AUSTRALIAN Catholic University’s Professor Paul Carding believes speech is the most powerful tool humans have.
Speaking at the August luncheon of Assembly of Catholic Professionals in Brisbane, Professor Carding said it was possible for most of people to deliver speeches which were “not just polished” but “motivating, inspiring and yes, potentially even life-changing”.
A world expert in voice and speech and for 20 years a consultant to the Royal Shakespeare Company, Professor Carding has long been interested in communication.
As a young man he experienced an uncle who suffered “locked in syndrome”.
“He lost the power to communicate. Even though he could understand everything being said to him, he had no means of saying it back,” Professor Carding said.
“It was devastating and very close to me.”
For Professor Carding it was a moment that steered him towards a fascinating career.
He has worked with great stage actors, as well as board executives, academics, teachers and salesmen – all people who rely on their voice to deliver their best professional performance.
Professor Carding shared with ACP members some of the techniques used to bring out the best in the performance of actors at the famous British theatre company – the same techniques, he contended, that could be used in delivering a lecture, addressing a business dinner or telling a joke at a bar.
Rather than simply speaking their lines, he said RSC actors tried hard to establish “connection”.
“Because without a connection between the person on the stage and every individual in the audience it simply becomes a reciting of lines, an imparting of information,” Professor Carding said.
“Without that connection the presentation cannot be inspiring, cannot be moving and engaging.”
Professor Carding said one of the best ways to make connection was eye contact, “So that everyone (in the audience) believes the actor on stage is making a connection with them.”
“That’s why you can’t look at your slides all the time, as if you’ve never seen them before… stand behind your lectern, can’t look at the floor, the ceiling … because people will inherently distrust what you are saying… you are not even trying to make eye contact,” he said.
Professor Carding said actors worked hard at “being human”, something many people tried hard to avoid when delivering a public speech.
“The reason we don’t like being human on stage is because it makes us feel vulnerable, so we create an edifice,” he said.
“We can use humour of course … but probably the best way to be human is to be honest.”
Professor Carding said one reason people, as speakers, do not like to feel vulnerable was because it made them feel nervous – something which was far more intimidating for many people than spiders or snakes.
However, he contended nerves “create an edge”, something the RSC encouraged with its actors because the vulnerability created by nerves “encourages an expression of humanity”.
“Sir Derek Jacobi … in his autobiography talks about the fact that he is so nervous before he performs that he would physically vomit before going on stage every night,” he said.
“Sir Michael Redgrave used to incorporate an extra hour in his routine in order to get through the stage door … he would dither and walk around and pluck up the courage, literally, before he could do that.
“A good actor recognises nerves are a good thing and enhance performance, they don’t overwhelm performance.”
Professor Carding also offered three physical tips for delivering a powerful speech – sound spontaneous, pause and develop skills in the “act of speaking” such as pacing and intonation.
He quoted playwright George Bernard Shaw: “I’m the most spontaneous man in the world because every retort, every gesture, every comment is carefully rehearsed”.
“If you want to sound spontaneous, you have to put work in,” Professor Carding said.
He spoke of pacing and intonation as a powerful way to lift a speech by adding excitement, motivation and portraying emotion.
He said RSC actors use “thought moments” during their speeches, to pause, as if constructing their next line, and then continue, giving the appearance of spontaneous speech.
“It is a great skill,” Professor Carding said about using dramatic pauses.
“It is probably the most powerful thing you can employ if you know what you are doing.”
Professor Carding is a Professor of Speech Pathology and the Deputy Head of the School of Allied Health, Australian Catholic University.
He delivers executive-level courses on presentation skills.