Consciously or not, Murray Walker followed the same rhetorical framework as every speaker since Aristotle. Which means that, regardless of the nature of your own interest in speaking, you can learn from how Walker applied that framework.
Here’s what that obituary in The Times tells us about it, sorted (by me) into the five principal parts of traditional rhetoric:
(What kind of audience do you have? What do you want to achieve?)
Walker’s purpose, he once said, was to “communicate as much as I possibly could in the minimum amount of time… excitedly”.
YOU, if you have a talk coming up, will need to find your own purpose before anything else. Your purpose is more important than the topic, or subject (a common beginner’s mistake).
That’s true whatever the nature of your talk:
- A wedding speech
- A presentation at work
- An artist’s Show and Tell
- A eulogy
- A political speech
- A planning appeal to a local authority
- A webinar
- Or anything else that involves letting words out of your mouth to be heard by an audience
Only after you have identified your purpose do you think about what to include in your speech, lecture, presentation, pitch or talk.
(What to tell, what to leave out? How to use facts and figures. The power of story.)
For several hours before each race, Murray Walker would scurry around the pits and garages talking to drivers, managers, mechanics and engineers, gathering information to set the scene and enrich the commentary.
YOU will have your own material to prepare, some in advance and some at the last minute. You’ll have to make hard choices about what to leave out.
(Sharpen your rhetoric. Channel somebody inspiring. Raise the emotional temperature.)
Bearing in mind that Walker was talking about unplanned events, at speed, it’s hardly surprising that he made mistakes. These came to be known as Murrayisms: gaffes, malapropisms, tautologies. The Times picked out several, of which my favourite is this: “There’s nothing wrong with the car except it’s on fire.”
(He once ingeniously reframed what others called his mistakes: “I don’t make mistakes. I make prophecies that immediately turn out to be wrong.”)
YOUR style will be different. We all have our own voice: I have mine, you have yours. You may worry that you haven’t “found” your voice yet, but you will. Until then, it’s OK to borrow – but never say something that feels fake.
(Mental routines. Practising out loud. Using mind maps and other visual memory aids. Using props.)
The Times gives no clue to how Walker remembered everything. Alas, in later years his memory sometimes failed him; and he gave up commentating, The Times reports, after being hurt by criticisms about the factual errors slipping into his commentary.
YOU may not need to remember anything. If you do, you can choose from a variety of mnemonic techniques.
(What to do immediately before the event, what to do at the event, and what to do afterwards.)
The TV critic Clive James once described Walker as commentating “as if his trousers are on fire”. His nickname was “Turbomouth”. This high energy was achieved, Walker explained, by standing throughout the race, “bouncing around on the balls of my feet”.
YOU may not want to have that effect – I don’t recommend it, for instance, if you are delivering the eulogy at a funeral.
Wow, Cripes, Cor Blimey
You’re not Murray Walker. You’re not Aristotle. But to master public speaking you too will want to break down the task of public speaking into the five parts of classical rhetoric.
When I submitted the first draft of my book to the lovely people at Short Books, I used the names of those five parts just as you’ve seen them: Invention, Arrangement, Style, Memory and Delivery.
My editor wondered if I could make them a little less, well, boring.
So I came up with alternatives. As somebody who enjoys playing with words, I found the task amusing:
1. WOW, or Work Out What (The Heck You Are Up To).
2. CRIPES, aka Choose Really Interesting Proofy Evidence Stuff
3. COR BLIMEY, or Clean Out Rubbish But Leave It Massively Elegant
4. CRUMBS, also known as Completely Ram Your Mind/Brain Space
5. GASP, aka Give A Super Presentation.
I quite liked these alternative titles. But my editor decided in the end to go with the traditional versions. Probably very wise.
But I repeat the list here to emphasize how important those five steps are – whatever you call them.
And I used those five steps to structure the speaking course I ran, with videos and downloads and one-to-one sessions.
“Thank you so much for what has been the best course I’ve taken. Not only has it been invaluable in getting me to think properly about what a) public speaking means, and b) what I actually want to say, it’s also inspired me with fresh ideas about what to do and where to go creatively.” – N.J., participant