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Public Speaking from the Bottom Up

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Yep. There are Top Down and Bottom-up ways of public speaking.

If you go to a talk and assume that you wil impart your information, deposit it into the recipients brains and maybe motivate them and inspire them, you are taking a top down approach. There are times when that's what you want to do. If you're facing a negative publicity situation, announcing some bad news, you may want to totally control the conversation. You, or your communications experts may feel that is the safest thing to do.

But the world is becoming more and more bottom-up in mind, technology, even the way our brains work. That applies to public speaking too.

Be approachable and camera
friendly. That means no

Blinding light behind you.

In her blog, EloquentWoman, Denise Graveline , has some helpful thoughts, here,

First she describes the old, top-down way.

"Public speaking comes with a lot of assumptions baked into it--forms, formats and formalities that have been used over and over again for centuries. Here's the basic recipe: Someone, the expert, strides to the front, gets introduced, stands behind a lectern on a raised platform and speaks for 30 minutes to an hour, perhaps taking a few audience questions at the end, but only if time permits. People in the audience listen, and clap at the beginning and end. There might be handouts to take away with more information, or business cards."

She uses this as an intro to a discussion of how social media are changing things. She breaks the elements of a speech into six parts, all of which have been changed by the introduction of twitter, portable video camera or cell phone video or flip phone type technologies. Those six parts are:
Who speaks, who shares, who stands where, who listens, who watches and for how long?

The bottom up approach to public speaking embraces the key characteristics of the bottom up way of seeing, thinking, doing-- cooperation, participation, interdependence, engagement, trust, transparency.

What does this look like?

While there may be a featured speaker, that person is a facilitator who encourages dialog and conversation. Some speakers will start out asking the audience to tell who they are. Some ask every single member of the audience to do so. Instead of depositing information, the bottom-up speaker gets things started and stirs the pot, but brings in others to make it a conversation. Everyone feels a part of the conversation.

The bottom up speaker moves away from the podium. I ran conferences for 15 years and we videotaped them. Some people stood in one spot. Others roved all over the room. Some ever read their talks from a paper... in a monotone. Guess which ones kept the audience riveted and energized and feeling a part of the conversation?

Nowadays, some conferences enable twitter participation. Speakers not only solicit questions and comments from the face-to-face audience. They also look to a screen on the podium or projected on the screen at the front of the room to see tweet questions-- from people in the audience or others following the tweet stream. (Often conferences use hash tags to key in twitter followers in and out of the room.) I first encountered this in 2008 at the Personal Democracy Forum conference, which is where many bottom up technologies and their uses are often shared by early adopters and the authors who write about them. When Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement, spoke at the Pittsburgh 2009 NetrootsNation conference, there were volunteers running around the audience collecting questions-- a low tech way to facilitate participation-- but there was also a host for her talk who was tracking twitter for questions submitted using the hashtag for the conference.

There's another way way to think about top down and bottom up speaking. it's really easy to get stuck in your head, to only talk to people's heads about ideas. But the most effective speakers talk to people's hearts too. They connect to their feelings and, if they are doing the most powerful speaking, they are touching people emotionally using multi-sensory descriptive language. This is also bottom up speaking--- reaching the whole person. When they do that kind of speaking they are not just talking to the audience, they are connecting with the audience, evoking sympathy, empathy and a feeling that "I've been through that experience too."

There are some people who are so charismatic they can carry top-down speeches and blow an audience away. But even many of the speakers of that caliber are shifting to more engaging, bottom approaches.

I emailed Denise Graveline, asking her to do an email interview. Here's what I asked and her reply:

My email to Denise:
1) I'd characterize your basic description of the classic public talk as a description of a "top down" talk.

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Rob Kall is the host of the Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show, WNJC 1360, where he discusses how the bottom up mind and bottom up revolution are reaching different areas of the world, of life, of politics, business, society and anywhere else.

Rob is founder and site architect of (more...)

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