We often associate it with a lack of voice inflection (speaking like a robot), but the truth is, that is only a small part of the story. There are 5 things that force the people you’re speaking to stop listening:
1. Pace 🏎
People get incredible hung up on how fast they speak when they present. The misconception is that you need to speak slower when you present. Not true - and doing so can make you come across as both patronising and inauthentic.
Speaking at a consistent pace is essentially a form of hypnotism. Great for meditation, sleep stories and shipping forecasts, bad for everything else.
A few weeks ago, I watched President Joe Bidens' recent address at the White House Correspondents Dinner. It was so good, I thought I'd analyse it* - look at his pace in the picture below. It's constantly changing. Yours should too.
Some advice that every presenter, let alone aspiring thought leader should consider before crafting their next talk...
To avoid monotony, vary your pace. Speed up for excitement, slow down for impact.
2. Power 📣
Goes hand in hand with Pace. When we make our stage debut at the age of 4 in the school nativity play, what do we get told?
Project your voice!
A tip we’ve taken into every speaking engagement since. Sure, people need to be able to hear you, and they shouldn’t have to work hard to do so, but microphones are there to do the heavy lifting. Constantly projecting your voice makes it feel like you’re being told off or talked at. Not a great way to connect with your audience.
Michelle Obama knows how to use power for impact. Her speech at the Democratic Convention in 2016 is her most-watched of all time. Her job that day was to get her audience hyped up.
Does she power pose her way on stage beating her chest like Tony Robins? No. She starts quiet, builds up, drops back down and finishes on a crescendo. Without the moments of quiet, the crescendo wouldn't exist.
To avoid monotony, vary your power. Increase it to raise the energy, and soften it to bring your audience in.
By pitch, I mean how high and low your voice goes, and when. It is not just important to prevent monotony, it is also one of the biggest factors in determining how confident you sound.
There are three patterns you need to know about...
a) The 'Question'
When we end a sentence on upward inflection, we are signalling that we are asking a question.
Or are we?
Imagine asking someone to marry you whilst inflecting up a the end of that all-important sentence.
'Will you marry me?!'
Inflecting up at the end of a sentence makes it sound like you have no confidence in what you're saying. It's as though you're questioning yourself, or you're telling a story about...
Not only is it monotonous, but it's also annoying.
Inexperienced presenters fall into this trap all the time, especially when they're trying to remember their scripts word for word so make sure you're not one of them.
b) The Robot
If you keep your voice at a consistent pitch all the way through, it makes it sound like you don't care. Your talk will be void of all feeling and you will sap the life and energy from your audience's souls, like a dementor.
If you suffer from this, before checking out videos on how to increase your vocal range on YouTube, start by asking yourself this:
Why do I care?
Whatever your answer is, channel it!
c) The Authority
When you end the sentence on a downward inflection, it gives what you're saying gravitas. If you struggle with this...
Say this sentence out loud:
I like chocolate
Notice how the final syllable inflects down? That's what we're aiming for.
This time, say it again and try to inflect up at the end - surprisingly difficult and requires vast amounts of concentration (or at least it did for me).
Now you can hear the difference, practice it and take it into your presentations.
To avoid monotony, inflect your voice but aim to finish your sentences on a downward inflection.
4. Sentence Length 📏
All these sentences are equal. Can you see the impact? After a while it’s repetitive.
Vary the length of your sentences and it will transform your ability to engage with your audience. Just like I have in the rest of this post.
5. Emotional Contrast
The problem with most presentations is they emotionally flatline. That is why audiences often find it hard to connect with the speaker. Presentations need both positive and negative moments in order for them to be an engaging and memorable experience.
If everything you share evokes the same emotional response, nothing will stand out. Everything will just feel the same. It’s emotional monotony, which, if we were to represent it in a graph would look something like this…
Your job as a public speaker is to ensure your audience experiences both positive and negative emotions.
As a result, your audience’s journey should look something like this…
It is in the emotional contrast that the memories are created.
The deeper you’re able to get your audience to feel the problem, the higher you’ll be able to leave them and the more impact your presentation will have as a result.
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