Guest post by Jeremy Cassell and Tom Bird

Do you enjoy the sound of your own voice? Most leaders do not.  To be an effective speaker you need to be heard, to be understood and to have variety in your voice. So, if the voice is such a critical tool, what do you need to focus on, remember and practise to be effective? Here are eight fundamentals:

  • Use variety in speed, volume and pitch.
  • Speak louder than normal. Not shouting, just up your volume by around 10-20%. You need to aim for communication without intimidation.
  • Slow down if you naturally have a fast delivery.
  • Pause.

Pauses allow you to:

  • slow your rate to match the audience’s listening capacity
  • convey emotion
  • take a breath
  • really engage the audience
  • catch up with your mind

The best and the most influential pauses are ones in which you want to emphasise a certain key point or message to add drama and impact. They work best when you pause just before and after the key point for longer than normal (perhaps 2-3 seconds), in which you deliberately stop your body moving so that the audience’s focus is on what has just been said or is about to be said.

For example:

‘We are reaching a critical stage for the business (pause). In order to hit our 5 year target (pause), we all need to be aware of the changes necessary to be successful (pause). We can do this (pause) if we all pull together now.’ (pause)

  • Avoid ums and ers or filler words such as ‘you know’, ‘I mean’ or ‘basically’
  • If you want to add colour to your voice, emphasise certain words or phrases that are most important for messaging
  • Ensure your voice has a higher level of intensity than a mere conversational tone. You need to inject emotion and energy into your voice to ensure your key messages really land.
  • Have a drink of water available – it keeps you hydrated and can be used for dramatic pauses.

Want to know a secret that we teach leaders around the world? Credibility and connection are two vital components of presenting. Both can be established and enhanced by how you use your voice. Think of flying. When you get on an aeroplane often the first person you will hear is the captain as in ‘Welcome aboard, my name is Captain Cassell. We will be pushing back in approximately…’ At some point you will also hear the voice of a flight attendant.: ‘We have a great crew with us to day – we will be coming amongst you shortly…’

 

Now, have you ever noticed that often they talk in very different ways? Next time you are on a plane you may well notice these differences in their voices:

 

Captain e.g. Barack Obama or David Cameron Flight attendant – e.g. Jamie Oliver or Dawn French
Slow

Intonation goes down at the end of the sentence

Uses pauses

Short, clipped sentences

Monotone

Focus on facts and objective information

Fast

Intonation goes up at the end of the sentence

Uses few if any pauses

Long, possibly rambling sentences

Lots of variety and musicality in the voice

Focus on people orientated information

 

Essentially, the captain uses a ‘credible’ voice pattern, whilst the flight attendant uses a ‘connection’ voice pattern. How do we suggest applying these ideas to your presenting?

  • Use both voice patterns throughout your presentation –  think carefully about what voice pattern will fit most easily with what your intention
  • Use the credible voice pattern when you are trying to be authoritative, when you are lecturing, wanting to emphasis key points or get audience members to take action
  • Use the connection voice pattern when you want to put people at ease, tell stories, use humour or demonstrate you are interested in them as people.

 

Research in the last decade reveals that your voice as a leader is essential to the endorsement of you by the group.  Every voice projects the personality of its speaker. Voices are unique, revealing, and central to your ability to lead change in your world. This article gives you a practical guide so that, through your voice, you can be authentic and influence more of your people, more of the time.

Jeremy Cassell and Tom Bird are the authors of The Leader’s Guide to Presenting (winner of The 2018 UK Business Book of the Year award) – which is out now in paperback and ebook.


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