What Shonda Rhimes Can Teach Us About Speaking

Last week I offered two tips for anyone who’s often told, “You talk to fast.”  Now I’d like to offer everyone (from typically fast to traditionally slow talkers) some guidance to help take their speaking style to the next level.
I’m listening to Shonda Rhimes’ book “The Year of Yes” on Audible. (Shonda Rhimes is the writer/creator of ABC’s entire winning Thursday night lineup: Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How To Get Away with Murder) Her book features her entire Commencement Speech in 2014 to Dartmouth’s graduating class. You can view the entire speech here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EuHQ6TH60_I

As I listened I realized, “She’s a nice example of a person who can and does speak successfully at a rapid pace.”  And, she only utilizes the rapid pace at times.  At the very beginning in particular, she starts off at a slower pace.  This is a wise choice for just about everyone – it’s grounded and grounding both for the speaker and the audience.  Then, as the speech continues, she is able to take the audience on a multi-dimensional, varied journey by using both fast and slow-paced tempos.  She’s a fast thinker, so she does the fast side of the spectrum very well – and she’s a writer (she’s written her own speech) so there’s almost a sense of spoken poetry in some sections.  This won’t be everyone’s style, and all of us (fast and slow-talkers alike) can emulate her ability to use her entire range – from slow and grounded, to the rapid-fire, “quickest thinker in the room” tempo.  (There’s a particularly fast “hashtag” rant around 15 minutes in to the speech.)

Shonda’s main area for improvement and growth (as it is for most people) is the breath support.  She’s not an actor.  Like most people she probably hasn’t had any voice training.  In addition, she’s likely spent years protecting herself emotionally, so that means she has a lot of muscular armor and habitual tension around that rib-cage.

One other thing … at times, this breath support issue inhibits her ability to enunciate her words as clearly as she could at that rapid-fire pace.  She’s good at enunciation – she’s not as good as she could be.  It’s similar to going for a run without training.  Eventually our breath capacity limits will show up in the muscles of the extremities failing – our legs would simply not be able to continue running (or not run as well) as if we had trained and had better aerobic conditioning.  The same thing happens to our articulators – lips, tongue, teeth; if there isn’t enough breath support, it makes it harder to articulate all of the consonants clearly and effortlessly.

I hope this helps give you some ideas to play with as you take your speaking to the next level.

All my best,
Lauri
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