As I’ve listened to eulogies delivered over the past few days at the various memorial services for Former President Gerald Ford, and musician extraordinaire James Brown, I was reminded how slim the line is between making and missing the mark in public speaking.
No one fires up his audience better than Al Sharpton, who delivered an impassioned eulogy at the renowned singer’s funeral in Augusta, Georgia this past Saturday.
“Rap started from James Brown. Hip-hop started from James Brown. Funk started from James Brown. We got on the good foot because of James Brown. And, Peter, if you don’t consider it too arrogant, I don’t know too much yet about what you do in heaven. But if you have Sunday morning service, you ought to let James Brown sing tomorrow morning,” sang Sharpton.
I listened, I remembered and I repeated. Here are some of the reasons Sharpton’s words resonated with me:
- Short sentences
- Lots of pauses, to let his words sink in (analogous to white space in hard copy or online); and Sharpton was comfortable with that silence
- Dramatic language
- Repetition of key ideas
- Gestures, not too many but not too wooden.
Although there’s lots of guidance out there on improving fundraising letters, annual reports and Web sites, there’s far less on high-impact speaking. I frequently rely on the guidance of Patricia Fripp whose free e-newsletter (FrippNews) features a wealth of tips and case studies on effective speaking. Fripp focuses on getting her readers’ words remembered and repeated — every speaker’s end goal.
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