Listening to the TED Radio Hour on NPR recently, I was struck by a remark from guest Jeff Hancock. Hancock is a Professor of Psychology at Cornell who studies the intersection of language and technology.
He reminded listeners that humans began speaking 50,000 - 100,000 years ago; and since then, 100 billion humans have lived. Writing, on the other hand, began only 5,000 years ago.
So it seems that a pertinent question is: Which form of communication has had a greater impact on human development?
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Speech Is Your Second Most Important Business Tool
I don’t know the answer to that question. But I do know that when it comes to the business you conduct every day, speech is a centrally important tool in your ability to reach and influence others.
Your brain, with its ability to think creatively and solve problems, is of course your most important business tool. But I believe a strong argument can be made that human speech takes second place.
Think back to that theory that human speech began 50,000 – 100,000 years ago. The subtleties that have evolved over this period to express ourselves and to influence those we talk to must be profound.
As we depend more and more on technology, we’re tempted to think that technical advantages are solving all of our problems. But in everything from plane crashes to the everyday business we transact, the human component is a key determinant of success or failure.
Your Audiences Need More than Content
You may believe that the content of your speeches and presentations—what you think of as your message—creates the influence you’re aiming for. But the truth is, you’re the one who’s doing that. And the reason is simple: you are the message. Content can never live on its own—in fact it’s the reason you speak to others at all in team meetings, national conventions, and everything in between. And audiences never separate the message from the messenger.
Below are four ways you can use your own highly evolved gift of speech to reach and persuade listeners, in ways that go far beyond your notes or PowerPoint. Ignoring these methods may not get you into trouble in your business speech. But it will certainly reduce your impact and influence.
1. Learn Diaphragmatic Breathing for Public Speaking. A simple yet often ignored fact of public speaking is that breathing for speech differs from breathing for life. When you speak, you need a greater volume of air than when you’re, say, reading, especially when you’re expressing a complex idea. That means breathing more deeply using diaphragmatic or “belly” breathing.
Here’s another reason you should learn controlled breathing: In English, the most important word usually comes at the end of a sentence. Think about one of the most famous sentences in our language: “To be or not to be, that is the question.” See how the idea gathers power and announces itself at the end?
Try an important phrase from your own professional world. Here’s an example: “If this company is going to survive, we have to get back to profitability.” A voice that’s underpowered because of shallow breathing will never add the punch your important phrases need! Here’s how to go about breathing using your diaphragm.
2. Develop a More Powerful Voice. Whenever you speak in business, you need maximum credibility and authority. What you say matters, of course—but so does how you get your points across. This is one place where the work you do on diaphragmatic breathing will pay off.
Despite lapel mics and cell phones and keyboards and PowerPoint clickers, you need to project your voice across space every day—probably every hour of every day. So the question becomes: Can you fill the space between you and your listeners with the vocal power you need to speak for leadership?
Practice speaking with power. Choose nearby objects and “touch” them with your sound. Then increase the distance. Listen to whether your speech is strong and sustained throughout. And don’t forget to punch those vital phrases at the end of the thoughts you’re conveying!
3. Use Vocal Expressiveness to Influence Audiences. In the days when I trained as an actor at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in London, voice and speech was the core of the entire acting academy approach. Consider your own need to influence audiences: How is it different from what an actor does? You may not use acting techniques while portraying another human being, but you have the same need to move your listeners, and the same tools to do so.
Chief among those tools is your vocal expressiveness. Of all the reasons business people and other professionals seek out a speech coach, is the fact that they don’t know how to capitalize on nonverbal communication for speaking success. Here are some easy ways to develop presence and charisma through your voice to speak for leadership.
If you get up in front of others with the aim of delivering information, you will fail. If, however, you focus on using your voice, body language, and other tools of performance to get listeners on your wavelength concerning your content, you will be well on your way to success. As the ideas and the urgency of your message emerge, and you paint what you’re saying with a broad or fine stroke, your vocal skills will give you both power and subtlety as little else will.
Don’t be the speaker who knows no way to get beneath the surface of data to touch the audience. To do that, develop your vocal expressiveness. If you don’t understand how, work with a speech coach, preferably one who is an actor.
4. Establish an Emotional Connection with Your Audience. Of all the reasons you should develop your speech to communicate for business, using the voice to elicit emotion is perhaps the least understood. Emotion itself is often a dirty word in business—as if as human beings we don’t make decisions emotionally! The truth, of course, is that the more important the decision, the more it is emotionally based, in business or otherwise.
Your voice is one of the principal ways you can create an appropriate emotional response in your audience—and in performance, it is indisputably the best way. As a speaker, you not only use your voice to express joy, surprise, pride, concern, fear, hope, or any other emotion, but to elicit the same response in your listeners.
Think about it: If you’re a sales director announcing an exciting new product to your sales force, don’t you want them to feel your excitement? If you’re puzzled and concerned that the company isn’t doing well, aren’t you hoping your workforce gets the message so they can do something about it? Without your vocal skills, the raw data of your message will come through, but in a sterile way, like a movie robot from a 1960s film spewing out preprogrammed information.
Our language sings, if we only let it. From quiet conviction to shouts of triumph to the power of silence, speech is the vital external expression of what you think, know, and intend. Learn how to use your voice to convince others, to enliven and enrich your emotional connection with them. Among all the tools that can achieve that goal at the moment you’re in the ring, your speech is the undisputed heavyweight champion.
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