Updated: Feb 7, 2020
Add grace and power to your next speaking opportunity.
Speaking with Grace
I became a public speaker around age five. It was then that I led my two younger sisters through sermon after sermon in our very own game of "church." As the "priest" of our three-person parish, I would lead prayers and give my sisters communion, made from smashed bread cut with a biscuit cutter or, if we were really lucky, Necco Wafers that we could buy at the drug store or at the Ben Franklin on main street. During these sermons, I'm not sure anymore what I said, but I do remember the mannerisms I would use. I would sway back and forth, close my eyes, fold my two little hands together, lower my voice, and draw out the ends of each line as I spoke them in a hushed, breathy tone. I was five years old, and the most powerful and memorable part of our dear priest's sermon was, in fact, not what he was saying, but the PVLEGS he was standing on. At five years old and a lover of dance and music, I connected the two so easily. Public speakers, like dancers, communicate through body, sound, passion, presence, and connection. They use their PVLEGS.
“Public speakers, like dancers, communicate through body, sound passion, presence, and connection. They use their PVLEGS."
Developed by author and educator Erik Palmer, the PVLEGS framework represents six qualities of effective speaking: poise, voice, life, eye contact, gestures, and speed. After transitioning to education from a career in business, Palmer was struck by the poor speaking skills of students, even upperclassmen who had years of book reports and informational speeches behind them. Some students might try to slow down their lightning quick reading or maybe glance their eyes up off their note cards for a brief moment, but all-in-all students struggled with effective speaking. As Palmer collaborated with colleagues, he realized that each instructor's rubric was different in terms of grading speaking qualities. He thought, "no wonder students didn't speak well. There was no consistency of expectations." He resolved to develop a clear, understandable framework that could apply not just to class presentations but to any speaking situation in the classroom or boardroom.
"When you speak about something you passionately care about, you will be more comfortable and feel more confident in your element." -Brian Tracy
Just like in dance as an art form, the art of speaking begins with purposefully selected sequences for aesthetic and symbolic value to the overall communicated message. Subtle shifts of presence and style create emotional connections to both artist and audience, working together in a symbiotic relationship. Because of this, when teaching the concept of PVLEGS, I always urge speakers to focus on exciting ideas, passion, and connection first. If these are in place, many times the PVLEGS take care of themselves. Personal development expert and legend Brian Tracy says, "When you speak about something you passionately care about, you will be more comfortable and feel more confident in your element." A speaker's inner light shines through and radiates from the heart, to the head, and even to the hand gestures.
Nevertheless, for speakers whose message is clear and well-conceived, the nonverbal dance of a public speaker cannot be ignored. One often-referenced figure of how much nonverbal communication matters estimates 93 percent of communication is nonverbal, with body language communicating 55 percent and vocal inflection and tone representing the other 38 percent. Although Dr. Albert Mehrabian, the researcher behind this study and author of Silent Messages, has admitted that this study may have been taken out of context, the point remains that PVLEGS is at the heart of communication. I have even seen work on PVLEGS, especially eye contact and gestures, help speakers feel more comfortable and confident, allowing them to actually enjoy the activity of public speaking.
Now not everyone will dance a moving ballet or preach inspiring sermons to their little sisters, but effective communication benefits everyone. Author and speech writer James Humes believes that "The art of communication is the language of leadership." This language becomes a powerful tool to develop and use. For those of us trying to lead with grace wherever our feet are planted, we can take heart that we stand strong on our PVLEGS.
Try out PVLEGS the next time you speak, and let me know what you think!
Resources: PVLEGS Chart