Page 5 - Independent Schools Magazine
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Heads, staff, and the art of public speaking...
Richard Brown, Headmaster Handcross Park School (part of the Brighton College Family of Schools) re ects that public speaking in a school environment is a skill which requires improvement, and describes a step towards that goal....
I was talking to a friend of mine whilst waiting for yet another
late Southern Rail train and he mentioned that the Headmaster of his son’s prestigious Independent senior school was less than perfect in the art of public speaking –
too many notes and not enough engagement with the audience! I read in the Telegraph a while ago some observations from Susan Hamlyn (Good Schools Guide) where she observed how the modern parent wanted different expectations from their Heads – she highlighted that the old qualities
of ‘gravitas, impressiveness, and dignity’ were being replaced by the need for Heads to have ‘excellent presentational skills, visibility and to know everything about their child.’
I believe that the art of public speaking, especially in a school environment, is a skill that requires
Harry Emck MBE (he@ highlighted some key areas to focus upon:
Any good presentation will rely on
a number of factors. Hopefully the presenter will be reaching out to an intelligent and responsive audience who have a genuine interest in the subject matter. All they ask for is
an engaging delivery and clarity of content. But what exactly do we mean by delivery and content? Both are quite simple concepts but there are two critical elements to any above-average presentation.
Firstly, there is the message itself.
It must be carefully and cunningly constructed. It must be interesting in its own right. It must stand on
its own feet. It must be entirely focussed upon the audience - for who else is a presentation for, unless it is just an exercise in ego and self- congratulation?
What is it that the audience really needs to hear? What is it that will draw their attention, and hold it for the duration? And how long should your presentation last? If I have one piece of advice for you, it is this: less is more. You only have a relatively short time to get any message across and audiences nowadays are increasingly critical and easily bored.
some improvement. How many Heads, aspiring Heads, Senior Managers, Bursars even Governors seek help as to how to improve or learn how to speak well in public? Whether it is the Prize Giving speech, the Monday morning staff room address, the post play or music event ‘thank you’, the opening
piece at a Governors’ meeting, the Friday assembly ‘Thought for the Day’, the introduction to a parents’ evening, the persuasive Open Day address to prospective parents, or giving a presentation at IAPS or HMC Conference... the list is endless. All these different occasions require careful preparation and practice
as you have a variety of audiences and you need to use very different rhetorical devices. Some people
are naturals or are they...’it takes one hour of preparation for each minute of presentation time’ (Wayne
The key message has to be carefully and thoroughly worked through, and simply presented. It must be logical, easily comprehensible, and jargon- free. A taut, conversational  ow that uses simple phrases is key.
Secondly, there is delivery. A message with great content and structure will have very little impact unless it is properly delivered. People struggle
to remember a subject that has been delivered in a dull,  at monotone
or read from a script. If a presenter bores us through his or her inability to hold our attention, we are unlikely to remember the message.
By contrast, a good presenter can appear to be entirely the ‘master
of the brief’, even if in fact he or
she lacks expertise or experience.
An ocean-going knowledge of the subject matter brings con dence and conviction, but knowing how to put the message across in a naturally convincing manner is no accident. Technique – knowing the value of gaps and pauses and when to use eye contact to best effect – is all important. Look at the techniques used by the Indian PM, Narendra Modi; or Nelson Mandela; or Barack Obama; or even William Hague. These skills are no accident. They
are the result of understanding the
Burgraff, 18th Century American Philosopher).
I remember when I taught at the Edinburgh Academy, the popular and charismatic chaplain, Howard Haslett, used to give the Friday address to the school and his Irish charm and natural  air had the
staff and pupils in the palm of his hands – a God given gift or a lot
of practice behind the scenes...we shall never know. It reminded me
of that comment by Carl Buechner, the American writer and theologian, ‘they may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.’
Anyway, I spoke to a number of those Heads within IAPS District
3 and they unanimously agreed that they wished that they had had some professional development in this area. I then got in contact with
techniques and good training.
Another hobby horse. Have you ever thought about how well people use visuals? Visuals are slides (electronic or otherwise), handouts, pitch books or any other form of visual medium that are used to illustrate a theme or point in a presentation. Most people tend to use the ubiquitous PowerPoint; a tremendously powerful tool but one that is, more often than not, used very badly.
At some stage in our careers, all
of us will have sat through the singularly dull experience of a speaker whose presentation consists almost entirely of  fty plus slides consisting of bullet points. The ‘presentation’ in this case often consists of the speaker reading
his own notes from the screen
to the audience. This ‘technique’
is as ineffective as it is common. These supposed ‘visuals’ simply serve to distract us from what
the most powerful element of
any presentation should be – the presenter, and the personal impact he or she should be making. A visual should simply reinforce, clarify or summarise a point made by the speaker. It should not be a wallpaper slide show to get us through the next 30 minutes.
Harry Emck from Templar Advisors, a company that focusses on improving communication skills in the business sector. He was keen to help and then spent a morning with my senior management team and District 3 working on improving our ‘public speaking’ skills – he not only gave us some very useful advice through an interactive and ‘hands on’ morning but it also helped strengthen our team through a shared experience i.e. being  lmed and critiqued!
Finally, I thought that I would  nish with some words from Mark Twain, ‘the right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.’
Humour is also a powerful tool, but must be handled with care. Used
the right way, and it will strengthen the sense of engagement between a presenter and audience. But timing and delivery is critical. Very few of us are natural stand-up comedians, and unless we have a deeply developed comic talent we should resist the temptation to try and become
one. To  nd an audience laughing at us rather than with us is not a particularly good experience.
So, there we are. My view is that there is a lot more too successful communication than perhaps  rst meets the eye. Most of us are reasonably good at getting the message across; otherwise we wouldn’t already be successful
at what we do. People nowadays expect senior leaders to have good communication skills, and this includes Headmasters. Being ‘OK’ at public speaking is not really good enough. Even the most effective communicators bene t from a skills uplift; anyone who says they are ‘good enough’ may not actually be as good as they think they are. There is always room for improvement. Employees expect leaders to ‘walk the walk’ and not just ‘talk the talk’. Indeed, we are judged every time we open our mouths.
Independent Schools Magazine 5
How many Heads, aspiring Heads, Senior Managers, Bursars even Governors seek help as to how to improve or learn how to speak well in public?

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