By Kelly Burnett | March 31, 2008
Is your message being heard?
Thanks to technology, communication is easy, fast and effective. In many companies, people have started to take the importance of direct voice contact for granted, and don't think about how their message is actually being received. In actual fact how you use your voice can have a direct impact on the listener. They can be drawn in willingly, or pushed away to think about something else while you are speaking.
Actors spend hours fine-tuning their voice. Their audience pays to listen to them, and will quite happily leave if they are not satisfied with the quality they hear. Your audience may be a little more polite and stay, but if you were to watch closely you might see some hints that they are not receiving your message – crossed arms, note taking, eyes wandering across the room, or checking their Blackberry.
There are four key voice techniques that both an accomplished actor, and a seasoned business person can work with to ensure their message is remembered. These are not acting techniques, they are practical voice tools that ensure professional success whether you are speaking to one person across the desk, your team in the boardroom, or a large audience at a formal presentation.
Speed is of the essence to most people today. We are besieged with what is called 'hurry sickness, which is addressed by Ann McGee-Cooper in her book Time Management for Unmanageable People. This can result in people hurrying through their presentations often slurring one word into another. When the listener has to work to understand the words, the message is lost. If someone has come up to you after a presentation and said "I didn't quite get that last piece you were talking about," it may be time to practice articulation
To articulate effectively, make sure you pronounce every 't' and 'g' and move your mouth more than you have before. An actor will exaggerate their mouth movements to ensure the audience gets every word. It's not the volume but the clarity of a speech that will win accolades.
This is what we call the 'music of the voice' caused by using both upward and downward inflections. The opposite of inflection is monotone which very effectively pushes the listener away. It's interesting how many conferences organize the most monotonous speaker for 2:00 p.m. after a heavy lunch in a hot room. Next time you find yourself in that situation, look at the audience. A large majority will take the time for a quick siesta!
There is one critical rule with upward inflection: only use it to end a sentence when you are asking a question. If it is used for a regular statement, it can be translated as uncertainty, or in some cases, lying. For anyone whose business includes a lot of direct communication, this can actually be a career killer.
Variation Of Pace And Volume
Stress is rampant in business today, and with that comes exhaustion. Many people have to present very technical and detailed pieces to an unenthused audience. Keeping to the same pace, and volume can give the listeners an opportunity to 'zone out'. Varying these two pieces can make sure that they get your message clearly. You could use a slower pace for emphasis, and raise the volume for the same reason. Keep it interesting and you'll be complimented.
This is the speaker's true 'power point!' Rushing through your material and not giving the listener time to integrate it loses their attention. Respecting your audience and pausing between sentences and paragraphs will ensure they get what you are saying. Most speakers shy away from pausing enough simply because they hate silence. If you discipline yourself to pause at the end of each part of the important message, you will reap the benefits. It also gives the audience the indication that you are the 'expert' which is something everyone aspires to be.
Practice these tools, and you will receive the results and your presentations be appreciated more. In fact, don't be surprised if you are sought out to do more of them – in a more senior position!