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June 14, 2007

Filed under: journalism»communication

Forensic Evidence: Miscellany

Now we're getting picky.

Walking Points

There are three good reasons to physically move from one place to another during a speech. First, it shakes up the audience a little, gives them slightly different scenery to watch, and engages their twitch-motion reflex if you've lost their attention. Second, it establishes physical locations that act as a mnemonic for your points, and makes them easier to remember. Finally, it gives the speech a more dynamic presence, and gets you out from behind a podium.

For a three point speech, there's an acknowledged method in forensics for walking the points, and since it works, I see no reason to change it. Basically,

you start in the middle of the room,

walk a few feet to one side for the first point

come back to the middle for the second,

give your third point from the other side,

and finally return to the starting point to conclude the speech.

In high school, I learned a three-dimensional "christmas tree" pattern for walking, but I had to unlearn it in college. Staying on a single plane is less contrived for the audience, and it requires less adaptation in small spaces.

This isn't very hard. It takes a little bit of practice to remember to move at the relevant time in the speech, but it soon becomes second nature. The real trick is to make it seem natural--like you moved as a part of your expression, and not because someone told you to jerk into motion at that point in your speech. Practice is crucial, but so is technique. Here's one way to do it: as you finish one section and during the first sentence of the next, gesture toward the direction of your movement with the hand on the same side as that movement. Using that gesture to lead through, take your first step with the foot on the same side (i.e., when moving to the right, step with the right foot). If you step with the other foot, you'll have to cross yourself up from a standing position, which both looks awkward and closes your body to the audience. By using the leading gesture and the corresponding foot, you maintain an open posture to listeners. With practice, this becomes a smooth, casual motion, and stops looking premeditated, especially if you move while speaking instead of snapping into motion between sentences.


So with the exception of hiding behind the podium, there's not much that gets more in the way of speaking to an audience (as compared to at them) than reading from notes. Everything else in delivery--eye contact, walking, vocal rhythm--it's all shot if the speaker keeps looking down at a piece of paper, losing their place, or talking to the desk.

There are many ways to memorize, and I'm not going to claim that this will work for everyone. But when I had a speech written that had to be delivered at 9am the next day, here's how I went about committing it to memory.

Starting from the top, I read through the entire speech, one sentence at a time. I would make sure that I had that sentence correct, then move on to the next. At least several times, I would repeat not just the current sentence, but also the one before it. This builds a connection between the two--I might not be able to skip ahead three sentences, but I could automatically repeat what came next. At the end of each paragraph, I practiced going through the whole paragraph. At the end of each section, I tried to get through it in its entirety before moving on. The entire process is meant to connect the speech together in sequences of sentences.

It worked for me. Obviously, this process is much, much easier if you've written it yourself, because the words will come naturally to you.

Speaking in front of a camera

I don't have a ton of experience with this (if I remember correctly, commenter "thatfuzzybastard" is a film editor, who might have better advice), but I do know that speaking in front of a camera does change some aspects of the equation, and I've seen some of these issues come up while in the Multimedia Center studios. In my defense if I get something hideously wrong, I'm relying on Hausman, O'Donnell, and Benoit's Announcing: Broadcast Communicating Today, 4th Edition, which was published in 2000.

As far as clothing goes, don't wear red on camera. This may be out of date, especially as cameras have improved (and HD becomes more common), but I was always told that CCDs can react poorly to red, and it can make you look like a fire engine.

Also, try not to wear patterns. It will turn into a moire when the camera downsamples it, and it's distracting. This is less important at higher resolutions--but remember that not everyone shoots in HD, and nowadays not everyone produces for even standard definition. We had someone come in for a shoot wearing a patterned tie once for a web video. It moire'd in the original DV-CAM, and then the Real codec turned it into a fireworks display. Suddenly no-one had any idea what he was saying, because they were too hypnotized by the magical Time Tunnel on his chest.

You can ask the cameraperson or interviewer whether or not they want you to look at the camera. We usually ask people not to do so, and I end up sitting next to the camera to give them a point of reference. But wherever you're supposed to look, pick a spot and stick with it. If your eyes move around too much, or if they meet the camera sometimes and other times don't, you'll look shifty. And nobody likes that.

And from an editor's perspective, make it easy on them and you will probably be rewarded. Points that are made in a simple, direct--and above all, short--way are more likely to be picked as soundbites. It is a shame, in many ways, that soundbites have become so common. But having worked on a few projects here, we are almost always way long on time for our video productions, and have to cut back dramatically. The editors love people who can be trimmed without losing as much substance.

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