‘The human voice is the most beautiful instrument of all, but it is the most difficult to play.’ Richard Strauss
Despite the truth and elegance of this quote, I believe that the word ‘voice’ means a great deal more than the sound produced in a person’s larynx. The verbal expression of our message is of course vitally important. Volume, pitch, pace, tone and pausing are just a handful of the many key elements that require our careful attention when we want to speak with impact.
In our presentation training workshops and public speaking coaching sessions we spend a great deal of time and focus helping professionals to speak more powerfully using their physical voice.
On its own it not enough.
Our personal and professional impact on our audience extends way beyond the spoken words which leave our mouths and the manner in which they are heard.
The unspoken word elicits a potent effect too.
You’ve already read through previous blogs of my concern and dissatisfaction that far too many business presentations are dull and uninspiring. I’ve even gone on record as suggesting that at the conclusion of a typical business presentation, most people will forget 90% of what the presenter shared by the time they return to their desk or their car.
The reason for the mediocrity is uniformity of our voices. Let me explain.
Uniformity is a by-product of leadership. In other words, the reason so many business presentations are forgettable is because they are steeped in predictability. How do you find, value and express your true voice in a business world that stifles sound and encourages monotony?
– The boss walks into the meeting room and sits in exactly the same seat every time. That becomes a signal for everyone else to do the same.
– If the first person who presents does so sitting down everyone else follows suit.
– One person shows an agenda so everyone else wields theirs.
– With the intention of impressing rather than connecting most professionals set out to tell the room how much they know and how hard they’ve worked.
Many people forget who they really are and don their corporate mask and cloak to tell their audience things they don’t really need to know in a way that they would never normally speak and act.
It takes courage to be heard
If you want to increase the likelihood of your audience remembering your presentation, you have to challenge the status quo. To stand out from the crowd and speak with impact you have to use your voice powerfully. In a society and business culture where authenticity is generally discouraged rather than applauded, it takes courage to express ourselves.
What is the reach and impact of your voice if you’re the boss?
– The moment you sit in the very same seat you always sit in you, are telling your team ‘it’s business as usual and you want everything to stay the same’. Before you utter a word, your unspoken voice is shouting ‘let’s just do what we always do.’
– If you don’t immediately set the scene by saying something interesting, compelling or inspiring, you’re encouraging monotony.
– If your voice doesn’t make it abundantly clear why they are there and what you want from their presentation, you’re relying on hope. Don’t live in hope that they will deliver what you want them to. Tell them and help them in advance.
– If you speak and act like the boss then they will speak and act like your employee; that’s the power of your voice through the spoken and unspoken word. Be yourself and encourage them to do the same.
– Express your feelings in your voice, which will help them to do the same.
– Don’t make them use their voice disrespectfully by making them speak for 10 minutes when they can say what they need to in 90 seconds.
– Unless you are making people redundant or informing them of a death in the business, don’t be so serious. Lighten up, laugh and have some fun.
How to use your voice if you’re not the boss
1. Act as though you are the boss and follow every one of the recommendations above.
2. Ignore the boss. In other words, don’t invest all of your energy and focus presenting to the boss. Everyone in the room is equally important as she is; speak to everyone. If you direct your focus and voice only to the boss you’ll quickly lose the rest of the room.
3. Look at the room differently. When you look around you, don’t just see business colleagues and people who may have a higher status than you. Long before you see their position, see the sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters sitting with you. Why would you speak to a room full of business colleagues so differently than the way you speak with your mother?
4. Be crystal clear on your intention. To substantially increase the likelihood of them giving you what you want you have to make them feel something. Decide well in advance what it is you want them to feel and make sure that the words you use and they way you use them are aligned to your intention.
5. Everything you show your audience becomes a key part of your voice too. Present the ‘gold’. Slides smothered in data can be overwhelming to have to listen to a presenter trawl through. Only give them what they really need and make it visual, bold and compelling.
6. Recognise that when you speak your voice is your most important tool. Strengthen, challenge and develop your physical voice by doing vocal exercises and listening to your own regularly.
7. Movement is energy so make sure you move your hands, face, voice and entire body (meaningfully). Don’t just stand or sit there to speak.
8. Be provocative. Ask them thought-provoking questions, challenge their thinking and encourage them to challenge yours.
9. Less is more. Most of us suffer from an affliction called ‘The Curse of Knowledge’; we know so much about what we know that we want to give it all to our audience. The fact is they neither need or want it. Keep your presentation short and sweet, get to the point quickly.
‘Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.’ Maya Angelou
It’s quite frightening to realize that expectations are so low in business presenting. Most people don’t like going to them in the assumption that they will be boring, far too long and mostly irrelevant.
The presentations and people you will remember and that make a difference to you are the ones that have made a mindful decision to boycott mediocrity and dare to be different.
When you pause momentarily to reflect on those you truly hear and respond to you recognize the significance of our voice.
Image courtesy of: istockphoto.com