informal and giving uninterrupted eye contact with people as if I am then addressing them far more personally. I then try to get into the speech as written smoothly. However, I also try to ad-lib and stay with the script: this means I have a script, I read the next line/s rapidly knowing what they say and to some extent rephrase these lines if simple to do and convenient.

This is the use of paper. Some lectures, speeches and even sermons use two glass screens where the speaker sees the same text but seem to be transparent to the audience. Whilst they give an impression of the speaker looking at the audience, it is soon realised that the side to side head movement and eye focus is on the screens and all the disadvantages of the given text repeat themselves.

Spoken language is also and should be far more repetitive than written language, and should be, though the temptation is to say more in less time. If this happens, perhaps too much is being said, too much to be absorbed by the listener. And in any case whilst the speaker may indulge in detail, the listener will only remember the main stresses and points. Detail is a luxury, or is for those listening become interested in a particular section of the presentation. In sermons, for example, which have a religious function, it is perfectly acceptable for people to "drift away" for parts if elements lead to reflection. Of course to drift away for all of it has to be a failure of content or indeed the medium.

The sermon is a very poor method of communication, as bad as the unaided lecture. It has its justification in the notion that it is the transmission of the words of God to the audience by the spiritually skilled or in some way privileged medium (ordained?) from God/ interpreter. Because at the least the preacher observes the boundaries and rules of interpretation then all she or he (usually, in such a hierarchical system) has to do is speak directly.

In my view liberal religion (my own area of interest) should be more of a dialogue anyway, and is closer to the aims of education. In education guided response is part of a more effective reception of what is being said. The lecturer should draw on experience of the listeners and use techniques of involvement, which also become means of assessment as well as more effective communication. Liberal religion is still stuck with the Protestant inheritance and should somehow detach itself and become more artistic and reflective and less wordy. Whilst it stays wordy, and whilst a speech called a sermon or address allows for some exploration of a topic, then the best approach (beyond a debate or question and answers) is to make the speech as fluid and communicative as possible - as indeed should any lecture.

It should start with clear signposting of the areas of concern without giving away all the conclusions. It should then repeat main points throughout with areas of illustrative detail. It should then come to a conclusion. It should be a narrative and so have an ending. points may be repeated at the end unless the story ending is its end.

For the speaker the illustrative details will have to be the areas most remembered. There will be perhaps second level points given in the notes, but the main points will be most offered in the text. Perhaps there can be two columns, or even a main point per card with details below. There is an advantage of having cards which is that they are seen to be moved rapidly by the audience, whereas a wad of paper gives the impression of a long time to go and slow progress. Cards should be large enough and with big enough script to see easily. They are also useful in that held at a correct height they allow an easy transition between looking at the audience whilst the detail is being recalled and spoken about and looking down at the text. A disadvantage, of course, is that the cards might be dropped and can scatter.

One thing I sometimes do with church congregations is give sheets of paper with areas that the sermon will address, usually on the same sheets as responsive texts. This allows them to track progress as well as reinforce main themes. However, this is all I give students. To write out notes for the students takes away the activity of writing and interpreting and therefore thinking. When the information must be absorbed, it is best to reduce the amount of handed our materials. If these materials are handed out in full, but the student must also write out notes or other supporting activities (eg brief group work around a talk section) then the students are going to wonder why they are having to record things when they have the notes in full anyway.

Of course there should be a variety of activities. A lecture that goes on and on will be forgotten or treated as a bad experience. A subject that might draw enthusiasm will draw boredom. In terms of the church sermon, it should be kept below twenty minutes if possible. This will need a clock because whilst enthusiasm for a topic shrinks the experience of time, the most enthusiastic person is likely to be the speaker. Wordy church services should be punctuated by music or participation, and the sermon should be instantly surrounded by distinctive alternative forms. It is rare that one form of words up against words of the sermon will be distinctive enough.

Another bad feature of churches (etc) is the seating. Too often seating is in rows, again reflecting an authoritarian approach to giving a message. People do like rows because they can hide behind them, but they are the least effective ways of keeping attention. Beyond the table of a small number of people (tables get reserved for meals, but are used for seminars!), there is the U shape and then the semi-circle (with and without tables). Two rows are useful because where there is anxiety about sitting positions, two rows allow one row to be sat behind. Individual tables allow small groups to work together but a good idea is to leave the side closest to the speaker empty to allow better attention. Groups on tables, the semi-circle and the U shape also facilitate the speaker to move around, perhaps to individuals.

The speech should be in a comfortable environment. If it is too hot, to few will be sufficiently active in mind to take notice, and if it is too cold people are distracted. If it is too dry some start coughing and this causes a difficulty of hearing. The audience should be there for the purpose of course, as other activities will also be a distraction. After all awareness is everything, because the speech and its purpose needs to get through.

A talk is an attempt to persuade. In teaching, the persuasion should be open to challenge even where it is the given syllabus (eg in training - in my view education is about being critical and challenging what is given). In a sermon the assumption (other than in liberal religion) is that there is correct interpretation and delivery. Some funded education courses are getting like this. Persuasion though involves the audience in their openness to change. Some liberal religious sermons are so open and non-commital as to lose the point of existence, because after all there is a person speaking who has opinions. Mine are never like this, I always have a point of view. A real person has opinions and a stance and these should come through. This needs clarity, credibility and bringing people in and along. A reputation for being objective and open minded helps in persuading the point of view. So does a reputation for listening, the impression of which can be given in a talk. Tackle the other argument, therefore, before rejecting it for reasons, whilst realising that some may hold it for all kinds of reasons even if they know it is irrational (usually fear of the rational outcome to identity). Use some emotion and sentimentality as well as intellect, but do not overdo the emotional charge because it can become intimidating. Charismatic power in speaking is reserved to the view, and usually has disastrous outcomes.

Speech is always accompanied by non-verbal gestures. One of these is appropriate dress. Another is stance - formal, friendly, authoritative, distant, or equality with the listeners. It is possible to speak as an individual might to another and yet look remote, as well as it being quite ppossible to give a formal talk and yet look as if individuals themselves are being addressed. Posture is important, in terms of legs and hands, or the use of furniture such as sitting on a table or leaning on a pulpit. Hands can be moved around but not too much or too often as economy of some movement is always more effective. Avoid twitches and distracting movements if possible, even try to control the effects of a bad cold!

Speaking is about effective communication. There is more to speaking than just giving a script. Speaking needs adaptation according to purpose and needs conscious support and assistance, as well as being of the right length in the right environment.