Do you want to deliver information to audiences, or provide them with an emotional experience? Here's how to get an audience to share what you're feeling.
There are always at least two levels of public speaking effectiveness. Call them The Perfunctory and The Transformative.
When it comes to the latter, I'm not necessarily talking about extraordinary life-changing speeches and presentations (though those are certainly in that category). But I do mean speeches that effect some real change, "transforming" listeners' thoughts and emotions.
As you might imagine, delivering that kind of presentation goes beyond the mechanics of good platform skills. Of course, as in any endeavor, you first have to learn the basics. Then it's your job as a speaker—if you really want to make a difference—to reach the audience where they live. And that means providing them with an emotional experience.
Unlock your natural talents as a communicator! Download my free e-book, "12 Easy Ways to Achieve Presence and Charisma."
So how do you go beyond the ordinary to achieve a truly exceptional stage performance? You do it by understanding what you're really trying to achieve in terms of your audience's response. And you learn how to use your voice effectively.
The Magic of Your Voice in Public Speaking
All of this was brought home to me recently as I was coaching a business owner for her upcoming keynote at an international users conference. We had been working on her vocal skills, so she could give full expressiveness to the story she was telling.
I could see (and this is a danger all speech coaches need to watch out for) that she was focusing too much on the skills themselves, and not on how they needed to serve her story. That's a natural problem that pops up in this kind of executive speech coaching. Still, it was mostly my fault. I hadn't been clear on both why we were working in this area, and how she should think about it going forward.
So I told her two things: (1) That focusing on specific skills is always to be done ONLY in training sessions and practice. Your actual performance must be 100% about the ideas you're trying to convey. And (2) You should forget completely as you're speaking about those vocal skills, and just try to connect with listeners emotionally.
In our next videotaped practice run, she nailed it. And she said something afterwards that I thought was wonderful: "It was helpful to hear not to try to do anything with my voice—as you said, to just get the audience to feel what I'm feeling."
Five Ways Your Voice Can Help Others Feel
Now, how do you get that wondrous outcome to take place? You enlist the most powerful arrow in your quiver of spoken performance: your voice.
Your voice is your public speaking powerhouse. It is the instrument par excellence for eliciting in audiences the emotions that you yourself are feeling. In fact, it is almost always a more potent asset for doing this than the other tools that are important in this regard: the content of your speech, and your body language.
Below are five ways you can use your voice to make what you say more interesting, engaging, and even exciting. Only one of them is typically discussed in terms of vocal expressiveness. The others are nearly as useful, however. You should know about all five because of their ability to clue an audience in to what you feel (as well as what you think):
1. Speech Rate: Your rate of speech changes continuously and naturally depending on what you're saying. This may seem obvious, but too many speakers simply don't allow it to happen in performance. You tend to speak more quickly when discussing something exciting; slow down on important facts; and "throw away" (as we say in the theater) peripheral remarks. These differing rates of delivery are a clear indication of how much importance you place on things.
2. "Beats": A theater term. The word refers to a character's intention in a scene. Depending on what happens in the play or film, the actor's beats as the character are always in flux. The same is true of you as a speaker, but in terms not of intention, but main points. When you finish talking about one segment in your talk, you need to pause, and then do something different with your voice. The change by itself alerts the audience that something new and important is coming up.
3. Pitch Inflection: The need to vary your pitch for audience attentiveness and engagement is well recognized. A monotonous voice not only tunes listeners out; it does a disservice to the important points you are making. That is, how can an audience even tell what is important if everything sounds the same? If you're challenged in this area, work with children's books, pretending that you're reading out loud to a 3- or 4-year-old. Your voice will naturally take on the simplified, overly expressive inflection we use when we read to young children. Listen to what your voice is doing here, then start to incorporate that into your "big person" speech.
4. "Operative Word": Another term from the theater. Operative word simply means the word or phrase that drives the sense of the sentence. You might be amazed, in fact, at how you need to "punch" a different word when you're speaking an idea than when you read a manuscript silently and hear (in your head) where you're placing the emphasis. They are very often different! You should always practice your speech out loud as soon as possible in your rehearsal period, therefore, to hear what your voice needs to be doing.
5. Levels of Importance: Likewise, only by literally allowing your voice to be heard, will you understand the different levels of importance in your speech. That means on-your-feet-and-speaking-out-loud practice. Are you spending too much time talking about one area, and not enough about other important items? Are you aware of where the climax comes in your speech? (You will be if you listen to yourself the way the audience will). Not least, do you know how to add drama to your speech so that it has full impact in performance?
You don't have to be an actor to give audiences this level of comprehension and enjoyment.
You should follow me on Twitter here.