Research Helps Your Speaking
The Mental Benefits of Research
by Mark Lanning
There is an old cliché that says, "99% of life is what you put into it." I believe that 99% of what makes a good speech is what the speaker puts into it before the actual delivery. Many people think that delivery is the most important part of a speech because it makes the information presented interesting and pleasing to the audience. Yet, the best delivered speech will not seem fulfilling to the audience unless there is some kind of substantiation and conviction put into the address. In fact, in-depth research can actually help delivery. Thorough research can lead to an organized, flowing, and confidently delivered speech. Research itself can also become easier as the student moves along in their studying. In this paper, in addition to explaining the mental benefits of careful research, I will also provide some tips about how to make that research more effective and complete.
Extensive research can make a speech more organized because of the way humans store knowledge. The speech that I researched the most this year was an informative speech on oil as a cause for war throughout the twentieth century. For weeks I studied books and magazines and talked to Whitman professors about different aspects of the speech, which strengthened my overall understanding of the topic. Thus when I gave the speech I did not have to rely on notes very much. This is because the brain tends to store information in logical patterns so things are easier to remember. For example, as I began to speak on the problems of the oil embargo of 1973, my brain naturally recalled reaction to the embargo in the 1980's.
Another way speakers can help organizing through research is by choosing the right topic. Before deciding the topic of my oil and war speech, I changed my research from the effects of nature on history to the role of weather in major events to the eventual topic of oil. In addition, after giving the speech to the class and having time to think about the topic for a speech tournament, I refined the speech even more. The speech moved from oil and war to American presidents that used oil as a political tool. This was because continual research uncovered new paths that could be discovered. If you as a speaker are having troubles researching a topic, you might try to find a new angle to your subject that would lead to more areas of information. For instance, a person that wants to do a speech on sweatshops in China might find little literature in which to work with. But if instead they broaden the speech to include American consumerism and its effects on other nations, or look for historical examples of sweatshops, they might find lots of new information to research. Narrowing a topic, like I did, also works if a new perspective to the topic is discovered or a particular argument starts to dominate the speech. By allowing a topic to change according to your research, you make a speech more organized, possess better information at your disposal, and focus the subject so it is the easier it for the mind to remember details.
Another benefit of extensive research is that the overall flow of the speech will be better. By flow I mean those moments when people's mind blank out and they cannot think of what to say next. Last year I researched a speech on the life of Alexander Hamilton. I inquired not only about the events of his life, but also about his fears and motivations and his turning points. When I gave the speech I was not hesitant, spoke with a very even tempo, and required no notes. The reason for this was because I was beginning to visualize the speech in my mind as I spoke. Hamilton always had a desire to be a soldier as a child and this fact helped my mind naturally flow into his time as an aide-de-camp to General George Washington in the Revolutionary War. Because I knew the high point of his career was the position of Secretary of Treasury I could think about what major event occurred next (his decline in the Federalist Party) and the events in between fell into place. I required no notes because I had a visual outline in my mind. A speech can almost be seen as if telling a story. The introduction is the background, the arguments or points are the details of the story, and the conclusion is the resolution. And it is the good narrators of stories that "see their stories, such ready-made phrases as they may use are not the substance of their thought but an aid in rapid verbal expression of that thought, not the internal equivalent of a written text but a bag of tricks."
Of course even the most extensive research does not leap out of the person's mouth into beautiful sentences and coherent thought. Often the mind may understand something and seem to fit well together, but the idea cannot be conveyed in the same way it was arranged in the brain. The key, I believe, is to practice beforehand as much as possible. If time is limited though, choosing a vocal rate that is aligned with the thought patterns of your mind is also good. It is better to pause at the end of sentences instead of rushing through a section you do know well only to slow up at a section and break the flow of the speech in a section that is not so well rehearsed or understood. This allows the information to be understood by the audience and lessens the use of "ums" and "uhs" to fill a section in order to maintain a fast tempo.
Overall delivery is also improved by a deep understanding of a subject. Often some of the nervousness I feel in speaking is whether I will remember everything I wanted to say or will express it in the most effective way. But if I have researched a topic enough, there also develops a sense of sincerity in my speaking style because I do not have to make up information or justify my speech in non-empirical terms. From giving impromptu speeches at speech tournaments I know that it is hard for my conscience to make up stories or facts (as some competitors do) in order to prove a point. I speak much better when I have a lot of information in my mind. At the Oregon Speech tournament I competed at this fall, one of the quotations I was supposed to speak on was-"There are three sides to every history: yours, mine, and that lie between. Fallacies of history were exactly the things I was researching for my oil and war speech. Therefore I spent less than thirty seconds preparing for the speech and received very high marks from the judges, not only for the use of quotations and facts in an impromptu context, but also because of a very comfortable and persuasive speaking style.
Good delivery comes out of a passion for a subject that extensive research brings. The easiest speech for a person to give is usually a speech about themselves or about a subject they have intense passion about. The wealth of knowledge people have about themselves has probably already been organized in their minds over the course of their lives; they can see an outline in their mind and the information easily flows out of them. When researching for my Most Favored Nation Status paper I originally did not want to see the revocation of the status towards China. After researching the topic thoroughly I began to change my mind and really saw the advantages of sanctions on China. The passion I had towards the subject made me more committed to just getting the message across than to the delivery. But, oddly enough, my speaking improved because it was obvious to the audience that I cared about the subject, which hopefully led them into caring also.
The release from following notes or an outline not only helps the confidence and passion of the speech; moreover it creates a sense of intimacy between the audience and the speaker. If the focus of the speaker is on the notes in front of them instead of the audience, then the audience feels ignored instead of connected. If I were speaking to my best friend and really wanted to convey my feelings to him, I would not do it with my eyes focused on a newspaper or book. Studies have shown that only about 10% of the knowledge people receive from oral communication is in the words themselves. The vastly more effective forms of communication are the subtleties of body movement. W. Lance Hayes writes, "When we communicate in each other's presence, each bit of behavior totally affects all others, generating an exponentially complex skein of cues and clues that affect the meaning exchanged and share." Outlines would just hinder this communication by taking the focus off the audience and onto written words. But the written word is inherently lacking because, as Hayes goes onto say, "No matter how fine the pen or rich the paper, no matter how skillfully performed as though it were spontaneous and interactive, writing-based rhetoric cannot convey the impact of the speaker's existential immediacy."
The importance of the immediate delivery of a speech is therefore very much related to the effort put into the speech beforehand. If extensive examination can help lead to better flow and intimacy, then I believe it is the most important aspect of the speech. I personally know the effects of an intimate speaking environment. When I gave a speech on the superiority of the liberal arts education, I tried to not rely on any notes. I think I spoke much more persuasively than if I had strictly followed my original outline. Instead I could see the audience's questioning reaction, when, for example, I told a joke about the future careers of most liberal arts majors as being pretty bleak. In practice most people laughed at the joke. But during the actual presentation few people enjoyed it, but because I was not hindered by notes, I was able to see the audience's reaction and quickly provided a short explanation that I could transition into my argument that Liberal arts majors have excellent chances at employment.
Moreover, searching for information provides benefits not only in the delivery stage of the speech process, but it can also make research easier. During research of my oil and war speech, I was gaining information from sources, but it was a very tedious process. This was because I was not really sure what aspects were important. Once I had begun to get a better understanding of the subject, I then could search through books and magazines much faster and could find the data that was really significant to my speech.
These are the benefits to developed research before a speech, but how does a person research effectively?
1. It is important to vary the research. When I first began to research for my oil and war speech, I relied entirely on books. I had originally had been trying to find how nature had affected history, and while there were a few books already published on this subject, my search seemed fruitless. It was in looking for magazine and newspaper articles that I found related subjects that were different than just nature and history, and launched me onto the topic of oil and war. Not only can looking in a variety of sources lead one to new topics, it also can provide a different style of displaying data. Starting a search for information about a topic strictly from books is often very difficult. While books include a lot of information, it is usually up to the reader to wade through the ocean of information to find the specific quote or concept they are looking for. The information from magazine articles can be quickly extracted and can point the researcher in other directions. Some of the best information I gained for my oil and war speech was from magazines that had nuggets of wisdom which would have taken days to gain through strictly looking at books. The Internet also provides information very quickly. By merely typing in a keyword you can gain numerous informational sites leading to many different topic ideas. I think the best way to way to research is to start out with an Internet search to provide a general concept of the topic. Next, move on to move on to an Infotrac or Lexus/Nexus magazine based search, which will give you background information in a short, concise manner. Finally, begin to limit the research to books towards the end of the research process, as they will provide the larger concepts and more detailed information.
2. Research should be from credible sources. This tip is a little obvious. Without reliability, the speech sounds incomplete. How can the audience truly believe everything you say if it is based upon personal beliefs or people no one has heard of? In addition, quotations from bias sources are unfavorable. In my most favored nation status of China speech I made credible sources a huge concern. In the speech I was trying to prove the human rights violations and nuclear arms proliferation of China were a problem that could be solved through the revocation of MFN. I found sources quoting from the United States State Department documenting human rights violations and sources from the Chinese government itself, reporting the number of reported torque cases that occurs every year in their country. I did not have to qualify these sources in anyway and the impact of the source proved my point that America knew of crimes by China and yet it seemed that for China, crime was actually paid.
3. I believe research should also be partially personal. By personal I mean research should not just be taken from books or magazines written by authors there is little chance you can receive information from. This material can seem distant and may not inspire the type of passion that can create excellent delivery. For all of my speeches I tried to personalize my study more to my life. I asked fellow roommates about the issues, finding out what experiences they have had with the subject and what about it they found interesting. Furthermore, I could often find out the biases they had toward the subject, which I could therefore transfer into something that my speech needed to address or attack. In my speech on liberal arts education, I asked my friends the drawbacks or fears they felt as students at Whitman College. The most frequent response was a lack of job skills and opportunity. Therefore in my speech I tried to focus my argument on how the liberal arts education prepares a student for the work force and how liberal arts majors not only gain jobs, but also gain them more frequently than other college graduates. Talking to experts on your subject is perhaps the most effective way to personalize your research. For my oil and war speech, I had numerous conversations with Marianne Kamp, professor of Islamic studies at Whitman, and I found them extremely helpful. Although she did provided me with some sources that were written by people with much more study than her, I used her explanations more. Often the books she gave me could not answer specific questions I had, simplify the information to make it easier, or provide me the facts that I really needed to prove my point. The personalized research style can consequently get to the issues and concerns that speakers must face much quicker than secondary sources.
Imagine a Whitman student having a very difficult history final occurring in two weeks. Instead of panicking the student decides to study as hard as they possibly can and end of the two weeks they are rather sure of their chances of getting a perfect grade on the test. While the student may not know the questions that will be posed before them, their knowledge of the subject is so great that they can discuss virtually any aspect of the possible test questions. Exuding with confidence the student enters the test calm and composed. At the end of the whole process they are satisfied because they know they did well. The final grade they receive proves that their hard work was worthwhile. The reason for this success was because of what the student put into studying and the knowledge they learned which led them to take an assured attitude only furthering their performance.
The same is true in the process of researching for a speech. If the speaker has a strong grasp of the situation they will be speaking on, their content will not only be improved, but so will their organization, flow, and overall confidence in delivery. Intense research can also make further research easier and by allowing a flexible topic choice to expand or constrict according to the knowledge gain, the speech will also become more effective. The ultimate goal of research is to instill confidence, passion, and intimacy in the speaker, which will can excite and captivate any audience.