Living Rhetorically in the Real World

December 14, 2009

Update your subscriptions!

Filed under: Lifestyle Editing — Sagan @ 6:31 pm

Evidently I’m a bad blogger as I failed to notify Living Rhetorically readers of our new “home”:

Whoops, my apologies! Hope to see you at the new site, and don’t forget to update your subscriptions by clicking on the SUBSCRIBE button on the top right hand corner of the page at!

You can also check out the new and improved Living Healthy in the Real World site by visiting my brand new main page:

November 24, 2009

The Practical Guide: Giving a Presentation (Part Three)

Check out the rest of this mini series if you missed them last week!

Part One: Introduction to Public Speaking

Part Two: Preparing and Researching the Speech

Speech Design

After having researched your speech so that you have a working knowledge of the subject and can properly format it into a good quality presentation, it’s time to arrange the speech so that it is well-received. That’s where design comes in.

There are three main parts to your speech: the introduction, the body, and the conclusion.

The introduction should be fairly short, taking up less than a quarter of your entire speech. You want to grab the audience’s attention and also to maintain their interest. The first few lines of your speech can make a huge difference depending on the wording that you use to pique the audience’s curiosity so that they want to hear what you have to say. Opening with a controversial statement, a startling statistic, or a quote can all have the rhetorical effect of getting attention.

It’s also important that your audience understands why your presentation is relevant to them in particular. Why should they care what you have to say? Think about this when you’re forming your argument. Briefly outline what you will talk about in your presentation so that the audience is aware of how your speech is going to play out and the issues that you will address.

The body of the presentation is comprised of the main points of your speech. Choose a couple main points and have a few sub-points for each. These points should be balanced and each should be allotted roughly the same amount of time and emphasis. Think about the best way to arrange your points so that they make sense. If you are looking at the history and future of something, a chronological ordering will be highly useful. If it’s a cause-effect topic, you can arrange it in that order. Whatever arrangement you choose (and there are many to choose from), it should be suitable to your topic and style of presentation.

The last part of your presentation is the conclusion, where you wrap up your speech. The conclusion consists of a brief summary of your main points and some kind of memorable statement in closing. As with the introduction, it should be short and concise. There is no need to go on at length, or your conclusion will simply become an extension of the body of the presentation.

Tip: While you’re constructing your speech, be sure to make it flow really well. You don’t want it to be disjointed. The points that you make should be related to one another and the audience should be able to see what direction you are going in. Refer back to earlier points that you made to refresh your audience’s memory and to re-emphasize the importance of them.

November 19, 2009

The Practical Guide: Giving a Presentation (Part Two)

Check out Part One: Introduction to Public Speaking if you missed it on Tuesday!

Preparing and Researching the Speech

Before the actual act of presenting the speech, preparing for it is essential. Ideally, you want to know your speech so well that you could easily talk about the subject for twice as long as the time allotted to you. After any kind of presentation, there is usually some form of interaction between presenter and audience, usually in the form of a question-and-answer session. It is during this period that the audience can really tell if you know your subject or if your entire speech was based around information that you don’t actually understand. How well you respond to their questions and the richness that you give to your answers will provide them with a solid knowledge of whether you are reputable or if your speech was simply a bunch of words hastily strung together half an hour before.

Knowing your topic and knowing your audience are both essential to presentation preparation:

Knowing your topic involves a working understanding of the topic itself. This includes the history and future of your topic as well as what’s going on with it right now. It also includes knowing the inherent problems within the subject, and the counter arguments against such problems so that you can defend your topic. Statistics and factual information from reputable sources are great tools to support your argument. Interviewing “experts” or even laypeople about the subject beforehand, and having personal experience with the topic, also contribute to a greater understanding of it. You should be aware of the positives and negatives of it and have some idea about why this topic is so important (and relevant!) to your audience.

Knowing your audience involves knowing who the audience is and what they want. You can formulate your speech based on your audience’s beliefs. If you know that they will be sympathetic to your mission, you can likely present in a more informal fashion, appealing to the audience’s emotions. If it’s a tough audience that you’re up against, it is better to adopt a professional demeanor and to rely on statistics and data to support your material. What does your audience want? What are they interested in? Why do they care about your presentation? You need to know all of these things before deciding on the angle that your speech will take.

It is always good to have plenty of variety in your research. Check out as many different sources as you can so that your knowledge is as well-rounded as it can be. Talk to people on both sides of the issue, check out Internet sources, academic journals, books, magazines, and other documents, and get as much hands-on experience as you can in the field of your topic. You want to know your information so well that if someone asked you to present your topic in a few different ways with several opposing perspectives, you’d be able to take on the challenge.

While you’re researching and preparing for the speech, be sure to time yourself practicing it. Even if you don’t have an actual “time restriction”, it is good to have an idea of how long your speech is. Practice your presentation in front of test subjects to make sure that they understand what you are trying to convey and so that you know that your information is presented clearly. Practice in front of a mirror to ensure that your delivery- the way you gesture, your stance, and your facial expression- is appropriate. If you are using visual aids, always practice with them. If it is possible, you should go to the room you will be presenting in to check that you know where all of the presentation equipment is so that you know ahead of time how to access and use it.

Above all, when researching and preparing for your presentation, know the information. If something goes wrong in the speech and your cue cards fail you, you should be able to have enough of a working understanding of the topic to draw from your brain so that you aren’t relying on cue cards and visual aids. Understand your topic rather than just memorizing it!

November 17, 2009

The Practical Guide: Giving a Presentation (Part One)

Introduction to Public Speaking

Presentations and communicating from behind a podium are something of a rarity. Unless you’re a political figure r have made a breakthrough in your field of study, it is entirely possible for you to spend you entire life dodging that terrifying thing known as giving a presentation.

One of the courses that I had very little choice to take in order to get my degree is Oral Communication. I was reluctant to take it because presenting was not my strong suit, nor was it something I really enjoyed. But if fit nicely into my schedule and I adore the professor teaching the course, so I signed up.

Two months later, I love standing up in front of an audience to perform and say my piece. My presentation skills have improved dramatically and my comfort level with speaking to a group of people has increased substantially.

Over the next few posts, we’re going to examine the art of presenting. It is a fundamental skill that everyone really should be able to do, but few people are capable of carrying out with ease. I hope to demonstrate that the art of public speaking is a talent that anyone can develop and even master with time, patience, and perseverance. Lots of practice and a solid effort can make all the difference. This is all information that I have learned from my fantastic Oral Communication class at the University of Winnipeg.

The agenda for this little how-to is so far as follows:

Part One: Introduction to Public Speaking

Part Two: Preparing and Researching the Speech

Part Three: Speech Design

Part Four: Speech Delivery

Part Five: Rhetorical Appeals

Throughout, I’ll give examples of public oratory as well. Let me know if there are any other topics you’d be interested in exploring and we’ll see if we can incorporate them into our Giving a Presentation sessions!

November 12, 2009

Lifestyle Editing: Participatory Culture

What constitutes a sell-out?

In my Rhetorics of Identity class, we have been discussing the concept of participatory culture. This is the notion that we all are involved in the culture around us, and we can’t help it. Even if we don’t buy into a product, because we are aware of it and we understand the meaning and universal discourses associated with the product, we are participating.

The example used in class was the iPod. Even if we don’t own an iPod, even if we don’t like them, we still know what they are, and we still recognize them when we see them. When we do buy the product and support it, we are both participating and consuming.

One of my classmates made the point that even things such as grocery store “club cards” are an act of consuming within participatory culture. It’s an act of identification, as well: we say who and what we are by what we support or are involved in. Clothing is an interesting part of this. We support certain brands if we wear their logos on our t-shirts, but even when we don’t have the brand name on our shirt, we’re still supporting them. Even the material that the shirt is made of and where the shirt was made says what our values are. We don’t have to actively, consciously consider whether or not we agree with something to be participating in the culture. The brand of food that you buy and the store you bought your desk lamp from are both elements of participatory culture.

It doesn’t so much matter what you *really* believe; if you are involved with a company or value, you automatically represent them. I don’t necessarily like the company that my apartment building is affiliated with or the fact that this company is buying every building in the nearby vicinity, but because I am still living in the apartment building, I’m demonstrating that I don’t disagree with them enough to leave. I might shop at one grocery store because it’s the nearest one to my house, but it doesn’t matter what my reasons are: what matters is that I am shopping at that particular grocery store at all.

I recently travelled to California at the expense of a certain company, with whom I was impressed with, but I also got a few sidelong glances regarding the trip from people back home. Don’t you feel like a sell-out?

Yes. In part. But no more than I do when I go shopping at one grocery store over another.

November 10, 2009

In the Media: Location influences meaning

Pyramid of Giza:

pyramid of giza

Pyramid at Cahokia:

pyramid at cahokia

Kenneth Burke says that we see the world through terminological screens and that every act of selection is an act of reflection but also an act of deflection. When we focus on the beauty, size, and brilliance of the Great Pyramid of Giza, we neglect to look at other works of art: such as the Pyramid at Cahokia, which was “the largest structure ever built in the United States until the late twentieth century” (Glavin 134). Supposedly, this pyramid is even bigger than the Pyramid of Giza. Yet until yesterday I had never heard any mention of it.

What have we chosen the Great Pyramid of Giza to represent our idea of what constitutes “pyramid”?

November 5, 2009

Analyzing Everyday Rhetoric: Hate and Love

I stumbled across this at my university yesterday:

PB040184Doors leading into Lockhart Hall

I found this to be incredibly compelling. I’m not sure what inspired someone to write the words “Hate” and “Love” on the tops of these double doors. Probably it is much the same as what inspires people to write on bathroom walls (Westwood? Want to chime in here?). It’s a beautiful form of expression and it is really fascinating how a person may choose one thing over another to write when they leave their mark on a wall. What is especially interesting to me, in this particular case, is the way in which these two words are written.

Hate and love are powerful words that we attach a lot of meaning to. We tend to overuse them and also to dramatize them for maximum effect. Although we can look these two words up in a dictionary, their significance is usually meaning-specific to the user. A dictionary definition of two such powerful words is not satisfactory for most, and it also leaves us with plenty of open-ended questions regarding the essence of “hate” and “love”. It’s still worth looking at what the dictionary has to say, however.

The Canadian Oxford English Dictionary defines hate as “feel hatred or intense dislike towards”. It defines love as “an intense feeling of deep affection or fondness for a person or thing; great liking”. Passion and intensity are integral to these two concepts- or these two words, depending on your perspective of what exactly these things are and what context we are discussing them in- but there is also a certain vagueness and ambiguity to them. In one way, perhaps this adds to the mystery of the question of what exactly these two things are; in another way, perhaps this simply highlights the unknowability of hate and love.

Trying to pin down hate and love is futile. What interests me about the above photograph is how the writer has chosen to portray each of the words. Hate is scrawled in an almost hasty fashion and then underlined. Love is in bigger, bolder letters- as though more deliberately written- and it is followed by two exclamation marks. The “quickness” of the writing style seems to convey a sense of lurking urgency and suppressed emotion for Hate, but the fact that it is underlined demonstrates that the writer was intent on using that particular word to express themselves. Love, on the other hand, appears larger and more relaxed, as though trying to reach as many people as possible by grabbing their attention. It precedes the playful double exclamation marks and fills up the entire space above the door, whereas Hate is cramped and crowded to one side. This suggests that Love retains the cliched “conquers all” feeling that Hate, in this instance, does not.

There is a reason why we do anything, even if we are not aware of the reasons why we do it. The person who wrote these two words on the doors may or may not have been conscious of the implications behind the way that they wrote each word and their placement above the door (which says something in and of itself: the eyes are drawn upward, suggesting that Hate and Love are beyond the realm of human knowledge, and they are also positioned on a moving part of the door, indicating that they are both fluid, flexible constructs). Regardless of their intentions, much can be read into what appears to be a very simple couple of words scratched onto the doors. What are your thoughts about the meaning of graffiti? What do you intend when you write on walls?

November 3, 2009

The Practical Guide: Commonly Misspelled Words

I cringe when people misspell words on purpose. “Kewl” instead of “cool”, “nite” instead of “night”… there’s no real need to misspell these words. They aren’t so much shorter that it saves time (the former might actually take longer to scrawl out, if writing by hand), and to me it just seems to butcher the English language. There are, however, times when we misspell words accidentally, due to the trickiness of silent or double letters, or similarity to other words. These three websites could be useful if you find yourself repeatedly misspelling the same words:

ESLDesk Commonly Misspelled English Words features 507 words with links to their corresponding page on a number of well-known sites: Wikipedia, Cambridge, Encarta, and Merriam-Webster among others. It also links to translations in 21 languages. It’s great because of the number of other websites that it incorporates and would also make for an excellent teaching aid. has a 100 Most Often Mispelled Misspelled Words in English page as well, with helpful hints on how to remember the correct spelling of each word. For example: “apparent: a parent need not be apparent but ‘apparent’ must pay the rent, so remember this word always has the rent”. uses a similar style in their Commonly Misspelled Words page as the YourDictionary website. AskOxford includes related words, tips, and rules for each one to help the reader out, although their list is not nearly as long as some of the other websites.

If you aren’t sure about how to spell a word, don’t guess at the spelling- look it up! There are helpful databases all over the Internet for these situations. Check out the above sites to see if there are words that you have been unknowingly misspelling. When in doubt, double-check, and use the hints and memory tricks suggested at the above websites so that next time, you won’t have to look it up.

What are your favourite tricks for remembering how to spell words that you find especially difficult?

October 29, 2009

In the Media: Jezebel’s Take on Modern Body Image

A couple of months ago, Jezebel posted an article detailing the narcissism of modern women. While this article is, to some extent, tongue-in-cheek, it also addresses a very real concern: our bodies have changed considerably in the last fifty years, causing the way we view and express ourselves to change, and this isn’t necessarily a good thing. It works the other way around, too: the way we view ourselves has changed, causing our bodies to change along with our new found confidence.

One of the biggest contradictions I come across as a health writer is the body image vs. obesity epidemic issue. On the one hand, it’s wonderful that women are embracing their bodies and I strongly support the importance of feeling comfortable with who we are. On the other hand, we most certainly should not lie to ourselves: if we struggle with obesity or are at risk for health problems related to being overweight and unfit, then we should be working towards doing something about those problems.

The modern woman is taught to be proud of her achievements, to hold her head up with confidence and praise herself instead of depending on praise from someone else. The modern woman is taught that she is incredibly important and that no one has any right to judge. The modern woman is taught to worship her body and to not change for anyone or anything.

This is all very well as a guideline to follow for boosting self esteem and to live an independent lifestyle. However, too often we misinterpret what exactly all of that means. This is where the modern woman runs into difficulties.

Being proud of your achievements does not mean being proud of eating yourself silly every night and lying to yourself by chalking it up to a “once in a while” indulgence. Being proud of your achievements does mean being proud of incorporating healthier choices into your everyday lifestyle and enjoying a treat every once in a while when it really is “every once in a while”.

We definitely should praise ourselves- when we have done something worth praising. No one has any right to judge us- but we all have a responsibility to live our lives as healthfully as we can and to set a good example for others. We certainly ought to love our bodies- but also acknowledge that no one is perfect, that there is always room for improvement, and that we can protect our health by making small changes.

The language that we use to describe ourselves can drastically alter the way we perceive ourselves. Using negative language is not the answer, but being honest with ourselves can go a long way to protecting our health. Combining constructive criticism with a positive attitude when we address our potential personal health problems as individuals is an ideal mix to use language to our advantage: the modern woman really can have it all.

October 27, 2009

Forms of Rhetoric: Applause

Political speeches weren’t always about vocal audience reaction and applause. Now, however, one of the main ways that we show our appreciation and approval is with applause. Speeches are written with deliberate pauses to give the audience the opportunity to applaud partway along.

President Obama can hardly finish a sentence without the crowd breaking into applause. He can’t even blow his nose in public without being applauded for it. In fact, we often measure the success of a speaker by the round of applause that they receive at the end of their speech. The media jumps on it because it is such a tangible indicator of how the audience feels.

Applause is visible in other areas of life as well. When there’s turbulence in the air and the pilot of a plane manages to land it safely, the passengers will show their gratitude with applause. For long-anticipated movies, the hype that surrounds the film often leads to applause at the end of it (though this usually pertains only to opening-night showings at a movie theatre). Applause at the end of a stage theatre production is always expected, so to show even more appreciation, people do a standing ovation for the actors bowing on stage. Even this, however, has become increasingly more common, because of our habit of applauding over minute events.

One of the problems with applause is that it is used so frequently. The meaning of it has changed. It is expected; it is almost mandatory. In our society, if there is no applause, then something has gone seriously wrong with the rhetorician’s speech or performance. Sometimes, for example if an actor on stage forgets their lines, the audience sympathizes so much with the humiliation that the actor must be feeling that they applaud even louder to compensate. Thus it loses its “rewarding” aspect.

Applause is loud and easy to do. All it takes is the simple act of pressing one’s hands together with some measure of force and speed (though even a considerable amount of force and speed are not necessary, especially if there is a very large crowd of people). It’s a way for the audience to give back to the performer: applause signals agreements and support. It is interesting, then, to consider why we applaud when the performer clearly cannot see or hear us, such as in the movie theatre. In this case, we are not applauding for the performer. Instead, we are either applauding to assert our own position so that others can see what we think of the performance, or we applaud to show that we are a part of the appreciative group, when everyone around us is applauding.

It is rare that we will be in a group of people with everyone else applauding and we are not. The pressure causes us to start clapping, too. If we don’t clap, everyone wonders why we are not appreciating the same thing that they are. Because of this, applause is also an automatic response of our society. It is a way to identify with the group so that we are not separated from our peers. Applauding, and a lack of applause, are both measures of our values and identities as individuals and as a group.

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