Are you considering speech improvement as a way to boost your career?
You may find yourself in the same position many of my clients do—performing well enough to give successful speeches and presentations, but feeling there’s another level to reach. And indeed, there usually is. It’s unfortunate, but our educational systems prepare us endlessly in terms of reading and writing but offer us almost nothing in terms of oral communication.
Avoid the mistake too many presenters make of just delivering information. Learn instead how to move your listeners to action. Download my free cheat sheet, "4 Characteristics of an Influential Speaker." Reach the next level of powerful communication by speaking memorably!
Given that fact, people in business, government, nonprofits, and professionals of all types often find themselves in the dark about what constitutes effective oral communication. Yet when business deals, persuasive arguments, and speaking for leadership are on the line, the need to speak effectively is never more in focus.
The Art of Voice and Speech Improvement for Public Speaking
It’s at that point that you may start to think seriously of seeking speech improvement. But you may be aiming slightly off-target. The lack of solid training in oral communication may in fact be keeping you at too superficial a level in terms of the skills you need.
That is, you may be concerned about your speech. But the deeper well you need to draw from for your speaking sustenance—and that of your audiences—is your voice.
What's the difference? Speech concerns itself with expressing thoughts and perceptions through the articulation of words. Voice, on the other hand, is the production of the sound itself: vocal utterance. That also includes the qualities of the sound (warm, empathetic, grating, sad, etc.), and in its most complex interpretation, the "agency of expression, e.g., to give voice to one's anger." (The American Heritage Dictionary, 2d College Edition, 1982.)
You can see from these descriptions how the power of your voice can influence audiences far more profoundly than your speech. Your vocal skills as you tell your story, combined with body language and the other aspects of your physical expression, give depth and meaning to what you’re saying, and make your performances come alive.
And that is what moves, inspires, and activates audiences.
Ready to enrich your relationship with listeners and make what you say unforgettable? Go beyond run-of-the-mill speeches and presentations. Download my free cheat sheet"5 Ways to Captivate an Audience."
It’s Not About Accent Reduction—It’s About Communication
I thought about this recently in my work with two clients at The Genard Method. The first client is a non-native speaker of English who was concerned that his accent was harming his ability to be understood by colleagues.
In our initial phone call, he asked if I coach clients in accent reduction. I said I did not. I regularly get the question and my answer is always the same. At the start of these conversations, I recommend the services of companies that specialize in this area. I say that they are more knowledgeable in this type of speech training than I am. And I tell the prospective client that I focus on a more holistic approach, in which I work with professionals to improve the fullness of their oral communication skills.
I say, "We will work in the areas that are most necessary and vital in terms of your vocal performance." One’s accent, of course, is part of that mix; but it’s also necessary to attend to the big picture and, most importantly, on achieving one’s purpose with listeners. In most of these inquiries, I end up working with the person. Of course, an unintelligible accent is another situation entirely, but this is never the case with these prospects.
That is how I worked with this client in my Boston-based eight-week private coaching program. And a fascinating thing happened. All of the aspects of his oral communication skills improved. A rapid speaker, he slowed down; and he began to organize his presentations more logically and engagingly. He began to work in exactly the approach we were aiming for: not to improve his speech necessarily, but to help his listeners understand what he wanted to convey to them.
In one of our later sessions, he said, “This is going to help me not only when I’m speaking English, but when I’m giving presentations in my native language.” He had truly gone beyond his concern with his speech, and was finding his voice. Here’s more on how to speak with impact in business presentations. And here are some powerful tools to use when speaking for leadership.
Storytelling and the Voice of the Storyteller
My second recent client’s needs were very different—though he too was concerned initially with his speech. He’s a freelance television writer, and is about to pitch his teleplay for an episodic series to producers.
I was going to be working with him to refine and strengthen that pitch. Before I heard the pitch (and the story—up until now I only knew the title) for the first time, he told me he wanted me to listen for some specific speech issues he’s had for many years. “You’ll tell me, right . . . you won’t be too polite to mention them?” I assured him that, in fact, I considered part of my job to tell him about any issues that might be problematic, including speech issues. So we set a timer and he began.
And I listened with delight to the intriguing teleplay for the pilot of the series he was pitching. I knew then why he had such faith in this script, because it was excellently conceived. I’m not a TV producer, but from a potential audience member’s point of view, there was plenty in this teleplay that made it interesting and, I thought, marketable. (Want to use effective storytelling in your own speeches and presentations? Here's how it's done.)
Part of what sold the property, to me at least, was his voice. He sounded excited at the parts that would be exciting on the screen, scornful of despicable characters, confused when the main character was struggling with his personal demons, and so on, all the way through the pitch.
When he’d finished, I told him how good I thought the story was, and gave him my notes on his vocal performance. At that point, he asked me whether I’d heard any of those speech issues. Honestly, I hadn’t. If they are there, they are so subtle that a speech coach didn’t pick up on them.
Or it could be that the coach, wrapped up in the excitement of the story and the voice of the storyteller, didn’t pay them any attention. Either way, it was this writer’s voice that made his pitch successful, not some minor issues of his speech.
You should follow me on Twitter here.