Regional fluency contest from the Groupe Dépêche Foundation: “The art of speaking is a tool of power”

The founder and president of the communications consulting firm Bureau 121 chaired the jury of the 15th regional fluency competition organized by the Groupe Dépêche Foundation. He talks about his travels and gives advice to high school students
who will face each other 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 got me interested in argumentative texts. At that time, we fought with allegories and literary devices to explain where the truth was between Protestants on the one hand and Catholics on the other. So actually I was born orally in writing. Nothing better has been discovered among men than the art of knowing how to speak, and especially to speak to one another.

Should the art of eloquence be a compulsory subject in schools?

Just as one learns to write, one must learn the art of speaking, yes, of course. Previously in education. We call it rhetoric. Only with Jules Ferry, in 1885, was it removed from teaching. We want to refute the rhetoric. But today, we are biting our fingers because the Anglo-Saxons are much better than us. You have to relearn how to speak, to speak freely and comfortably, it’s fundamental.

Is it a handicap to not know how to express yourself verbally?

We know today that the art of speaking is a tool of power, that much is clear. That is, those who do not know how to express their beliefs and ideas are bound to be at a disadvantage. Knowing that most of everyday life is played orally. When you ask your baker, your boss for a raise… you can’t do it without talking, it’s impossible.

Do we use the same technique to convince a judge of an eloquence contest, to ask for a raise, to acquit someone?

Each time, the challenge is to adapt to your situation and audience. There is no convincing speech if it is not adapted to the audience. But yes, every workout is different. A plea is not a tune. Just like the school exercises of fluency contests have a code that is not from a formal or informal discussion with your boss. But, after all, it is a matter of being skilled, of finding the right argument, the right words, the sharpness of mind, the listening ability, the tone needed to convince.

Is there anyone who is naturally gifted?

Speech talent cannot be improvised. We are all apprentice speakers.

Acting lessons help?

Very. Me, I trained for three months at a school called Rada, Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, in London, where I played Shakespeare and especially male roles; it makes me a lot better to put myself in another place. I took improv lessons at the national theater Chaillot while I was in Khâgne at the same time I was passing Normale Sup. I think thanks to that, moreover, I got rid of my fear of competition. So theater is a wonderful tool to embarrass yourself, to be brave, to know how to play with the body, but it’s not enough. You also have to know how to back up your points, know how to have a dialogue, and it can be a matter of different skills. So, it’s a mix of theater arts, psychology, situational intelligence, listening skills. You have to have a few strings in your bow to be very convincing.

Why did you agree to be the president of the jury for the 15th regional fluency competition of the La Dépêche group?

Because I really like fluency contests. It’s always very interesting. It is always an interesting exercise and absolutely necessary to encourage this type of approach, the art of speaking up, of daring to express oneself, which is not yet widespread enough. So I’m very much in favor of these types of initiatives.

Is being too shy or stuttering a handicap?

For me, nothing can’t be fixed. Disability can be used as a strength. Virginie Delalande, who is deaf, is the first deaf female lawyer in France. He never heard the sound of her voice. And he begged. So if he can do it, anyone can do it. Joe Biden is a stammer. François Bayrou is a stutterer. What surprised me was that hard work paid off. Eloquence is cultivated, like carrots.

For the theme of this regional eloquence contest, what would be your ideal republic?

It will be a republic where we can listen to each other and talk to each other. A republic of dialogue and not monologue. A republic where you can disagree and agree that you disagree. It is a republic of ideas debate where one has the courage of nuance to take back the title of exquisite Jean Birnbaum, a journalist of the World. This is for me the ideal republic. Unfortunately, today there is not much room for dialogue. We often have wars of opinion and not exchanges of arguments. It’s healthy enough to disagree, but that doesn’t mean we have to tear each other to pieces, quite the opposite.

Also read:
Fluency contest in Montpellier: five minutes to convince about their ideal republic

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