Speak clearly and communicate

How well do you convey your messages? Is it a question you examine or do you concentrate on the content of your speech? We spend plenty of time thinking about what we say in business, but not necessarily how we say it.

When it comes to professional settings the way we speak including tone, pitch, and volume is every bit as important as content and dramatically affects how our message is received and how people perceive us.

It's hard to recognize our own verbal slip ups so if regular presentations and occasional public speaking are starting to occur in your career it could be worth practicing speech in front of a specialist or a mentor to ensure you are hitting the right notes.

Pitching your voice and presentation at the right level is quite easy and becomes natural with experience and as you become less nervous. The important word here is NATURAL. The natural vocal sound is pleasing to hear, easy to follow and quietly authoritative.

Most of us can become good and interesting speakers with just a little skill and practice. Here are a few pointers on how to improve your presentations.

Speaking too quickly

Understandably when you are new to public speaking you are going to be nervous and rapid speech is a very common effect of nerves. Rapid speech not only makes the speaker hard to follow, it distracts the listener and undermines the strength and authority of your message.

Susan Finch, a New York based voice and speech coach who works with business professionals, says hasty speakers often end up "mumbling, rushing, and swallowing" their words. To address this, she instructs clients to take a breath before they begin speaking and again before each major point. That simple action creates a natural break in speech and helps the person to slow down.

Being Australian; or “up talk”

Australians are known for “lifting” the final vowels of a sentence, the best way of understanding this is to watch British comedy and see how they poke fun at us. This issue in speech is known as up talk; ending a statement on an upward pitch so that it sounds like a question even when it's not.

According to Sydney speech coach Sandra Harris, this issue is more common in women. Speakers struggling with up talk should record themselves and then make an effort to keep their pitch from rising at the end of a sentence.

The Monotone

Nothing turns an audience off like a dull and boring presenter and the worst speaking mistake is to use a dull, monotone voice. We want to hear in the voice a relaxed enthusiasm and a pleasant assertiveness, keep your audience interested by projecting your excitement and passion for your subject.

That doesn't mean going over the top with high and low pitches, but rather allowing for some degree of variation in the tone and colour of your phrasing. And the easiest way to achieve that effect is to breathe and relax, try to place a smile into your voice.

Duh, um, fillers

These, um, filler words are ubiquitous in everyday speech. "Like," "um," "er" and others are used routinely in casual conversations and often go unnoticed. But they really stand out when used in professional settings.

John West, head of the speech division at New York Speech Coaching, refers to words like these as "vocalized pauses." People typically toss these sounds into speech because they fear that allowing for a pause will lose their listeners. On the contrary, West says it's the speakers who use excessive "ums" and "uhs" that tend to lose their audience the fastest, and that a well-placed pause can pique listeners' attention.

Whispering quietly

Speaking at the correct volume and with strong voice projection is important. Sandra Kazan, a New York based vocal coach, says the ability to project depends on each individuals voice. For example, high-pitched voices naturally project better and further than lower pitched ones.

"A nasal voice will carry, will probably not have very much problem projecting, but it is a very annoying voice to listen to for any amount of time," she explains. As with pace, experts say the best fix for volume is to breathe well. Projection problems tend to occur when people tighten up, constricting their vocal chords and preventing a smooth flow of air.

Trailing off

In general speech we have a tendency to get quieter at the end of a sentence, to “trail off”. A commonly recognised speech pattern is to trail off toward the end of phrases, clauses, and sentences. This means important words can easily get lost or messages can appear incomplete. You need to keep your voice supported, level and your message carrying all the way to the end of the point you are making.

At the end of the day be it in a meeting or a conference people want to hear your comments, words, ideas and knowledge. Give just that, hone your presentation but most importantly be you. Breathe deeply and regularly, pace yourself and impart your message. You will not only become an interesting speaker but you will enjoy the process.


Neil Steggall

Neil Steggall

Partner at Wardour Capital Partners

Neil is the CEO of Wardour Capital Partners, leading emerging growth & mid tier advisors. He is also a Non Executive Director of Family Planning Australia and The Australia Asia Business Alliance. Neil is an experienced director & corporate mentor and has chaired or served on numerous board committees including finance & audit, governance, compliance, strategy, acquisition, remuneration & ethics.


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