We included Amy Goodman on our "Best Public Speakers" list because of her vocal variation, emphasis, structure, and humor. Amy Goodman is an American broadcast journalist, syndicated columnist, investigative reporter, and author. She is the host and executive producer of Democracy Now! -- a national, independent, and award-winning news program airing on over 1,400 public television and radio stations worldwide.
We reviewed her 2017 speech entitled "We Will Not Be Silenced." Goodman makes the argument that if we stop using the media as a weapon of war, it can be used as the greatest force of peace on earth.
Goodman's greatest communication skills:
Vocal Variation: Goodman delivers the majority of her speech in a motivational vocal style. This is characterized by a variety in vocal pitch, pace, and volume. However, we also hear moments of assertiveness such as when she says, "you begin to understand where they are coming from" (3:10-3:14). Additionally, there are moments when she is more consultative; she slows down and gets quieter (2:52-2:55). This variety makes her speech more engaging, emotionally impactful, and memorable.
Emphasis: Listening to Goodman and the words she chooses to emphasize is like listening to a well-trained Shakespearean actor. By slowing down and giving vocal weight to the most important words in a sentence, she helps her audience more easily digest her thoughts. She demonstrates this best at the end of her speech when she says, "We...will not...be silent" (4:47-4:50).
Structure: As a professional journalist, Goodman knows how to tell a well-structured story. She starts by giving historical context for the Pacifica radio station. Then she goes on to tell a story about a racist act committed against the radio station. She uses this to make a point that "independent media....allows people to speak for themselves." This is important because "understanding is the beginning of peace" (2:30-3:22).
Humor: Humor can be tricky, especially when discussing a serious topic. In this case, Goodman was able to intersperse a story of racism with moments of levity. One of these moments was when she joked about the song that was playing when the KKK blew up a radio transmitter saying, "which I thought was a good song." (1:47-1:53). Humor, when used appropriately, can release tension and connect the speaker with the audience.
What Goodman could do to improve her communication skills:
Gestures: For the first half of the speech, Goodman is leaning on the podium, so we cannot see the majority of her gestures. For the second half, we are able to see more hand movements; however, her gestures are not as specific and direct. For instance, she uses the closed pincer for almost 25 seconds (2:22-2:46). Therefore, we recommend she use a gesture to emphasize a portion of her thought and then reset back to a neutral position which -- in this case -- is hands on the podium. This will maximize the impact of her message.
Contributing Writers: David Prete and Madina Behori
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