Sunday, February 23, 2014

Getting the Most Out of Your Voice

When we stand before an audience we have three means of communication at our disposal: our voice, our body and our visual aids. I have written on the latter two here and here, respectively.

Your voice is the primary means through which you deliver your verbal message. It is important to say the least. Many fail to analyze their message delivery vis a vis the voice itself with unfortunate results.

Overall, you are looking for three things vocally. You want to be be natural, have a conversational speaking style, and employ lots of vocal variety. Remember, sameness is boring, variety is interesting.

There are five key elements to voice: volume, rate, pausing, pitch, and articulation. As you go through each one consider how natural variety could be used to enhance message delivery. Let's take a quick look at each.

Everyone knows that volume refers to the loudness of your voice. What you may not know is how to increase volume, without resorting to yelling.

Your voice emanates from vibrations in your larynx. A small sound is created in your throat. What pushes that small sound out through your nose and mouth to fill the room is the air in your lungs. Air is the force behind your voice.

So when you want to be louder, you need to take a deep breath and project that air to the appropriate volume for the venue.

Ideally you also want to vary your volume to match the emotions of the message.

Rate is the speed at which you speak. A common result of nervousness is to speak too quickly. This will quickly tire out both the speaker and the audience.

But the overly slow speaker can be even worse to listen to. It is frustrating when someone's rate of speech is consistently slow, because we want the message in a reasonable time frame. The slow talker slows our intake of kind of wastes our time unnecessarily.

So you want to avoid extremes for any length of time, but you do want to vary your rate as much as possible.

Pausing is a critical element in the speaker's repertoire. It is simply the part of the speech where you don't speak, and as such should be easy. However, the silence makes inexperienced speakers uneasy and they seek to fill the silence with vocalized pauses (uh, um), verbal fillers (like/you know) and any assortment of verbal tics(mmm/'nkay?).

Pausing must be embraced and employed for maximum effectiveness. Great speakers build a rhythm, a dramatic arc almost, to their presentations via pausing and rate variation. A pro can help you learn and master this art.

Pitch is the highness or lowness of your voice on a musical scale. Poor use of pitch results in the dreaded monotone speaker.

The key to using pitch effectively is to use the entirety of our pitch range--albeit the extremes pretty rarely. When you excitedly tell a story, your voice dances up and down the musical scale like Tina Turner on crack! Great speakers bring that same pitch variety to the speaking situation.

Articulation refers to the clear crisp production of the sounds that exist in a given language. Someone who mumbles has poor articulation. Sometimes rate and/or nervousness can affect articulation--as can too much alcohol! Even dental issues can be a factor.

Folks with articulation issues probably need some time with a professional who knows the articulatory features of each sound in the language, or to take a Voice and Articulation course at a local college.

Some people over-articulate and sound less than natural. If you really "pop" every sound of every syllable you can come off sounding silly or worse.

Remember our three goals: a natural and conversational voice with lots of vocal variety and you are well on your way to being a better speaker.

That's all for today friends. Be well, speak well, and as always. thanks for reading. If you are interested in learning more about Dan Leyes private and group consulting see Semiosphere Consulting.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Your Nonverbal Delivery

Your delivery has two components: what you say, and everything else. That everything else is your nonverbal delivery, and it is every bit as important as what you say. There are several components to your nonverbal delivery. Lets look at them individually.

Your appearance is vitally important. So important that I wrote an entire blog devoted to it. You can read that here. How we dress and adorn ourselves sends a message and we have to be thoughtful as to what kind of message we want to send. It will be interpreted by the audience, the only question is how they will interpret it. Are they inclined to be open minded about dress? Do you care? One thing is for sure, being totally out of place in your attire will be noticed and runs the risk of making you feel self-conscious. Dress in a manner that makes you feel good about yourself, is comfortable, and will not detract from your message or reputation.

Eye Contact is essential to your communication. The eyes have tremendous expressive power. Old sayings like "The eyes are the windows of the soul" attest to the magnitude of what we encounter in the eyes of another. In our culture we often equate eye contact with honesty, and its absence an indicator of deception.

As audience members, when the speaker does not look at us it send all the wrong messages. For starters, when someone doesn't look at me while talking, it feels like he is not talking to me, or I am invisible. And if he is not talking to me, I have no obligation to listen. I have seen numerous students and even colleagues engage in non-listening behavior like texting or grading papers, during speeches--extremely poor listening behavior. I suspect they felt emboldened to do this because they felt invisible or lost within the crowd.

Eye contact connects you to your audience in a meaningful way. Perhaps most importantly it allows the speaker to read the feedback the audience is providing. The tell-tale signs of engagement include reciprocated eye contact, nodding, smiling or something other than a blank expression. When you read feedback it allows you to make the necessary adjustments to what you are saying and how you are saying it so that you keep them engaged.

One of the most frequent questions speaker's have is regarding gestures. "What do I do with my hands"? I have written an entire blog on this and encourage you to read it. Rather than repeat what I have already written, I will simply encourage you to keep your gestures natural and non-distracting, If I am noticing your gestures, I'm probably being distracted from your verbal message.

Your stance is something worth mentioning. You should keep both feet planted firmly on the floor, no "dancing". If you have the frequent habit of rocking side to side, try pulling your feet together and pointing your toes toward the audience. It is almost impossible to rock or sway when you do this.

Movement is another factor in your physical delivery. There are two frequent practices here. The first is to move "when the spirit moves you". While this can be effective and natural, there is the risk of your movements being totally random and not supporting your message as strongly as it could. The other is what I call transitional movement. This involves moving while you transition from one main point to the next. When you say "Now that I have covered X, let's move on to Y", you move as you say that line. In this way you nonverbally support the structure of the speech. One thing you definitely want to avoid is constant movement. It makes you look nervous, does not support your message, and can tire the audience out!

Another big aspect of your nonverbal delivery is the use of visual aids. For an extended coverage of this topic I refer you to "Powerpoint is Satan",  and "Using PowerPoint Effectively, or Keeping Satan at Bay", two of my early blogs.

That's all for today. Be well, speak well, and as always, thanks for reading!

If you would like to learn more about Dan Leyes' consulting work, see Semiosphere Consulting.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Speaking with a Clear Purpose

It is imperative that every time we step in front of an audience we have a clear sense of our purpose.

Our goal should be articulated in one clear concise sentence along the lines of "to persuade my audience to purchase my product" or "To inform my audience about our new webpage" .

The best way to formulate it is based on the outcome you desire from your speech. Post speech, how will your audience be different? Will they know more? Be inspired to take action? Be entertained?

Your purpose drives everything. It crystallizes what you hope to accomplish into one simple sentence. The Specific Purpose Statement has three key elements: the general purpose, the target audience, and the topic focus.

The general purpose usually falls into one of three options: to inform, to persuade, or to entertain. Since each of these options dictate a different approach, it is essential that we are clear on it. There are obviously grey areas, e.g., you provide information  in a persuasive speech or your informative speech may be very entertaining, but your overriding goal must be clearly focused on one outcome which takes priority.

Your target audience is the most important part of your purpose, because the audience is the reason you give a speech. It's all about them, not you. By including it in our specific purpose statement we are always reminded to focus on this unique audience and do the necessary audience analysis.

For this reason it may be advantageous to be more specific than "my audience". It might be "the members of the Elks lodge in attendance" or "the Human Resources department of __________". The more specific you are the more you are reminded to take into account why they are there and thus what you need to give them to satisfy them. Their presence is a gift to any speaker, and as such you owe them something in return. You need to deliver the goods, so that they will benefit as a result of your talk.

The topic focus is, well, your topic. It should be something the audience has an interest in, whether they know that at the outset yet or not. One of your early goals is giving them a reason to listen..

Your topic must also be significantly narrowed to be adequately covered in the available time frame. Never try to fit more information in than you have time for. Audiences hate when you go over your allotted time and you invariably wind up rushing and not doing justice to the material. Less really is more. No one ever complained about a speech being a little shorter than expected, while running too long can tarnish an otherwise fine presentation. Folks resent it, and rightfully so.

Remember though, that the real purpose you give a speech is to change your audience. It's all about increasing their appreciation of your topic, changing their mind-set, or inspiring them to take action. Your speech is about them not you.

That's all for today folks. Be well, speak well, and as always thanks for reading! If you are interested in learning more about Dan Leyes' consulting work, visit Semiosphere Consulting.