Thursday, August 17, 2017

6 public speaking tips for your next protest rally speech

With protests rising in number worldwide, public speakers need to dust off--or just learn for the first time--the skill of addressing a public protest rally. It's a particular form of public speech, and one we are apparently rusty at doing, based on some of the recent rallies I've seen.

Protest rally speeches are loaded with declarations, with audience response, and with interruptions for said responses, applause, chants, and cheers. It takes a stable and thoughtful speaker to make the most of this opportunity in person. And because today's rallies are often recorded and put on YouTube, it's worth giving a thought to how this will look and sound online as well as in the heat of the moment. Here are six more tips for today's protest speaker:
  1. Manage your time: If we learned no other lesson from When a man hogs the mic at the Women's March, it's that protest speakers should err on the side of being briefly powerful rather than holding forth. Even 20 minutes feels like an eternity to the audience standing in front of you at a rally, and your five minutes is just a fraction in a four-hour rally. Edit with that in mind.
  2. Lean in, part one: Sound systems vary at outdoor protest rallies, from bullhorns to platforms with mics and concert-level sound systems. But when the audience is large and outdoors, nearly every sound system will fall short at some point. Do your part by leaning into the microphone, keeping it so close to your mouth you could take a bite out of it. I can't count the number of rally speakers I've seen, but not heard, because they paid no attention to where the mic was.
  3. Lean in, part two: Don't forget that the audience, as in any public speaking situation, will take its cues from you. Are you energized? Angry? Ready to lead the charge? Better let us see that in your tone of voice, your gestures, and your facial expression. Don't make us wonder whether you really care.
  4. Use your outdoor voice: Even with a mic and sound system, or a bullhorn, you'll need your outdoor voice to be heard by the furthest reaches of a big crowd. Yes, it may sound as if you're yelling, but this isn't the time for the nuanced whisper. Protest rally speeches more closely emulate the public speaking of yore, from the days before amplified sound. Go for being heard over being subtle.
  5. Go for the wide gesture: This is the moment for the broad gesture, the wide expanse of arms and hands. Make your gestures above the height of any lectern you may be using so they're in camera range--and in view of the spread-out audience.
  6. Find a hook: Maybe it rhymes. Maybe it's sung. Maybe it's just chant-able. Maybe it's good old-fashioned call-and-response. If there's a hook to exploit in your speech--something the group can repeat and chant--use it, and use it again. Giving the crowd a chance to vent is part of the purpose of a protest rally. Don't think you're the only one who wants to speak.
For more inspiration, check out my list of 12 famous protest speeches by women.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Fibonacci Blue)

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