Speech of the Month, January 2021 - Amanda Gorman
Amanda Gorman demonstrates that physicality and presence are not linked. Here's why this 'little lady' connects so well...
Be honest, who’d heard of Amanda Gorman before Joe Biden’s inauguration? Her recital at the ceremony had a ‘Star is Born’ quality to it. We’ll all remember when she first declaimed into our consciousness. And who’ll forget the ‘yellow coat teamed with red headband’ combo?
But I’m not going to wax lyrical about her rhyming couplets, balanced pairs and use of assonance, no, I’m going to explain why her poem connected so well.
Give Yourself Happy High Status
Amanda Gorman is instantly engaging because she looks confident and she appears thrilled to be speaking, we sense there’s nowhere else she’d want to be. This is someone projecting happy high status and it is public speaking gold. Who wants to listen to a speaker who seems embarrassed of himself or on the verge of dying of misery? Or both?
‘But she has the status of being recognised as a young poet laureate, and she was replacing one president that she probably hated with one she felt a lot more positively about,’ I hear you cry. ‘Of course she could have happy high status, but how does that apply to me when I’m updating a committee on bus route strategy while battling with toothache?’ A fair question. And toothache is, admittedly, a pig to work through. But here’s what you do…
You remember that you are an expert on bus routes, as expert as Richard Hawley is at playing guitar or Mary Berry at making meringue (it helps to compare your expertise to someone you admire) and then you smile. Now, you might not feel like smiling and your audience might not look smiley or especially interested, but a smile, like a yawn, is contagious. Who dislikes the super-smiley Profession Brian Cox? Nobody. Because the happiness he projects is calming and appealing.
If you’re giving a virtual presentation, then one way to help that smile along is to put a photo of someone you love and would smile at behind your camera lens.
Ever felt someone’s read you a speech or presentation rather than spoke it to you? Of course you have. It happens at AGMs, conferences, weddings and funerals. And it’s a problem because the speaker has put in the work, they’ve written their speech, but because they’re not looking at the audience, the speech has no chance of really connecting.
Sight-reading, however, enables the speaker to have the security of their speech or poem in their hand while also making eye contact with their audience. Gorman applies it highly successfully during her recital.
So how do we sight-read? Well, we crank up the font, we put every sentence of a fresh line and we aim to bring up the last few words of the sentence – not the first few – and say them to our audience. Plus, we stay with the audience for a moment. We don’t rush back to the page. Try it at home with a Shakespearian speech. You’ll be able to find ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen’ easily enough.
Use Your Arms
On the one hand, I think Gorman does a bit too much with her gestures. Do I really need someone to hold up an index finger as they say ‘one’? Not really. Some of her gestures had a look of nursery school sign language about them. Imagine if Fiona Bruce gestured every noun? We’d think she’d gone mad.
But on the other hand, I celebrate speakers who free up their arms and get them involved. The hands are an extension of the mouth, so don’t feel it’s wrong to move them. Fluid, expansive gestures imply confidence (back to happy high) and can be beautiful to watch. One of my favourite gesturers (not sure if that’s a word but …) is the ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ judge Motsi Mabuse. Take a look at her in action and learn.
“Emma delivered 'Making Your Mark in Meetings' virtually for the council. Attendees thought the workshop was excellent; describing it as highly useful and enjoyable. Not that this came as a surprise. Emma has been successfully delivering workshops for me for over a decade!”