The founder and president of the communications consulting firm Bureau 121 chairs the jury of the 15th regional public speaking competition organized by the Groupe Dépêche Foundation. He talks about his journey and gives advice to high school students
They will face off in the final this Thursday, January 26 at the Grand Théâtre des Cordeliers in Albi.
How did you discover public speaking?
My research on Renaissance literature led me to develop an interest in controversial texts. At that time we struggled with rhetoric and literary devices to explain where the truth lay between the Protestants on the one hand and the Catholics on the other. So, in fact, I was born verbally in writing. Nothing better has been invented than the art of knowing how to talk between people, and above all, talking to each other.
Should public speaking be a compulsory subject in school?
Just as one learns to write, one must learn the art of speaking, yes, definitely. He was in education in the past. We called it rhetoric. Only in 1885 was he removed from teaching with Jules Ferry. We wanted to cancel the rhetoric. But today we bite our fingers because the Anglo-Saxons are far superior to us. You need to learn to speak again, you need to be able to speak freely and comfortably, this is the main thing.
Is not knowing how to express oneself verbally a defect?
Today we know that the art of speech is an instrument of power, it is obvious. This means that those who do not know how to express their beliefs and ideas are definitely at a disadvantage. Knowing that most of everyday life is played verbally. When you ask the baker for bread and salary from your boss… You can’t do it without talking, it’s impossible.
Do we use the same techniques to persuade a jury for an oratorical contest, to ask for a raise, to ask for an acquittal?
The challenge each time is to adapt to the situation and your audience. There is no persuasive speech if it is not tailored to the audience. But yes, every workout is different. A plea is not a pitch. Just as there are no codes for formal or informal discussions with your boss in a speech contest rehearsal at school. But in any case, it’s about skill, finding the right arguments, the right words, the sharpness of the mind, the ability to listen, the tone required to persuade.
Are there naturally gifted people?
Public speaking cannot be improvised. We are all student speakers.
Can acting classes help?
Absolutely. I studied for three months at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, a school called Rada in London, where I played Shakespeare and especially male roles; putting myself in someone else’s shoes has helped me a lot. I took improvisation lessons at the Chaillot national theater while I was in Hagne, going through the Normale Sup. I think it helped me get over the fear of competition. So, theater is a wonderful tool for a person to regulate himself, to be brave, to know how to play with his own body, but it is not enough. You also need to know how to support your point, how to dialogue, and this can be a matter of different skills. So, it is a mixture of theater art, psychology, situational intelligence, listening skill. To be very convincing, the bow should have several strings.
Why did you agree to be the president of the jury of the 15th regional speech contest of La Dépêche?
Because I love speech contests. It’s always very interesting. It is always a fascinating exercise, and it is absolutely necessary to encourage this kind of approach, which is not yet widespread enough, to dare to speak, to dare to express oneself. Therefore, I am very much in favor of such an initiative.
Is hyper shyness or stuttering a disability?
There is nothing beyond me. A disability can become a strength. Virginie Delalande, who is deaf, is the first deaf woman lawyer in France. He had never heard her voice. And he begs. So if he can do it, anyone can do it. Joe Biden is a stutterer. Francois Bayrou stutters. To my surprise, the hard work pays off. Oratory is grown like a carrot.
Regarding the topic of this regional speech contest, what would be your ideal republic?
It would be a republic where we could talk and listen to each other. Republic of dialogue, not monologue. A republic where you can disagree and agree to disagree. It is a republic of opinion debate in which Jan Birnbaum, a world journalist, has the courage to take back his very beautiful title. This is the ideal republic for me. Unfortunately, there is no room for dialogue today. We often have a war of ideas rather than arguments. It’s healthy enough to disagree, but that doesn’t mean we have to tear each other down, quite the opposite.
Oratory competition in Montpellier: five minutes to convince about the ideal republic