Do You Hear What I Hear?
We’ve called upon our resident presentation delivery expert, Sharon Merrill President David Calusdian, to teach us to become better speakers – whether at meetings, in investor conferences, or during more personal settings. This four-part conversation provides a taste of the good, and bad, habits of executive presenters, with a few tips for improvement along the way. Today’s post is Part III in the series.
- The Podium: As always, thanks again for joining us, David. We’ve had a highly informative series thus far. Today, we’d like to talk about voice. Let’s start from the beginning.
DC: First, I always tell people to speak loudly, to speak clearly, and to use vocal variety. These tips may sound obvious, but most speakers aren’t aware that they are being monotone or are not annunciating until they hear themselves on a recording. Another common voice problem people have is that they unknowingly lower their voices at the ends of sentences. They speak loudly for a period, and then suddenly fall off. The extreme version of the trailing voice is “vocal fry” – a raspy sound you make when you run out of breath, as if you are fighting for air to finish each sentence. In either version, your message loses its impact. And without that, there’s really no point.
- The Podium: It seems counterintuitive that a speaker would not want to be heard. Why does this happen?
DC: Usually, a speaker’s voice trails off because he or she is uncomfortable or lacks the confidence necessary to be forceful with every sentence. If you want to come across as confident, then aim to end every sentence declaratively. Everything you say should be important!
- The Podium: That makes sense.
DC: It’s critical. In addition, many people trail their voices off at the end of a paragraph or at the end of a particular PowerPoint slide they are talking to. Very often, as speakers advance their slides, they will look down at their laptop on the podium and end up talking to their laptop. Compounding this problem is that the last thing you say on a slide should be the most important statement on the topic – and it often just gets lost.
- The Podium: So how do we use our voices to make the message more effective?
DC: One thing you can do is to keep a dynamic voice pattern. You don’t want to sound monotone because that’s boring to listen to. You do want to vary your inflection and your volume. For example, if you are saying the sentence, “I’m really excited about our company’s prospects,” you had better sound excited! Take the opportunity to really punch home such declarative statements.
- The Podium: What are other common vocal miscues?
DC: Many people elevate their vocal pitch at the end of most sentences, which we call “uptalking,” as if each is a question.
- The Podium: Like a Valley Girl?
DC: Yes. And it does not make you sound very confident. Consider how the following sounds out loud: “We reported great results in Q4? And we also reported an in increase in net income?” Those are positive messages, and they should be made confidently. And yet, I frequently encounter this problem during presentation rehearsals. It’s usually because the speaker is using their vocal cadence to lead into the next sentence, but it comes across as if they are unsure about what they’re saying. If you’re making an important statement, end it declaratively – not as if you’re asking a question.
- The Podium: Could you do it in a series? For instance, if there are four bullets, and you’re continuing onto the next bullet?
DC: It’s possible, but, usually, every bullet should stand on its own, too. The key here is that if a point is worth making, then you should sound confident and authoritative when making it.
- The Podium: Let’s go back to monotone a moment. Monotone is boring, so you’re going to lose your audience. Does this send a signal about what the speaker is thinking? Are they bored, too?
DC: I don’t think so. Sometimes, speakers are simply more comfortable when speaking in a monotone pattern. It may be how they speak naturally, and they may not be aware of how this impacts others’ perceptions of them. It’s important to employ variation in your speech patterns. Use your voice to emphasize the key points.
- The Podium: Well noted, David. Thanks for being with us today and sharing all of these awesome pointers on how presenters can use their voices effectively. Next week will be our final conversation on presentation training, and we’re looking forward to it, as always.