Melissa Menke heading for excellence

In June 2015, in The New York Public Library there took place the Forbes 400 Summit on Philanthropy. One of the speakers was Melissa Menke who was awarded a Forbes 400 Fellowship.

If you are a regular reader of this blog and Melissa’s name seems familiar you may have come across it here.

Trainees of mine might be disappointed that this is not a bald opening, but with only four minutes Melissa doesn’t have time to open with pretty stories. She has to lay out her stall right away. To do so without a greeting might seem churlish, so she is rather forced to have a preamble. “Good morning, I’m Melissa…” is about as short as any preamble could be.

Her first twenty seconds go a little too fast. It is difficult to know whether this is nervousness or an anxiety to fit the speech into its time-slot. But actually the reason is irrelevant because speaking too quickly is such a well known nerve symptom that the audience will automatically interpret it that way, so it is to be avoided.

It is to be avoided not just for that reason. Speaking too quickly to save time is essentially futile. Let us look at the mechanics of it. The actual words are not articulated significantly faster: the speed is in the closing of the gaps between words, in particular the natural pauses between phrases and sentences. I reckon everyone who has ever edited speech-audio has tried to save time by closing these gaps, and we’ve all done it only once because we’ve learnt the painful lesson. It doesn’t work! It’s a mug’s game: you slave for hours trimming these things, turn around and find that you’ve saved just a few lousy seconds.

Never speak too fast in an attempt to save time: take out a sentence or two instead. Otherwise your words and sentences can tumble over each other faster than the listener can absorb them.

Is that happening to Melissa? Barely, but I had to find something to criticize.

This is a beautiful piece of speaking! Nothing gets between her and her natural communication with her audience – and the most important word there is ‘natural’.  I defy you to find any sign of artifice or insincerity. These are real things told you by a real person who is sufficiently comfortable to speak with no invisible masks or screens getting in the way.

I don’t known how much I can claim any credit via the video link sessions we had, but I couldn’t be more proud of her.

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