Even if you follow the advice given on how to quickly improve as a speaker, your speech can still fall flat. Something is lost in the translation, and you sense it, even if you can’t completely identify it. The topic is relevant. The research is comprehensive. The format is fluid. What’s the problem?
The words are important, and that’s why it is so crucial for you to get to the point and say only what needs to be said. The ideas are important in terms of choosing the right topic for the right audience and making sure you know both inside and out.
But what about how you say what needs to be said?
Where’s the Feeling? Where’s the Love?
Part of the problem is that you aren’t considering how your delivery impacts the audience. Think about some of your favorite songs. The singer pours out emotion in each note and in every word. She makes you feel what she is feeling through her performance.
You do the same thing when you sing “Happy Birthday” to your co-workers: mumbling the words, hoping not to be heard, and wishing the cake would get cut and passed around without having to sing that song. Now, imagine if your favorite singer sang your favorite song the way you just sang to your co-worker. You probably wouldn’t consider either your favorite for very long, would you?
No one is asking you to put on some kind of concert performance (though, if you really want to have an impact… I’m just saying…), but there are a few things you can do to make your words have an impact on the audience. It starts with wanting to have an impact. The rest of it consists of a few items for your consideration:
Believe in what you say— To get some feeling into your speech, it helps to actually care about what you have to say. If you want to have an impact on others, caring about them enough to believe in the message is a good way to start.
Speak, don’t read— For whatever reason, we have a reading voice that sounds like we’re trying to make sure no actual emotion sneaks out. Why is that? I’m not entirely sure, but the reasons aren’t important. What you need to realize is that if you read your speech (and many speakers do), you can’t sound like you’re reading. Audiences know the difference between someone who is speaking to them and someone who is reading in front of them. You’ll always have more of an impact on someone who feels like you are talking to them.
Stress important words— Notice above how the word “sound” is in italics. You can’t actually hear me speaking to you since this is written, but the italics imply that the word is somehow stressed for effect. I want you to know that the word is of particular importance. The italics serve as a visual cue. You can do that with your voice, whether it’s changing the pitch, drawing the word out a little longer, pausing just before you say the stressed word, or anything that puts extra attention to the word you stressed. Such vocal variety will provide richness to what you are saying.
Measure your words— I watched a performer recently say to the judges, “Thank you so much. I love you so much. I’m so excited to be here; I want this so much.” I’m not asking you to define how much “so much” is, but I do caution you to think about making such vague or empty statements. And, beware of making such comments over and over again. Saying “you know what I’m saying?” at the end of each sentence gets quickly annoying, and the audience will begin to tune out.
Choose better words— Some words have more meaning than others. Some words are more colorful. Use these words to create images that are clearly imagined by your audience. Notice that distinction; don’t use a thesaurus to find different words for the sake of being different or to try and sound smarter. Use words that will have an impact on the audience. Notice terms like “corporate restructuring” were developed to soften the blow of people losing jobs, or shareholders losing money. Saying something is “unwise” or “plain stupid” can mean the same thing, but it certainly will call up different emotions.
Lively face, lively voice— It’s really strange, but try putting on a big smile on your face and then try to sound sad or angry or anything other than happy or peppy. Granted, the peppiness may seem sarcastic, but it is extremely difficult to make sounds that are inconsistent with your facial expression. So, it stands to reason that if we keep a blank expression on our faces while speaking, we’ll probably have a fairly blank tone in our voices. Add emotion by simply smiling or frowning. Your facial expressions can reveal what you feel inside, and it gets translated in how you say what you say.
You Already Do It, So Do It Already
The funny thing about all of this is that you already do all of this without really thinking about it. You are expert speakers when you talk to your friends or colleagues. You understand and employ all of these tactics for the purpose of having a greater or lesser impact. But, for whatever reason, you decide to throw out these skills when you give a speech or presentation– just when you need it the most!
This isn’t a lesson so much as it is a reminder to use what you already have to deliver more of an impact on your audience. The results will amaze you… and the audience as well.