Orating Like Martin Luther King? Well…

In Toastmasters, we’re mostly public speaking geeks. Our role models are famous speakers. Like Martin Luther King!
But does it mean we should try to speak more like him?

The Toastmasters contest season is just starting – and I began to attend some of the club contest events. There it becomes clear. Indeed, many of us believe that the “classic oratory” with grand gestures, emphasis on voice inflection, and deliberately slow pace are the way to go.

After all, “More vivid gestures.” and “Slow down when you speak!” are some of the most frequent recommendations we give in Toastmasters evaluations!

Beware, however. You might be overdoing it.

“Some speakers fall into a trap here. In the thrill of being on stage, they get caught up in a slightly too grandiose sense of the occasion and begin unconsciously embracing a form of oration. They slow down their pace. They speak a little too loudly. And they insert dramatic pauses between sentences. This is an absolute talk killer.”

Chris Anderson, TED Talks

Anderson continues that orating appears outright absurd when viewed online. After all: It’s one person (the speaker on video) talking to another (the viewer at their desk / on their sofa).

Looking for some role-model alternatives? Try something more conversational instead. You can start with some of the best TED Talks (my favorites are Susan Cain’s and Apollo Robbins’) or talk show monologues (my favorites are Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon). I know that it may be even harder to be “conversational”, when it’s you speaking alone into your webcam – but who said public speaking was supposed to be easy?

If you’re not 100% convinced – try both “oratory” and “conversational”, record it and compare. You’ll see for yourself!

And if you’re feeling that you’ve just brought your “oratory” style to perfection and don’t want to abandon it completely – don’t worry. Chris Anderson writes that it’s still great for “addressing a crowd of 200,000 at the heart of a social movement.” Your moment may still come!

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