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The Joy of Public Speaking and the Wizard of Oz Formula
The Podium Pro -- Matthew Cossolotto The Podium Pro -- Matthew Cossolotto
Oberlin (OH)/Brussels (Belgium), OH
Friday, October 22, 2021

The Joy of Public Speaking book cover and The Podium Pro logo

In my new book (The Joy of Public Speaking, available on Amazon.com), I discuss what I call "The Wizard of Oz Formula." This formula invokes the well-known Rule of Three. 

All speechwriters and speakers—not to mention comedians—are familiar with the rule of three. Consider this example from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar when Mark Antony addresses the crowd after Caesar's assassination: "Friends, romans, countrymen," he intones, "lend me your ears." Long before that fateful day, Caesar himself used the rule of three when he declared: "Veni, vidi, vici." ("I came, I saw, I conquered.") 

The cadence, the rhythmic flow of three feels normal and natural to us because it is so prevalent in our everyday lives: "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow" (from Shakespeare's Macbeth.) The Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost). The Three Wise Men. The Three Musketeers. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (from The Declaration of Independence). Government of the people, by the people, for the people (from Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address). The three branches of government (legislative, executive, judicial). Location, location, location in real estate. Ebenezer Scrooge being escorted on a journey of self-discovery by three ghosts (Christmas Past, Present, and Future). Gertrude Stein's "A rose is a rose is a rose."

We see the rule of three in fairy tales, nursery rhymes, and other genres of literature: Three Blind Mice, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and the Three Little Pigs. Three Coins in the Fountain. The three witches in Macbeth. The genie grants Aladdin three wishes. Stories have a beginning, middle, and end.

Jokes often adhere to the rule of three: Three guys walk into a bar. President (insert name), Prime Minister (insert name), and Pope (insert name) are on a plane (or a boat). The situation often seems implausible. We recognize it immediately as a set-up for a punchline. Here's an example of a rule-of-three joke I've always liked: A priest, a rabbit, and a monk walk into a bar. The rabbit says: "I think I'm a typo." (Hint: Remove the "t" in "rabbit.") Another example: George Carlin's "One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor."

Often two feels like too few and four seems like too many. Two is fine in a relationship and four wheels work well on a car, but in speeches and stories there's something magic about the rule of three. Aristotle's Ars Rhetorica also employs the rule of three. He discusses the three main methods of persuasion that every speaker should employ: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. Ethos deals with the speaker's personal character and credibility. Pathos appeals to emotion or the psychology of the audience. And Logos relies on reasoning or logic to make the case.

I'm reluctant to try to improve on Aristotle's rules of persuasion that have stood the test of time since the fourth century BC. But here goes. With all due deference to Aristotle, I would like to humbly propose a slight variation. Introducing: The Wizard of Oz Formula.

As you'll see, this formula is also grounded in the all-important rule of three. And these three elements also happen to loosely mirror Aristotle's Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. So this isn't a huge departure from Aristotle. Think about "The Wizard of Oz" movie and picture the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion. I'm sure you'll recall those lovable, colorful characters. The Scarecrow was searching for a brain, the Tin Man a heart, the Cowardly Lion courage. I suggest that every successful speech should contain those three elements. 

Loosely speaking, Brain relates to Aristotle's Logos (information, intellect, logic, reasoning). Heart is similar to Pathos (passion, emotion, enthusiasm). And Courage is comparable to Ethos (character, a sense of purpose. A speaker who demonstrates courage also embodies strong character and credibility).

It's important for speakers to calibrate how much to appeal to each element for specific audiences. Some audiences will expect and appreciate more Brain and less Heart, for instance. For other audiences, the reverse may be true. For certain audiences on specific occasions, the speaker may be expected to ask the audience to take action and show courage. Indeed, that may be the main purpose of the speech. So, the amount of time and focus devoted to each of these three elements may need to be adjusted depending on the audience and the purpose of the speech.

In most speaking situations, it's a good idea to issue a call to action, to ask members of the audience to do something and not simply to take in the information. A speaker should challenge the audience the way President Kennedy did in his Inaugural Address: "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." Such a call to action resonates with audiences by making each member of the audience feel like he or she is part of a cause or purpose that is greater than themselves.

If you analyze the greatest speeches in history, you'll find that they all appeal to varying degrees to Brain, Heart, and Courage. I encourage you, for example, to review the text of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech and identify passages in which he appeals to these three elements. You'll see that he employs all three qualities repeatedly. All great speeches do this.

The greatest speeches—just like the greatest leaders—try to bring out the best in the people listening. Certain speeches—just like certain leaders—hold a special place in our hearts precisely for that reason. For example, we fondly remember Lincoln's first Inaugural Address, delivered a month before the start of the Civil War, because it tries, with poetic poignancy, to cultivate and encourage the inherent good in us all. Lincoln wrote: "We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature." When speakers appeal to "the better angels of our nature," they make a direct appeal to our emotions (Heart) and they encourage us to take action (Courage) that may require some personal sacrifice.

Speeches that call for courage and aim to bring out the best in members of the audience will be remembered and applauded most kindly by history. A key message from The Wizard of Oz is that the qualities being sought by all three characters are already present inside each one. The Scarecrow learns he is already smart. The Tin Man has demonstrated that he, indeed, has a heart. And even the Cowardly Lion displays courage in the face of adversity. 

Even Dorothy's wish to return home ultimately came from the inside. She taps her ruby slippers together three times, and she tells herself (again three times): "There's no place like home. There's no place like home. There's no place like home." And then she instantly awakens from a long dream lying in her bed in Kansas surrounded and supported by family and loved ones.

Here's another little secret about public speaking: Being a great speaker comes from inside too. Just like Dorothy's wish to return home. If you follow the Wizard of Oz Formula and make use of the magic of three in your presentations, you'll bring out the best in yourself and in your audience. You'll become a much more confident, authentic and joyful speaker. And you'll soon find yourself surrounded by appreciative audiences. 

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Matthew Cossolotto (aka "The Podium Pro") is an author, speaker, speech coach, and speechwriter. He served as a speechwriter for top leaders at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, and as an aide to the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. His multifaceted communications career also includes senior-level speechwriter roles at UCLA, GTE (now Verizon), Pepsi-Cola International, and MCI Communications. A UC Berkeley alumnus, Matthew began his career as an aide to Congressman Leon Panetta. A former study abroad student at the University of Lund (Sweden), Matthew is working to establish the global headquarters of Study Abroad Alumni International ("Building a community of global citizens") in Brussels, Belgium.

Cossolotto's Personal Empowerment Trilogy: Reach Your Peak Potential
The Joy of Public Speaking is the first book in Cossolotto's personal empowerment trilogy. Two more books are coming soon. One highlights the seven essential habits of SUCCESS and another promotes the power of promises with a foreword by Jack Canfield, co-creator of the Chicken Soup for the Soul® series. Cossolotto’s books and related coaching and speaking programs feature a unique combination of three interconnected “power tools”—Speaking, Habits, and Promises. All support Cossolotto’s long-term mission: To help millions of people around the world achieve their dreams, keep their promises, and reach their peak potential—on and off the podium.

Personal Empowerment Programs (PEPTalks)

As a guest speaker and workshop leader, Cossolotto has created a series of Personal Empowerment Programs (PEPTalks). Audiences have included schools, NGOs, corporations, and government agencies. His workshops combine lectures, lively discussion, and experiential learning and can be integrated into your organization's ongoing leadership development and management training programs.

Cossolotto’s Top Three PEPTalks are available as keynotes and half-day workshops/webinars: 

  • The Joy of Public Speaking: Turn Stage Fright into Stage Delight and Speak Your Way to the Peak 
  • Harness Your HabitForce: The Seven Steps to SUCCESS 
  • The Power of a Promise: Make A Promise. Keep Your Word. Change Your Life. Transform The World.
News Media Interview Contact
Name: Matthew Cossolotto
Title: Author/Speaker/Speech Coach/Speechwriter
Group: The Podium Pro
Dateline: Oberlin/Brussels (Belgium), OH United States
Direct Phone: 440-597-9018
Cell Phone: 440-597-9018
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