Q & A: Can I Do An Accent for my Speech?

Q: I just had a question about the monologue speech. I know in class today you said try not to use accents. The monologue I want to do actually is of a girl doing a British accent. Would it be alright if I did the British accent? I think it will definitely help me separate myself from the character an just be the character. I have been practicing the speech in the accent and have also been told that it is a pretty good British accent.

A: It’s not really a “is it alright” question – I just want you to use your judgment. I recommend against accents because a) they’re hard to do, b) it’s an unnecessary complication to what is already a challenging assignment, c) they’re usually (and this is where you might have a different issue) irrelevant to the material being communicated…so why add the labor?, d) even if all of those other things are true, most accents (this isn’t usually true of British accents) just wind up making the speaker appear racist. So if you have objections to those concerns than use your judgment and do what you think is going to get you the best possible performance with the least amount of possible distractions and complications. Sorry I can’t be more “yes” or “no” but exercising judgment amidst uncertainty is roughly 92 percent of what we do all semester – so I want you to practice!

Response from Student:

Ok. Thank you. I will try it without the accent or just practice with both and see which is most comfortable. I am just so used to hearing it in the accent.

Response from Me:

LOL the email was supposed to indicate that I was leaning toward “do the accent” without stealing your agency- if its more work to drop it than to keep it AND it’s British and therefore not likely to come across as racist AND you prefer it to help you get into character AND your accent is pretty good….see where i’m going?

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Against Introductions to Introductions

Most public speakers (especially new public speakers) have a bad habit of re-introducing their speech. It usually looks something like this:

“Hi everybody. I wrote this speech on (insert topic) so, yeah….”

“Dang I am SO nervous…”

“My name is (insert name) and well here goes nothing…”

Although it’s a natural inclination I strongly recommend against the pre-introduction, introduction for a couple of reasons.

  1. It disconnects you from your audience. While telling the audience that you are nervous makes you feel relief, it sets them up to not like the speech; so alleviating your nervousness (which it won’t, by the way) comes at the expense of the audience’s interesting. You’re basically saying, “I’m not ready to do this, don’t bother listening.”
  2. It undercuts your introduction. You spend time writing an introduction, on paper, trying to think of something captivating. If you want to say your name, then put your name IN the introduction. But if everyone begins with their name, then after the first few speeches it becomes a signal that your speech is just like the speech of everyone else. So write a catchy introduction – if you want to say your name or something then say it – don’t leave it for some kind of “extra” sentence or two.
  3. It messes with your time. I’ve seen people add 30 seconds to a speech just because they rambled ahead of time. That can be the difference between ending on time and not.
  4. It gets you off track. You have a speech. You’ve practiced the speech. When you add things in the beginning that you didn’t plan it can often get the rest of the speech off track. I’ve seen people give “extra” intro-intros and then freeze and say, “crap I can’t remember the beginning of the speech.”
  5. Because great public speakers don’t do it. Martin Luther King didn’t stand up and say, “so yeah I’m MLK and I’m stressed out about this speech.” They went in, and they went in hard. Act as if. Believe in what you’re saying. If you have this urge to tell people the speech isn’t that good then….well….maybe you don’t love it and next time you should try to write something that you’re EXCITED to say.

I love this little blog from Ginger Public Speaking (a public speaking training/coaching firm) that discusses 5 great “opening lines” from various Ted Talks: http://www.gingerpublicspeaking.com/best-speech-opening-line

Q & A Edit Length of Monologue?

Q: I’m working on finding a monologue for our assignment and I think I’ve found a good one. I found a script of it on one of the websites you put in the folder. However, after watching the scene, the script was much shorter than the actual scene. I can fit all of the script into two minutes but can’t pause as much as he does in the actual scene. Is it allowed to cut out parts of the monologue that are unnecessary for understanding the theme?

A:

Hello anonymous student,

I don’t recommend using a script from the internet. I recommend watching the scene and writing the script yourself, especially if you can start out writing it by hand so you remember it better.

Once you’ve done that, if the scene is still too long you can either start it later or end it earlier, trying not to cut out anything important for the central idea. In some instances I’m okay if you take out a chunk from the center but that’s it, only remove one big chunk. Don’t cut and paste. It will make it harder to memorize because it will lose the flow of the script.

With respect to delivery, I don’t recommend significantly altering the delivery of the scene especially if it’s to make the time. However, some slowing down or speeding up isn’t a huge deal. I find that most monologues are actually too fast for me. But in some instances they’re way too slow. Mostly, however, I try to stay within 10 or 20 wpm of the original.

I hope that helps.

Lee

Against Intros to Speech Intros

Most public speakers (especially new public speakers) have a bad habit of re-introducing their speech. It usually looks something like this:

“Hi everybody. I wrote this speech on (insert topic) so, yeah….”

“Dang I am SO nervous…”

“My name is (insert name) and well here goes nothing…”

Although it’s a natural inclination I strongly recommend against the pre-introduction, introduction for a couple of reasons.

  1. It disconnects you from your audience. While telling the audience that you are nervous makes you feel relief, it sets them up to not like the speech; so alleviating your nervousness (which it won’t, by the way) comes at the expense of the audience’s interesting. You’re basically saying, “I’m not ready to do this, don’t bother listening.”
  2. It undercuts your introduction. You spend time writing an introduction, on paper, trying to think of something captivating. If you want to say your name, then put your name IN the introduction. But if everyone begins with their name, then after the first few speeches it becomes a signal that your speech is just like the speech of everyone else. So write a catchy introduction – if you want to say your name or something then say it – don’t leave it for some kind of “extra” sentence or two.
  3. It messes with your time. I’ve seen people add 30 seconds to a speech just because they rambled ahead of time. That can be the difference between ending on time and not.
  4. It gets you off track. You have a speech. You’ve practiced the speech. When you add things in the beginning that you didn’t plan it can often get the rest of the speech off track. I’ve seen people give “extra” intro-intros and then freeze and say, “crap I can’t remember the beginning of the speech.”
  5. Because great public speakers don’t do it. Martin Luther King didn’t stand up and say, “so yeah I’m MLK and I’m stressed out about this speech.” They went in, and they went in hard. Act as if. Believe in what you’re saying. If you have this urge to tell people the speech isn’t that good then….well….maybe you don’t love it and next time you should try to write something that you’re EXCITED to say.

I love this little blog from Ginger Public Speaking (a public speaking training/coaching firm) that discusses 5 great “opening lines” from various Ted Talks: http://www.gingerpublicspeaking.com/best-speech-opening-line

Ideal Rate of Speech & Your WPM

We are targeting your ideal rate of speech at 160 – 180 wpm. This is what I think is both doable and advisable—for myself and others—but it’s not a universal rate. I drew my range from a study of 9 Ted Talks in which the researcher found the average speaking rate was 163 words per minute (http://sixminutes.dlugan.com/speaking-rate/). The range of speech rates was 133 – 188 with 2/3 of the speakers in the narrow range 153-168.

  • Al Gore 133 wpm
  • Steve Jobs 158 wpm
  • Ken Robinson 168 wpm
  • Jaqueline Novogratz 188 wpm

Most traditional rate of speech advice (which has been around for a while) would consider 163 wpm too fast. Traditionally, the following ranges are recommended (retrieved from http://alt-usage-english.org/audio_archive.shtml):

  • Slow speech: less than 110 wpm, or words per minute.
  • Conversational speech: around 120 wpm at the slow end, to 150 – 200 wpm in the fast range.
  • People who read books for radio or podcasts: are often asked to speak at 150-160 wpm.
  • Auctioneers are usually in the 250 to 400 wpm range.

Whether you decide that the 160 – 180 wpm range works for you or whether you decide to move in the Al Gore range of 133 what is VERY important is that you always aim for 180 wpm or less. That is the absolutely maximum rate of speaking that is doable for a listener.

As early in the semester as you can I recommend assessing your current rate of speech or words per minute (WPM) and your PREFERRED RATE OF LISTENING to see if they match up. If they do and they are within range, congratulations! If not (which will be true for most of us) then we have some work to do. To calculate your WPM do the following:

  • Watch a video or audio recording of yourself (preferably one that you recorded not consciously thinking about your rate of speech)
  • Start approximately 20 seconds into the speech (the first 20 seconds are usually slower than your typical rate will be)
  • From 15 seconds in, do one of the following:
    • Count every word you say for the next 30 seconds (so until the video reaches 45 seconds) and then multiply by 2 to get your WPM
    • Count every word you say for the next 60 seconds (so until the video reaches 1 minute 15 seconds or 75 seconds) and that is your WPM

Strategies for Memorizing Your Monologue

Read the full (and very short) article here: http://ideas.time.com/2012/02/22/what-actors-can-teach-us-about-memory-and-learning/

  1. Begin by reading the script over and over again, looking for what actors call the “throughline” — the causal chain that leads one event in the play to topple into the next and the next. Memorizing the thoroughline, which doesn’t appear as such in the script, is as important as memorizing the words in the script themselves.
  2. Engage in “micro-level” processing of the material; pay minute attention to every snatch of dialogue because each word offers a hint of the speaker’s motivations and desires. The words are an expression of these motivations and desires. If you have a sense of those the words appear more naturally.
  3. Try to tie the words you speak to the moves your body makes — the finger pointing you might do during a moment of accusation, for example, or the welcoming posture you adopt when you’re greeting new acquaintances.
  4. Infuse your delivery with some real emotion.