Are you using your most important tool to persuade audiences in a speech? Here's how to speak so people really listen to you.
Did you know that actors can really move people emotionally? Of course you did.
But did you ever wonder how they do it? The answer to that question is: by using all of the skills that go into understanding and playing a human being on stage.
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Without a doubt, one of the actor's most powerful tools to accomplish this is to make their voice come to life. It's actually amazing how much difference—and more important, meaning—can be added to a word or phrase through vocal expressiveness.
Put Life In Your Voice As a Public Speaker
I was reminded of this recently by a workshop I conducted (prior to the coronavirus emergency) for a group of physicians. These doctors had been chosen by their organization for their leadership potential. Since they are speaking more and more to stakeholders, they need to learn the rules of effective public speaking.
It was a lively and interesting full-day workshop—including frequent participation and what I call instructor- and peer feedback. I'm probably not unique among actors who provide public speaking training in frequently demonstrating what I'm talking about in terms of theater-based techniques for business speaking. In fact, as I often admit to clients, I can't help myself!
As is often the case with professionals who haven't received training in speech performance, a speaker at the workshop would sometimes say something important that didn't sound that way. When this happens in a workshop, I'm apt to comment: "If you said it something like this, I think the audience would understand what you mean." And then I say it that way. When I do this, I can see people's eyes widen or some enthusiastic nodding going on. It's just an actor's way of using a well-honed tool to demonstrate the importance of performance—in this case, vocal performance. I'll see these reactions and say to myself, "Ah, it's the vocal delivery that makes that idea come alive for them."
Of course it is!
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The reason you talk to groups of listeners—whether it's a sales pitch, presentation, team meeting, keynote, TED Talk, or motivational speaking—is to share how you feel about what you're saying. The value of doing that goes far beyond what information can accomplish on its own. If you want people to really listen to you, then, you have to sound like you mean it. In other words, you have to make your voice come alive. Too many speakers don't. But it just makes sense: to persuade listeners of the importance of what you're saying, give your voice life!
What You Say vs. What You Really Mean
You do that by employing the best tools to improve your voice for public speaking. Mostly, you need to inflect your voice on important words and phrases, and use pauses to make your points sink in and to separate segments of your talk.
One of the best ways to gain a more lively voice is to "train your ear" to hear yourself at your most vocally expressive. When it that? — It's when you're with friends or colleagues, speaking naturally, and when you're not self-conscious. That's the engaging (perhaps even exciting) voice that lets you know how to become a better business speaker.
And one other thing: you'll benefit from thinking like an actor, who is always performing not only the lines, but what's underneath them. That is, the "life lived" that's driving the character in addition to the small sliver of that life in the script. In other words, don't just deliver information, and don't speak in a monotone. Say what you really mean by making it sound that way.
That advice is equally helpful if you're playing King Lear or delivering your update to senior management. Why else would people truly listen to you and act upon what you say?
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Gary Genard is an actor, author, and expert in theater-based public speaking training. His company, Boston-based The Genard Method uses performance techniques, through in-person and online training, to help executives and leadership teams embody presence and confidence to achieve true influence. In 2020 for the seventh consecutive year, Gary has been ranked by Global Gurus as one of The World's Top 30 Communication Professionals. He is the author of How to Give a Speech. His second book, Fearless Speaking, was recently named as "One of the 100 Best Confidence Books of All Time." Contact Gary here.