Soapbox Speakers

Would you like to be a speaker?

You can be a speaker. You don’t need our permission; you don’t need anyone’s permission. No one can stop you.
That’s the beauty of it. You can get up on a box or ladder (or not) and speak.

Do you want to improve your speaking skills?
To be able to speak fluently and articulately, without umming and ahhhing, is a wonderful skill to have in the work place and in social occasions. Yes, speaking to strangers is scary initially, but once you overcome that fear and gain the ability to talk to strangers, your confidence will soar.
To live a life of confidence is one of the best gifts you can give yourself.

Are you an up-and-coming musician, magician, street perfomer or comedian who wants to reduce your nervousness, get experience, and discover what works for you, and what doesn’t? There is no better venue in the southern hemisphere than Speakers’ Corner, Sydney.

Do you have something to say, and want to have fun saying it in a beautiful park on a sunny day?

Are you an author writing a book? Are you aware that if it gets published you might be interviewed? Why not come to Speakers’ Corner and practise talking about your book or your ideas? You will become adept at answering questions, confident and fluent of speech. When you are interviewed you will be able to speak well, interest your listeners, and leave a good impression.
Your ability to speak about your work could determine whether you even get an interview. Or even a publisher.

To all of you who have something to say or to perform: don’t miss out on an opportunity to extend your boundaries, gain valuable skills, and build confidence in yourself.

If we charged money to allow people to speak, there would be a queue a kilometre long.

How to be a speaker:
Bring your own box/stepladder/milk crate to stand on, and speak. That’s it! When your listeners become bored they will simply walk away. That’s helpful because you discover what works and what doesn’t. So, your public speaking skills improve and your confidence soars. You get used to rejection, and you learn to lose those ‘umms’ and ‘ahs’. You learn eye contact. You learn to improvise. You learn most of skills of public speaking, and that skill will benefit you in countless ways in daily life.

And, importantly, it’s fun.

Don’t worry about the public – they won’t be harsh with you. The public is used to all sorts of speakers. Or, they’re not, and they’ll have no expectations.

Choose a subject (or a number of subjects) which you know a fair bit about and feel passionate about, and join us. Be original and bold.

Where can you speak?
Anywhere you like at Speakers’ Corner. Fortunately, none of the speakers has a regular spot. That means, you can stand on your box anywhere in the area provided you are no closer than 10 metres to another speaker.  We speakers move about week to week, depending on the weather and the whim. So if you get there early you can get a good spot.

A good spot is by a pathway, to catch the passers-by. Or, if it’s hot, a good spot is under one of the trees providing shade.

There are three ‘varieties’ of speaker. 
1. Some speakers talk whether or not someone is listening . The idea is that if a passer-by comes along and catches what the speaker is saying, they might stop to listen further. It’s an effective method for getting a listener.

2. Some speakers only talk when a member of the public asks a question. In that instance a sign is imperative (to prompt a question). This method is also effective.

3. Some speakers ask a passer-by a question, to pique the person’s interest and engage them. This works well too.

The most important thing a soapbox speaker needs to do is entertain. Passers-by will only listen if they are entertained. There are different ways to entertain:
a) Say something so interesting we can’t help but listen.
Leave out the boring bits. The listeners don’t want to know dates, street names and the like; they want the guts of the story, the entertaining bits. The author, Elmore Leonard, once said, ‘I try to leave out the parts the readers tend to skip’. Make sure you do the same.

b) Or, you can entertain with humour.
But the audience doesn’t want joke after joke after joke. It soon becomes tedious. Listeners want substance with their humour.

c) Present a view contrary to the listeners’ point of view.
Be different. Don’t tell us that we have to do our bit for global warming – we’ve heard that stuff elsewhere. Present a point of view  that few people would agree with. If you really believe ‘Peppa Pig’ is the best television program ever made, tell us, and prove it. Change our minds. We like to have our minds changed. Or, talk about history or politics, but make sure your ideas are new. Controversial ideas are good because the listeners will hang around to argue with you. But remember, your job is not just to argue with them, but to get them thinking.

And, don’t aim to shock. There’s a big difference between being an attention-seeker and being someone who presents a cogent (albeit infuriating) point of view. You have to believe in everything you say. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time and their time.

d) Touch their emotions. Inspire the listener. Move the listener. Affect the listener. Give the listener an emotional experience so that when they leave they feel enriched, and on their way home they continue to think about what you have said. Do that, and they will come back another day to listen to you again.
What you say has to emotionally affect you as well. You have to fully believe in what you say, otherwise, you will simply be manipulating your listeners. They will quickly sense that.

In short, if you are planning to speak, ask yourself important questions like, Will it be entertaining? Will the listener be glad they stopped by? Because that’s the only aim. That’s the only thing that’s important.

Dealing with hecklers on a soapbox is different to dealing with them in a professional situation. On your soapbox it’s fun, though they can be annoying. There are three ways to deal with a heckler:
1. Make them part of the fun. Come prepared with a few of your favourite insults. The crowd will love you for it.
2. Include the heckler by making him/her an example.  Say to the crowd, ‘This man is a perfect example of what I  have been saying. We need to . . . ‘  By making him an example he feels valued for a while, and won’t feel the need to interrupt.
3. Ignore the heckler by looking away and speaking louder. Deny the heckler the attention they seek.

If you want to deal with hecklers in professional circumstances (not soapboxing) have a look at:
The American Speakers Blog and
dealing with hecklers.

So, will you join us on a Sunday, from 2pm until 5pm?
Even for just a few minutes?
There’s nothing to lose except your bus fare, but plenty to gain if you discover you love it. If you don’t like the experience, we generously provide an art gallery that might catch your interest.

How to get there:
Car: Car parking is around $7 per hour, or $12 all day Sunday at the Domain car park nearby. ($15 when there are special events.)
Bus: The 441 bus, which passes by the QVB, visits the gallery every half hour. On Sundays, the last bus leaves the gallery at 5.12pm.
Walk: it’s a brisk 11 minute walk from George Street.
Train: 5 minutes walk from Museum station; 12 minutes walk from Wynyard Station.

What do you need?
Bring a milk crate, stepladder or box. By raising yourself above your listeners you give yourself authority and confidence. Bring a bottle of water, and perhaps a sign to prompt questions about your subject.
But consider leaving your sunglasses at home. They disconnect you from your audience.

See you there!

More tips on public speaking:
1.  Ditch most of the public speaking tips you know already. Especially the niceties. They’re fine for talking to people in rooms, but at Speakers’ Corner you are there to have and provide fun. The public aren’t there for an after dinner speech; they’re there to be energised, informed and entertained.

2. Be prepared to say the same thing many times. When you become familiar with your material you can concentrate on the other aspects of public speaking, such as eye contact, enunciation, etc.

3. Allow yourself to be theatrical, because then your personality comes out. That’s the best way to discover yourself. When it’s YOU talking, when you are not simply being a formal public speaker, people will listen.

4. Learn a speech if you wish. It’s a good springboard to begin with, and it will give you confidence. But don’t read the speech to them. Never read to them.

5. Begin with a statement of fact or with a story. People love stories, anecdotes, metaphors, and fables.

6.  Aim to convince them. That way, you will remember to pause to let a point sink in, and to vary the pitch of your voice. That will come naturally if you genuinely try to connect with your listener.

7. The most important thing of all is to ask yourself, ‘What’s in it for them?’ They’re not there to listen to you for your sake; they’re there to gain something from you. Make sure they gain it. Don’t speak with the aim of showing how educated or knowledgeable you are. Don’t try to impress them with your recall of dates and figures. Instead, focus on making a point valuable to them. Astonish them. Or discombobulate them, by getting them to question their beliefs. Or help them understand something. Above all, make sure it’s for them.  Make sure they walk away pleased to have been there, having gained something. 

Do you want to practise your public speaking skills at home?
One of the best ways to improve your public speaking skills is to get rid of all your ‘um’s and ah’s. A fun way to do that is to buy a small timer, and with a companion play a game called ‘Half a Minute’. In the game, your companion sets the timer for thirty seconds (or a minute) and suggests a topic, and then you begin speaking about it. When you break one of the rules your companion stops the timer and hands it to you. You then press the timer and your companion begins talking about the same subject. The winner is the person talking when the timer beeps.

Or: you don’t need a timer if you watch commercial television. As soon as the ads begin, mute the sound, and then one of you suggests a topic and the other begins talking. Swap at every mistake. The person talking when the program resumes is the winner. If the person manages to go the whole way through they deserve a small prize.
The rules:

  • No hesitations. No ‘um’s and no ‘ah’s.
  • No repetition of a word, unless it’s a commonly used word like ‘the’, or unless it’s a word in the topic’s title.
  • No deviation from the subject.

Have fun!

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