How to talk
(for more effective meetings of  PLUG)

last updated on 20060107


The following spells out some thoughts that have occurred to me as a result of observing many monthly meetings of the Pune Gnu/Linux Users' Group (PLUG).

The immediate goal of writing this is an improvement in the conduct and effectivity of our PLUG meetings. Secondary benefits should show in the training courses PLUG is soon to offer in collaboration with Symbiosis. Longer term benefits may also accrue during the individual members' pursuit of their careers.

Improvement is necessary in how we talk at our meetings. But before that can come about, we need to improve how we listen.  And before that, we need to improve our physical behaviour. By the time we're through, we'll also have changed our evaluation of ourselves and of the others.

There already are some very good speakers among us; these accomplished speakers (they know who they are) will not need the suggestions listed below.

The suggestions here pertain only to the mechanics of delivering a speech to our group. (Nothing about the actual information-content of what you say). The suggestions are simple Do's and Don'ts.  Every one of them is quite easy to implement. Most of them should appear trivial. But they are effective. They are not compiled with the intention of offending or insulting anybody's intelligence.

The simple act of communicating via speech ought to be a simple matter; we've been doing it for thousands of years! The question arises, then, why this Prapancha of trying to make improvements?  The answer : Somewhere along the way, we seem to have contaminated the basic goal (of transmitting pure information) with extraneous goals such as self-aggrandisement, impressing others, hiding matters, misleading the audience, and outright manipulation of the audience. Just listen to any political speech or to any advert or newscast on radio or television! For speech within our group of mostly selfless peers and co -`missionaries', such `Rajasa ' goals are out-of-place.

Suggestions about physical behaviour

1. Do not speak sitting down. Use your full height, breadth, and weight! You are proud of being what you are; you have a reason to be here.

2. Do not talk while someone else is trying to talk. Listen!  There should be only one pair of lips operating at one time.  And all the ears.  If someone butts in while you have the floor, STOP and WAIT as long as necessary.  This is a very effective way of scotching free-wheeling interruptions and sub-meetings.  Some rude interrupters may take longer to eventually subside.

3. Do not start to talk while you are getting up to talk. The chairs, desks, and the floor can be noisy. Complete the act of standing up, be absolutely still, pan over the audience to confirm that they are silent, take a deep breath, and then begin to talk. This is a sure trick to get the attention of the entire audience. TAKE YOUR TIME. Savour the attention!

4. Do not detract the audience's attention from your speech with un-necessary, nervous physical activity like excessive movement around the stage, excessive exercises of the hands and arms, fidgeting with your hands, bringing your hands near your face, etc.

5. When speaking from the stage, face the audience. If you've to turn around (to write on the board, e.g.) do not speak while turned around. Use it as an opportunity to introduce a pleasant bit of silence in the middle of an incessant deluge of speech.  Of course, this can be overdone ...

6. Before answering a question from the floor, repeat the question from the stage, so that everyone in the audience knows it too.  This also gives you time to phrase your answer.

7. If you happen to speak from the audience, be sure to face the body of the audience, not the stage. Remember, your target is the entire audience.

8. If you wish to speak from the audience, a recognised way of attracting attention and getting the floor is to raise your hand. Keep waiting, and you will eventually get the opportunity. Patience will pay off.

9. Try to maintain eye-contact with a few randomly dispersed members of the audience. Don't talk at just one person.

10. Smile! This is important for both the speaker and the audience to do. (Good speakers, even at technical meetings, always make the audience laugh a few times. This also helps keep them awake ...)

Suggestions about diction

1. Slow down. Take a lot of time. You have already thought on what you are saying; but the audience have to hear your sounds, digest the words and phrases, and then think what you want them to. This takes time. Older people in the audience may be even denser than the young. Give them the time they need, by slowing down. This also bolsters your own confidence, and gives you time to better organise your own thoughts and selection of words.

2. Every syllable you utter must be clear and crisp. We mistakenly think that English is a slurred language. Not so. The way the westerners speak to one another, it's perfectly clear. WE may think their speech is slurred, because WE are incapable of distingushing among the subtle nuances in their speech.

3. Pronounce each word separately. Do not con-catenate words!  Make additional pauses after word-groups or phrases, and at the end of sentences. Remember Sudhir Phadke's singing. One could clearly hear even the commas in Gadima's verses there.

4. To reach all of a large audience, do not strain your lungs and throat to shout.  It's counter-productive. To increase the db level of your voice, use the diaphragm. Like good classical singers do. You should feel your lungs resonating while you make a public speech. ("Do not attempt to forcefully push the air out through your mouth. Instead, think of directing it onto your palate.  Remember the Ohm sounds." -- Ustaad Saiduddin Dagar Saheb)

5. The pitch of the sounds you make should be lower than your normal speech.

6. Avoid imported clichés. Create your own Swadeshi clichés if you have to.  For one thing, excessive use of clichés betrays a lack of original thinking. For another, by the time an English cliché arrives here, it's already stale. Westerners can't avoid smiling indulgently when they hear one from us ...

7. Use `spoken' language, not the literary variety. The only way to do this is to speak your own thoughts and phrases. And the hell with it if you don't sound like some alien God-of-Speech!  All you want to do is to crisply deliver your thoughts to the particular audience at hand.

8. Don't try to be `cute'; it usually backfires among intellectuals.


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