Thursday, November 1, 2012

Review of the speech "Sticky ideas: Low-tech solutions to a high-tech problem"

(There is an important caveat to this review of the speech, “Sticky Ideas.”  This is my own speech that I am reviewing.  (I have never done this before!)  I conceived the idea; I constructed the speech; I delivered the speech.  To be certain, I am biased.  This review was written on the day I saw the speech published in the book Public Speaking: An Audience-Centered Approach, 8e by Steven A. And Susan J. Beebe (Allyn & Bacon, 2012, pp. 410-414).  I had not read the speech for four years and, it was my re-reading of it after four years that prompted this review/essay.)

Ask yourself the question, after hearing (or reading) a speech, and knowing that you were impressed by it, what is the ingredient or element that contributed most to that impression?  In some cases, of course, it is how the speech was delivered.  Often, delivery dominates people’s impressions because, first, it is obvious, and, second, because we judge others on how they look and behave.

Although it is hoped that our assessment of others is conditional — that we base any final assessment of others on substantive matters — it doesn’t always happen, cannot be predicted with assurance, and often is suppressed by both habit and the obvious.  Assessing speeches on nonverbal behavior is something everyone does.  Analyzing content is more difficult.
In this review — or, whenever a speech is read but never actually heard — the element of delivery is omitted (except where I add a comment at the end of this review).  That ingredient or element that engages a reader (or audience member) is the number and effectiveness of the examples.  This short speech includes close to 25 examples — with an extended example, an illustration — used to close the speech.   Each one holds attention, captures readers’ interest, and, with the exception of the final illustration, moves readers farther into the speech.
Let’s examine the entire speech and see why it might have been selected as a sample speech for inclusion in the popular college textbook, Public Speaking: An Audience-Centered Approach, 8e, by Steven A. And Susan J. Beebe (Allyn & Bacon, 2012), pages 410-414.
The idea for the speech came to me as a result of the co-alignment of two factors.  First, I was asked to give a speech to a college audience which would largely be composed of students, and some faculty, in a Department of Speech Communication.  Students would range from freshmen enrolled in basic courses through senior majors.  Second, I had recently read the book by Chip and Dan Heath, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (Random House, 2007), and I was not only deeply affected by their ideas, but I realized they were important to all speakers and could have enormous impact.
The theme or central idea for the speech arose from what I perceived as a problem, and I defined the problem precisely in the speech: “The problem, simply put, is the appeal that technology has for the youth of our nation.  Let’s clarify it.  We live in a fast-paced, instant results, eye-catching and attention-arresting, multimedia flash, short-attention-span, world where any idea that isn’t current, relevant, and immediate — and delivered on a screen — is discarded as obsolete, out-of-date, old-fashioned, defunct, and dead.  Many students today can code and decode complex messages in a variety of media, and many, too, are already prepared to communicate with a level of visual sophistication that will carry them through the multimedia-dependent environment of higher education and the modern work environment.  The problem is simply: how do educators compete?  How do we give our thoughts high-tech appeal in a technology-driven world” (p. 411)?
It should be noted here that this is an informative speech, and for an informative speech, the central idea should contain the information you want the audience to remember.  It was stated in the speech following the information quoted above: “What I want to do is provide low-tech solutions to this high-tech problem” (p. 411).  Thus, everything in the speech should promote this idea, and the specific purpose of the speech demonstrates what I expected to achieve in this speech: To inform audience members how they (as speakers) can compete in this high-tech world with low-tech solutions.
To demonstrate how everything in the speech relates directly to the central idea, let’s examine the organization of the speech — how ideas are arranged.  One of the strengths of this speech is its tight organization.  Notice, for example that everything prior to the actual descriptions of the low-tech solutions lays a foundation for what follows.  The speech opens with an illustration about my background in delivering a lecture on attention and is designed to establish my own credibility with the information that will follow: how long I had been delivering the lecture (30 years), the popularity of the lecture, and how many students had heard it.
Following this illustration, I explain the problem (described above), briefly explain the characteristics of “attention” that contribute to the high-tech problem, provide a transition (“What I want to do now, in the remaining part of the lecture, is show you how you can compete . . . .”), give credit to Chip and Dan Heath’s excellent book, Made to Stick, explain “the curse of knowledge” (“once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it.  Our knowledge has ‘cursed” us” (p. 412)), and explain how the “curse” contributes to the high-tech problem.
The description and examples of the six low-tech solutions follows a clear topical organizational pattern.  Even though there are six ideas, one following another, this is not a chronological pattern because the ideas are parallel with each other.  They do not build up nor does any one of them depend on any other.  Following five of the solutions ((1) simplicity, (2) unexpectedness, (3) concreteness, (4) credibility, and (5) emotions) there is a brief summary that is introduced so that I could end with the sixth low-tech solution: (6) stories.
Notice that the speech ends with the “most powerful of the low-tech solutions” (p. 413), stories, and their effectiveness is underscored twice, first by the statement, “Stories have the power to enthrall, to hold listeners spellbound, to mesmerize, entrance, dazzle, charm, captivate, and fascinate” (p. 413), and second, by the story itself — a personal experience that not only extended over 50 years but a story, too, that was in the process of being remedied.
The language of the speech is colloquial with no special jargon, literary flourishes, or complexities.  It was delivered from a manuscript; however, I knew (and had practiced) the material thoroughly; thus, I delivered it without depending on the manuscript much at all, in an extemporaneous manner.  It took about 25-30 minutes to deliver the speech, and several questions from the audience of about 50, followed.

*This speech (“Sticky Ideas: Low-Tech Solutions to a High-Tech Problem,”) was originally published in Vital Speeches of the Day (1 August 2007): 73:8.
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I am grateful to have my speech reproduced in the book Public Speaking: An Audience-Centered Approach, 8e, by Steven A. Beebe and Susan J. Beebe (Allyn & Bacon, 2012).  If you are looking for a comprehensive, well-constructed, beautifully laid out, and thoroughly practical book on public speaking, this book would be an excellent choice.

 At Six Minutes the essay by Andrew Dlugan, “Speech Analysis #1: How to Study and Critique a Speech” (January 18, 2008), is designed to do the following: “The first in the series, this article outlines questions to ask yourself when assessing a presentation. Ask these questions whether you attend the presentation, or whether you view a video or read the speech text. These questions also apply when you conduct a self evaluation of your own speeches.”
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Copyright November, 2012, by And Then Some Publishing L.L.C.

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