Most books on public speaking emphasize external attributes— projecting one’s voice confidently, maintaining eye contact and telling spellbinding stories. These are all important factors says author Heather Stubbs, but to be a truly powerful speaker, you need to first get your internal house in order.
That’s the central theme of Stubbs’ gem of a book “SPEAK UP! A performer’s insights into the art and skill of public speaking”. As the title infers, Heather draws on decades of experience as a musician, thespian and school teacher to craft a unique book that is equal parts memoir, speaking skills instruction manual and self-help guide.
Early in the book, Heather sets the stage by framing public speaking as “anytime you’re talking to someone other than yourself.” She asserts that if people widen the concept of “public speaking” to include activities such as going on a job interview or chatting at a networking event, then many more people can benefit from using the concepts she puts forth.
Throughout the book, I was captivated by Heather’s use of imagery to draw the reader in. She discusses the concept of creating energy between the speaker and the audience saying,
“Rather than simply transferring information, effective speaking is the marriage of content and energy. Your ideas ride the magic carpet of your energy to your listener’s mind.”
Beyond the wonderful images, the book delivers solid how-to advice as well. Using real-life anecdotes and actual drawings (for example, of correct posture), Heather provides a very comprehensive treatment of how a person’s internal and physical self must come together to be a complete speaker. The book is divided into two parts: Managing Your External Actions and Managing Your Internal State.
The section “Managing Your External Actions” contains concepts and practice activities about topics like managing your “stage presence” by strengthening your posture, voice control and gestures. This portion is very detailed and sure to give even seasoned speakers some new insights into the physicality of creating an engaging and energized physical presence. There is also a brief treatment on the use of one’s “props” (my words, not Heather’s) such as Power Point and avoiding jargon. There are more detailed books on the market for these “presentation tools” (Presentation Zen comes to mind) and Heather wisely steers clear of the details and instead focuses on her considerable knowledge base: creating positive energy between the speaker and her audience.
It’s when Heather discusses the speaker/audience relationship that this book really takes flight. For that reason, the Managing Your Internal State section was most helpful to me. Most public speaking seminars either gloss over, or completely ignore a speaker’s internal state of mind as a precursor to giving an effective presentation. In this section, Heather provides very specific evidence (citing brain research) and concrete skill practices for how to be confident, but not arrogant.
The theme of “relationships” runs throughout the book. Heather makes that case that the best speakers all share a common trait: they create a relationship with their audience that is genuine. It’s this authentic presentation of “self” that allows a speaker to create connections with their listeners and forge a bond that allows the speaker to let go of fears of audience judgment. In true walk-the-talk style Heather does some relationship-building as well— with her readers. She offers up personal stories about her early (and sometimes painful) performances as a child and how they shaped her views of public speaking. This modeling of being honest to the point of vulnerability with the readers gives her words of advice credibility.
I definitely recommend this book to the readers of The People Equation. As Heather points out, at some point or another, we are all in a position of talking with people. The ability to do so in an authentic and persuasive way is a skill we can all develop more fully. SPEAK UP! will help anyone, be they a novice speaker or a seasoned veteran, gain insight into their speaking abilities.
To purchase a copy of the book SPEAK UP! you may visit Heather’s website here.
Disclosure: I was provided with a free electronic version of the book for the purposes of writing this review.