“Mastering Public Speaking: Hearing is Believing”

Important
April 25, 2013, 19:30 master class

live

On April 25 the Digital October Center presented a master class taught by TV host and expert in public speaking Andrey Skvortsov.

The discussion centered on an explanation of how to learn to discuss one’s company in an interesting way, featuring clips from the speaker’s own live segments showing what to do as well as what not to do.

Andrey Skvortsov

Director and co-owner of the Merkator Group, a studio providing video infographics and presentational films, he supervises Russia by the Numbers (Russia 24), Moscow by the Numbers (Moscow 24) and the Russia 1 infographic service. He is also the author and coauthor of presentational films for Orange, PWC, Kaspersky Lab, Rostelekom, Sberbank, Gazprom, etc. In addition, he has been awarded the gold medal at the New York Festival of International Advertising, was a finalist at the 2013 NYF TV & Film Awards for a nomination as Best Entertainment News Reporter/Correspondent, and is the host of NTV’s Weather Extreme and the ProBusiness show Candid PR. He graduated from the Harvard School of Business and received an MBA from AIBEc.

“Since we’re gathered here at Digital October, I might as well talk a little bit about technological entrepreneurship to get things started. I know a woman who has a startup. And one day she asked me to give her some advice about making a video to explain what her company does.

“She says, ‘We specialize in the filtration, systemization, and aggregation of various forms of information.’ Did you get all that? Me neither. So I asked her to put it into simpler terms, to give me an example. And she says, ‘I don’t have an example.’

 

“It’s sad when a person can’t talk about his pet project, about a genuinely interesting venture.

 

“Just 10 years ago, I didn’t know anything about making presentations, either; I remember once, I was invited to a roundtable, and I prepared for it, really, I did, but…when it came my turn to speak, I couldn’t take the stress; I just got up and left. I get nervous just thinking about it.

“Now I have 500 broadcasts under my belt. That’s actually not that much by television standards, but becoming a weatherman on NTV three years ago was the reason that I started taking acting lessons. I can tell that you’re skeptical – I’ll try to convince you. Here’s how it happened:

“There’s this thing called Pozner’s First Law: if any person is shown on a federal channel for a long enough time, he’ll become famous. But in my case, two, three, four months went by, and still, no one recognized me on the street. What’s worse, no one even wrote anything on the Internet about the show getting a new host.

“That’s when I ‘offered myself up’ to an acting coach. And one month later, I started feeling the effects: my first online comment. I remember it word for word.

 

“The post went as follows: ‘Get that psychopath off the air.’

“How could this happen? On seeing my first on-air appearances, my teacher, Valentin Vasilyevich Teplyakov, who is a brilliant actor, director, and former provost of the Russian University of Theatre Arts, asked, “Andrey, how important to you is what you’re saying? Just imagine: your wife is home alone, she’s left the gas on. And you only have 30 seconds on the air to reach her, warn her, and calm her down.”

“Two weeks later, I walked into the studio, and it just so happened that a powerful storm was bearing down on the Far East. And I practically shouted, ‘You’ll all be buried in snow!’ on live television. That’s where that comment came from.

“Yes, I made a mistake, because I was clumsy then. But you know, I realize now that, if I know why I’m going on air and why I want to communicate that specific piece of information, that draws viewers in.

“Pretty much everyone talks about this, but very few people are thinking about it when it comes time to act. I’m talking about mission. If there’s a part of what you’re saying that isn’t working towards your mission, get rid of it. And while we’re on the subject, let’s talk about…

The Structure of Performance

“Stanislavskiy said that if a play is bad, then even the most brilliant actors won’t be able to bring it to life. It follows that the most important thing in structure is the internal dramaturgy, a certain conflict, if you will.

“Here’s an example: we’re in Mercator, making a video for Sberbank (in this sense, film is like a performance) that was supposed to show how the organization was changing for the better. You can tell that this was going to be a tough assignment.

“And we needed to find a way to get our message across without people wanting to throw tomatoes at us. We used criticism as a jumping-off point: leading with a problem is always interesting for viewers and listeners. And after that, we showed experts who gave answers to those criticisms.

 

“Do you know the TED conference? If you take the most watched lectures, you’ll see that 1/3-2/3 of the entire length of the lecture is spent describing the problem.

 

Because human psychology is such that people like to hear that kind of thing.”

Content

“What you never want to do is talk in general terms. I’ll give you another example from my experience with Mercator. We have a client, Vimetco; it’s an aluminum company that was entering new markets and wanted to show its investors how it takes care of the environment.

“We could have just said in the video, ‘Vimetco’s development strategy includes support for the following ecological programs.’ Would you believe that? People are irritated by commonplaces; what’s more, it’s completely possible to interpret generalized statements in different ways.

 

If you don’t get to the heart of the matter, people will get the impression that you’re lying.”

 

“With that understanding, we started looking for concrete examples for Vimetco. We went to Sierra Leone, where the company has its raw materials mines, and saw for ourselves how they were taking the territory that they had bought from the local communities and restoring and returning the land for free. And if they were behaving that way in a poor country that had just seen the end of a civil war, they were probably working just as responsibly in China and Europe.”

Presentation

“So let’s go back to what I was talking about at the beginning. With my apologies to the greats of theater, and to Konstantin Sergeevich himself, who had a real distaste for expounders, I’ll try to give you a brief overview of the Stanislavskiy method. Of course, there are hundreds of nuances. I’ll focus on what we call an ‘action’.

“When I came to my teacher for the first time, he told me that I don’t understand what I’m talking about on the air. I reply, “Excuse me, but I’m a trained meteorologist, and what is there to understand here anyway? In Volgograd, it’s 15 degrees Celsius, in Moscow, it’s 10.’

“This is connected with the idea of generalization, by the way. I actually already understood what he was talking about; if I were nothing but a talking thermometer, what would be the point of putting me on television?

“Then he told me what an ‘action’ is. It means: to surprise, to delight, to warn, to comfort, to scare. Even if a viewer isn’t amazed, he’ll understand that you’re making an effort, that you actually care.

 

“But here, you’ll be faced with a dilemma: if you’re not getting anybody riled, you’re probably not very good.

 

“You can’t please everybody: either you won’t get noticed and no one will remember anything you do or you’ll be big, but not everyone will like it. And to make that happen, there are several technical approaches.”

“For instance, concentrating on your task. At NTV, we use the following format: weather reports filmed outside, not just outside, but, for instance, at a motorcycle rally. I did that once. And we went on air, and the people there started getting in the way, and I totally forgot what I was supposed to say. The next time, I really boned up on my text, but it happened all over again. That’s when I had my conversation with V.V. Teplyakov, when he gave the example about the gas and my wife. And you know what? Today, I can work just fine, even without a prompter.”

“Another approach is creating a conversation with your audience. This means having the ability to occasionally pick out one particular person in the room, say something specifically directed at him, and pick up on his reaction. By the way, while you’re talking to one particular person, everyone else will listen, too: they’ll be interested in it.”

“And now, let’s talk about being natural.

Compare presentations that Steve Jobs made when he was 25 and when he was 45:

In the first case, you have a person who uses an arsenal of clichés, in the second , you have a completely different person. I think he taught himself that, though experience has something to do with it, too.”

“You know, saying ‘act natural’ to a person who has to perform in front of five hundred strangers…For many people, acting natural in that kind of situation means making a fool of yourself as little as possible. That’s why speakers use so many clichés.”

“There’s an approach you can use to avoid them. It’s called ‘seeing the picture’. When you’re choosing the stories that you’re going to tell people, keep the ones that you can imagine vividly. It’s hard to see the picture when you’re in front of a crowd.”

“Remembering, experiencing, acting out your stories – sharp stories, the kind that really touch people – is a method you can use to immerse yourself and connect emotionally with your material. If you want to give a genuinely great performance and draw your audience in on more than content alone, you need emotion. It’s risky, but

 

there’s a second Pozner’s Law, too: “All genres are good, except the boring kind.”

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