On my bookshelf

  • "The Breathing Book" by Donna Farhi
  • "Confessions of a Public Speaker" by Scott Berkun
  • "My Freshman Year" by Rebekah Nathan
  • "Power Presentation" by Patsy Rodenburg

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


In contemplating the offerings for the new term, I keep returning to the idea of oratory. Although no longer in vogue in our school system,from the mid-eighteenth century up until the end of the nineteenth century oratory skills were not only included in the curriculum but some proponents believed that oratory skills were a fundamental key to life.

In Oration on Eloquence given on commencement day at Harvard University in 1794 the speaker stated:

"Speech and reason are the characteristics, the glory and the happiness of man. These are the pillars which support the fair fabric of eloquence; the foundation, upon which is erected the most magnificent edifice, that genius could design or art construct. To cultivate eloquence, then, is to improve the noblest faculties of our nature, the richest talents with which we are entrusted."

Fredrick Douglass in My Bondage and My Freedom recalls reading Caleb Bingham's The Columbian Orator, "The reading of these speeches added much to my limited stock of language, and enabled me to give tongue to many interesting thoughts, which had frequently flashed through my soul, and died away for want of utterance."

My fascination with oration comes from my background as an actor. One of the true joys of performance is to rediscover word and thought for yourself night after night. The same words are spoken, but I can always tell a really great playwright by the insight I gain from their words in the repeated utterance. Can we not all benefit from ingesting great words and thoughts?

I was relieved to find a website for "Poetry Out Loud", a national recitation contest for high school students. There are wonderful poetry selections that are short enough to learn in a week and an interesting set of standards that the adjudicators use to evaluate participants. It is definitely worth checking out, but more importantly find a quote, a poem or even a joke that you can learn. Once you have done that try it out on a friend or colleague, their reaction alone will be incentive to add to your collection.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

What do we do?

Where did the fall go? After several weeks of a snowy vacation, Vancouver saw more snow than it has seen in over forty years, I am desperate to get out of the house and sink my teeth into an exciting project. Of course, this long neglected blog is top priority!

As I created my New Year's hopes, wishes and dreams list (I write down 26 each year, one for each letter of the alphabet), I contemplated a theme for this year's blog and the answer miraculously appeared during a "cleaning out my cupboards" session. I would like to compile a clearer picture of what voice and presentation skills coaches do. What would a session look like? What types of exercises would a student go away practicing? What questions, concerns might a participant grapple with? So hopefully we will be including more video this year, podcasts and informal entries from participants. All in all providing you with even more resources, ideas and support.

To get us started I found this great example of a private "American Accent Coaching" session. Take a look... maybe it will even inspire you to dive in to your voice and speech exercises.