HARVARD — “Anything that interferes with your message — tattoos, tongue rings, accents, short skirts, underwear – people are going to focus on that rather than what you’re saying,” said Mount Wachusett Community College Theater Department professor and speech instructor Jeri Warren.
The Harvard resident has compressed her communications-arts tips into a new book launched on Jan. 26 called “Show Don’t Tell: A Guide to Purpose Driven Speech.”
“Speech and public speaking scare a lot of people,” said Warren. “I just had someone say ‘You don’t understand — it’s really scary.'”
But Warren says she, too, overcame jitters, and whether it’s an audience of one or thousands, “The bottom line is you have to get your focus off your nervousness and onto your subject matter. With small steps you can get over that nervous hump.”
Advice to “be yourself” isn’t helpful because most are naturally nervous in novel situations.
“That’s where pretending comes in. Pretend you’re not talking to an audience but to a friend who has problem and you have a fix,” said Warren. “Talk to that person as if you’re one on one. You need to jumpstart reality by pretending you’re not scared and pretending that you’re confident.”
At 170 pages, Warren said her book is a reference tool with 33 quick and easy exercises to ease readers into their public speaking comfort zones.
One critical exercise offered is to get used to saying your own name aloud.
“Before each speech, I have someone say their name. ‘Good evening, I’m Jeri Warren.’ For a job interview, the first thing someone hears is your name. So often we say our name incorrectly and make a question out of it because most of our lives we’ve heard our name posed as a question during roll call, as if to say ‘Is Jeri Warren here?’
“It really starts with ‘hi.'”
When acting to pay for her master’s degree at UCLA, Warren was featured in 1970s television commercials for products ranging from Clorox to Ban Ultra Dry antiperspirant, to being the voice in a Bank of America advertisement. Shedding her native New Jersey accent and perfecting the delivery of her name was critical.
“The first thing that would happen when you went into an audition is you’d have to state your name. I’d look into the camera and pretend to see someone I wanted to meet,” said Warren. “If you don’t say your name the right way, they won’t ever listen to what you have to say after that. I was young, I sounded mature and I didn’t have an accent. That has always stayed with me.”
Warren said she borrowed Will Smith’s dialogue from the movie “Hitch,” in which Smith’s character aids those unlucky at love in landing mates.
“‘Sixty percent of all human communication is nonverbal body language, 30 percent is your tone. So that means 90 percent of what you’re saying isn’t coming out of your mouth,” said Warren, quoting from the movie. “The way we walk, the way we move, also speaks volumes. I also cover that.”
The movie “The King’s Speech” also made an impact on Warren. King George VI is depicted overcoming his stutter to deliver an impassioned radio speech in 1939 on Britain’s declaration of war on Germany.
“So much of this stuff I use, including his exercises. It’s all to get people out of their comfort zone so that they’re able to really find what their voice is rather than just muttering words,” said Warren. “Any speech that you’re about to give, I can Google to get that information. But what makes that a speech technique is what’s your take and what makes it special to you. That’s what people want to hear. They want the story behind what makes it fascinating to you.”
Warren said with texting, emails and Facebook, there’s a marked shift in attention spans now, and youth “know how to communicate with their thumbs rather than with their mouth.”
And with shortened attention spans, Warren said, “I have to get right to the point. There are so many books out there that can overwhelm you with information. And I know my students won’t read a 40-page chapter to get to the point. I have eight chapters. It’s a small book. This is the bible of public speaking. You’re always going to use it.”
The goal is to help readers “inform, entertain and persuade,” in all kinds of circumstances.
Warren said her students have reported back to her over the years that her tips have changed their lives. “Especially working mothers, who say they’re more comfortable at work, not afraid to raise their hand, and that people don’t keep asking ‘What was that? What did you say?'”
Artist Rich Breyer, also of Harvard, provided Warren with the illustrations for her book. The book is available in paperback for $14.95 from Amazon.com or via download for e-readers for $8.99 from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.