Para-aesthetic Elements

Your speech is both logic and art: logic in its construction, pure art in its delivery. How you deliver your speech – your timing, your emotion, your images, your play with the audience – are aesthetic elements. They can be fast/slow, big/small, smooth/jagged, short/long, aggressive/aloof, etc..

In its aesthetic aspects, a speech is a lot like a theatrical performance: both speeches and theater start & end at an appointed time; both have a beginning, middle and end; both have an audience; both are supposed to take their audiences on a journey; both carve moments in time using ideas, voice, and physical gestures.

(Speeches and theater can also differ in certain respects: in theater, you generally watch people playing characters, while in speeches, you generally watch people speak about themselves and a certain topic; in theater, the audience usually watches a story about characters unfold before their eyes, but in a speech, the speaker's relationship with the audience IS the story; and, in theater, an audience has usually paid to be there, while in many speeches, an audience has been compelled to be there.)

One additional way that theater and speeches are similar is that they both can be affected by para-aesthetic elements. What are para-aesthetic elements? These are the factors that can condition an audience member's experience before the show/speech even begins. If you've ever been to a theater show, you've felt them. Para-aesthetic elements could include: advertising for the show, reviews you've read, the meal you had before the show, the distance you had to travel to get to the show, the price of the tickets (and how you feel about it), the cleanliness of the restrooms, availability of parking, and many others.

Para-aesthetic elements are at work just as much in your speech. Are there enough seats? What's the temperature of the room? Is the room clean? Did you spell-check your handouts? Did participants have to travel to get there? Does everyone know how to get there? If your speech is for a mandatory corporate training session, how was it advertised? If your speech is about addressing a new policy at work, what is the general feeling about the changes coming? Are they well-known? If they are, how has this news been generally accepted?

To the extent that you can, you want to make para-aesthetic elements work for you, so that when you start your speech, your audience is ready to be receptive. There are lots of things we can do, depending on our venue and type of speech, to help ourselves out. If your speech is a corporate training, you can make sure your room is comfortable, and that you've sent clear communications to the participants about where the training is, when it is, what you're going to cover and why it's important. If you're making a wedding speech, you may wish take into account any speeches made before you speak, so you don't make the same mistakes or say the same things people have before you.  If you're making a speech for a marketing presentation, you might take some time to think about what the audience already knows about your product and their attitudes towards it.

Public speaking is just as much about knowing your audience as it is knowing what you're talking about. It's the intersection of argument and art. It's the pushing of your ideas through your personality into a particular space and time with a particular group of people. The more you can condition the intersection of those elements into a space of common understanding, the better you'll do, and the better experience you'll be able to give to your audience. So set yourself up to win!

And to get some practice and pointers, contact MUSE today!