It frequently amazes me that, when trying to communicate, very often the power of the voice is forgotten. I sit listening to a speech from a CEO about a hugely exciting development in his industry, yet the audience in front of him isn’t pumped. I hear the delivery of the latest strategy from an executive to her team and see her team members surreptitiously checking their iPhones. And when I attend a prestart meeting on a mine site, when potential safety hazards are being discussed, witness the guys picking at their fingernails.
Why is that? Not because the subject matter is boring or inconsequential, I assure you. It’s because the presenter — CEO or engineer, it doesn’t matter — can’t engage his audience with his voice.
However much you might care about what you’re saying, if that passion is not infused into the way you say the words, you might as well hand everyone a newsletter. Your voice tells people who you are and what you think. The way you say things is judged by your audience. They’re deciphering how you feel about what you’re saying and how you feel about them. Your whole attitude can be read through your voice. Words delivered in monotone say very little and do nothing to engage. Your audience will suppose that you have little vested interest in them or the subject. Monotone delivery contributes perfectly to apathy and boredom whereby you might as well not bother with the communication at all.
A few simple rules for engaging speech
It’s about learning what works. This can be very simple. As a former BBC and ITV news anchor and a professional voice over artist for many years, if I’m about to record a voiceover, give a speech or present the news, all it takes is understanding and implementing a few rules. If you were telling a story to a 6-year-old, you wouldn’t spend the whole ten minutes talking at one speed, with the same tone, and in the same volume and pitch. (If your children have always fallen asleep while you’ve been reading them a story, then possibly you have.)
It’s the same rule for presenting anything to an audience you want to engage: expression comes through.
Varying Speed of Delivery
Think about changing the pace of what you’re saying, slowing down through the nitty-gritty (or to reinforce an important point), then speeding up again to show excitement and enthusiasm. Don’t be afraid to allow your audience to digest what you’re saying by adding pauses and allow yourself time to pause when you’re changing from one thought to another.
Even when you’re using a microphone, you can vary the volume of your delivery. Strengthen those critical messages by controlling the environment through volume. This can be both high and low. An important point doesn’t need to be deafening. Speaking in a low voice can add intimacy and heighten the passion with which you deliver your point.
When you’ve finished one point, think about how you lead the audience to the next thought. Carrying on at the same pitch — without a change in high or low notes in your voice — suggests you’re still on the same point. Make a conscious effort to start the next point at a higher or lower pitch in order to take your audience with you.
Unless you’re making a victory speech, where there might just be the one emotion, think about varying your emotional attitude. If your presentation is to make an impression, this has to be an emotional journey even on a minute scale. Your audience will pick up on your attitude throughout, so use it to reinforce how you feel about your different points.
And lastly, it’s amazing what smiling can do. Deliver a sentence, any sentence, out loud without smiling. Now try it again out loud while you’re smiling. Can you hear the smile in your voice? So can your audience.
If you’d like to brush up your presentation skills or get some media training, contact Lush Digital Media. We can help put that smile in your voice and make your presentations more engaging. Like what you’ve read? Sign up to the Lush newsletter for fortnightly advice to help you market your business better, tips from our video production gurus, and a podcast or two from our favourite podcasting team, Brand Newsroom. In the meantime, you might enjoy these:
The art of public speaking [podcast]