We did it!
Here it is, coaches -- our holy book of oratory wisdom. At last we have a compilation of all the techniques we’ve developed in our workshops, classes, individual coaching sessions, OratoryX, the Listening & Speaking Lab, Oratory: Business Edition, and of course, in our own training as speakers and coaches.
But this is more than just an archive of greatest hits; it’s a living, collaborative document that allows us to continue developing our methodology. And not just our exercises and coaching strategies, but also how we plan our work, how we evaluate it, and how we advance up the coaching ladder.
In the Fundamentals chapter, and sometimes in the introductions to our games, you’ll find the theories and recurring questions that guide our work. But the focus of this playbook is practical: these are the things we do to help people speak better.
Why the fun and games?
Homo sapiens weren’t designed for public speaking. As Scott Berkun points out in “Confessions of a Public Speaker,” if we humans look up and find ourselves standing alone, exposed, without a weapon, surrounded by creatures who are staring at us, we’re built to panic, not perform.
So we get speakers to play. We trick the brain by refocusing it on small, incremental challenges. Instead of a test, we offer a game. Instead of a threatening audience, the speaker looks out at smiling teammates, eager for a turn of their own.
Because we know that courage, connection, and clarity -- the keys to better performance -- can only grow with repetition. How do you get a human to try, and try again? You make it fun.
That’s what makes our approach unique.
Why peer coaching?
We stumbled onto peer coaching out of necessity: once Middlebury made “sophistication in oral expression” a learning goal, we needed a way to deliver that training to every student. Instead of hiring teachers, we started training student speaking tutors.
Right away, we saw students breathing easier in front of a crowd, volunteering to get up and try, laughing at their mistakes. We had students lining up to be trained as coaches, and other students signing up for their services.
Who knew that working with a fellow student would turn out to be the secret sauce?
It’s not such a mystery, though. Our coaches don’t come from above. We’re not experts. In fact, we try to find a moment in every session to mention what we’re working on in our own speaking. Something we struggle with.
And we try to leave people with, not just the Games and Game Changers, but the habit of peer coaching itself: the fundamental moves any group can use after we leave to continue coaching each other.
That’s why oratory coaching can start to feel like you’re part of a movement.
How to use this playbook
Over time, we’ve invented a collection of chants, mantras, call and response scripts, etc., designed both to communicate key concepts, and to practice them. We’ve also sweat the details on step-by-step directions to our games, and speechwriting prompts.
So in the scripts that follow, you’ll see we’ve marked some text in red. These words are to be learned by heart. Think of them as song lyrics, or lines in a play.
Text that appears in black is suggested wording. We give you the gist, but leave specific wording to you, with the following challenge: Don't use more words than we've suggested!
Here's the key to our audience-speaker formations:
Okay, but what is Oratory Now?
We are a student-driven, faculty-directed center for training and research in oral expression. We believe that working to improve our live communication skills is a civilizing force, and that helping others develop these skills is an act of shared empowerment.
We pursue this mission with a sense of curiosity and play. Rather than focus on technical fixes -- Speak up! Stop pacing! More eye contact! -- we’re gunning for fundamental change. We use targeted exercises, imagined scenarios, physical and vocal challenges, etc. to literally change the game.
And nothing seems to help speakers leap over their fears and impediments like playing a new game. So here we go . . .