Whether you’re an executive giving a speech, a student making an oral report, or an applicant interviewing for a new job, you’re probably concerned about how you sound, how you communicate (and if you’re not, you should be.) For many people that concern turns to dread, and even worse, to nervousness, both of which don’t improve the situation.
How can I be a better speaker?
I’ve written about this question in several articles: “Almost Everything You Need To Give A Great Interview,” http://lazarspeech.com/2013/09/20/almost-everything-you-need-to-know-to-give-a-great-interview/ “Speak Up, Speak Clearly: Is That All There Is To It?”, http://lazarspeech.com/2013/09/04/speak-up-speak-clearly-is-that-all-there-is-to-it/ “The Two P’s For Effective Speaking,” http://lazarspeech.com/2013/04/30/the-two-ps-for-effective-speaking/ and others you can read on my blog.
Confidence, Preparation, Reducing Um’s and Ah’s: These are just a few of the topics I’ve covered and they remain critical for communicating effectively. What else should do good speakers know about making a presentation so it doesn’t become a dreaded event?
Timing remains the key to being calm and effective. Don’t rush, no matter how pressured you feel about covering a certain amount of material. It comes back to my recommendation about preparation. Consider what you need to cover in the time you have to speak. Plan carefully and don’t over plan. So many speakers succumb to their eagerness to convey everything they know about a topic so they literally speak at a rate that’s too fast for listeners to process. Slow down. Pace yourself as you speak. Think about speaking in phrases, not just sentences.
Maintain a natural voice by considering your intonation. What does that mean? Intonation is the rhythmic up and down of our voices. If you speak too quickly you lose intonation, the stress on key words. Without proper intonation your speech will take on a monotone quality, one of the annoying things about synthesized speech, those automated, recorded voices — what we call robotic speech.
Considering the words you want to stress will make a big difference in maintaining natural intonation. Most languages, including English, are spoken with stress on syllables and words, otherwise we would sound flat and boring. As a speaker you keep the listener’s attention by stressing important words — these can be highlighted in your notes or even in a scripted presentation (if you’re actually reading a speech.)
Breathe. You’re probably saying to yourself, “Well, of course I breathe.” Yes, we have to breathe as we speak, but too many people take rapid, shallow breaths when they present. They don’t monitor their breathing so they run out of air and may make themselves even more nervous. Effective breathing has a calming effect and puts you more in control of your speech.
Singers and professional speakers who work from a script actually mark their breaths as cues to be sure they breathe at appropriate times. This helps their timing, stress and intonation, all critical factors in giving an effective speech — a presentation you won’t dread making!
Check back next week for more thoughts on communication, speech and language and executive function skills.