At some point in history, someone told you that you were erm-ing too much. Someone did. Or maybe something happened to convince you that it was a bad thing. Or do we just know instinctively, because ERM is the word most people are afraid of?
Let’s get one thing clear: To “erm” is human. To “erm” repeatedly when you are trying to make a point, can become distracting.
As with all vocal or physical gestures, once you start repeating them THAT’s when they become annoying.
One word has the power to undermine your authority.
The presenter on the radio is telling a story about how he came out of his house to find someone had sprayed hummus over his car. “Hummus?” He said “That’s a very Waitrose style vandalisation! I have arrived” He let it hang… then said the one word that makes me scream at the radio…
I screamed at the radio.
As a presenter, you are an authority.
When you say “Anywaaayy” you are undermining yourself.
It’s one thing to be self-deprecating, or to lose track, but when you are telling your story the word “Anywayyy” gets right in the way.
The solution: just pause and move on to the next thing. Use something else to get you out – some audio, some music, or if you are presenting on stage a new slide.
It often transpires that the presenter hasn’t fully thought the story through, or they didn’t quite believe the story or what they are saying. Have confidence in your content. Make sure you do the prep. And remember just cos you can’t hear them laughing doesn’t mean they aren’t (and that goes for if you can see your audience or not).
And have you ever wondered why your other half is defending themselves even before you’ve asked them the simplest question?!
The answer is in …..Your Voice
Your impact is defined by how you use your voice, in any environment. Getting it right will change your life.
So, here are some tips to “change your life”
1. Pause and Emphasise
There is a technique called the Hudson Technique where you learn to end a sentence, pause, and emphasise the beginning of the next sentence. Letting your thoughts and words run into each other is exactly how to lose your listeners. This is especially true when you are moving between topics. So to keep your listener’s attention you have to start with an energetic word or phrase to indicate “this is new”. And you can use the power of the pause to build up the emphasis.
You will well know that the one thing that gets your attention most these days is silence. Think about what it is that makes you actually look at the radio?!
2. Sing Song
Your voice has a natural melody. Except when we are under pressure (like in a talk) we can lose the melody or over use the melody entirely. In his TEDx Talk Vocal Coach Roger Love talks about the fact that staying monotonous means your audience just knows what is coming. He talks about embracing the melody in “going up the stairs” and “coming down the stairs”. How one implies happy, and one implies sad.
You can watch it here:
3. Use Your Face to be Believable
When you are doing a serious pieces: frown and it will make you sound serious. When you are doing a happy piece, or you need energy: smile – you won’t believe the difference in a smile! And then there is just plain believing in what you are saying. The reality is that you will have to talk about something you either don’t really fully understand, or don’t care about. At this point you must deploy self reflection. Engaging with either what you know to be true about what you are talking about, or engaging some empathy around what you are talking about, can help you to believe in what you are saying.
4. Self Care
Your voice is a muscle, that is part of your body, and it needs to be cared for. Some people when they get overworked and overtired – it shows in their voice. The vocal cords take a hammering. I’m not suggesting that you start getting all diva honey and lemon over your voice. I am suggesting that you can remember to rest, to stand tall, to allow your lungs the space to breathe, to breathe properly, to stay hydrated and one final tip to keep your vocal cords in check: hum. Hum around the house, and wherever you can. The vibrations are supposed to help keep the muscles strong and lubricated!
Use your voice to create impact and engage your audience, and you can sweep them off their feet.
I used to be the boss of a freelancer who was a master persuader, they regularly got what they wanted from others.
I was often on the receiving end of personal requests that usually went like this: “Please could I leave a bit early today because I have to get home to receive a delivery of some drawers” “Yeh sure” I would reply. “Please could I skip the post show meeting tomorrow because I have to get over to another meeting at 1030.” “Yeh sure” I would reply. I would let the rest of the team know and they would roll their eyes that I had said yes yet again, and I would find myself trying to convince them that going home for a delivery was important. (I can feel you rolling your eyes too). You won’t believe the trick this freelancer was using… I’m currently training to become an NLP Practitioner, and I’ve reached the module on the language of persuasion. One of the key ways to persuade is to communicate the cause and effect of what it is you are trying to achieve. The most powerful word you can use then is: BECAUSE.
Read it again: “Please could I leave a bit early today because I have to get home to receive a delivery of some drawers”
“Yeh sure” I would reply. A study looked at people trying to push in a queue for the photocopier. If you just asked to go before someone they would say no. If you asked to go ahead of someone “because, and then gave your reason” you would inevitably end up further up the queue. It’s worth noting that the reason often is irrelevant… hence of course I was saying “yeh sure”.
When talking to an audience, your boss, new clients, any one you are trying to persuade, using “Cause and Effect” can help you then get what you want from them.
Communicating the benefit to your audience will always help them along. So, if you are trying to get your audience to enter a competition: “Text me now because I have a <prize> you could win…” “Text me now so that you are in to win…” “When you text in, then you could win….” Side note: When my kids were little they were taught to sell “because” as their first “tricky word” with this mnemonic: Big Elephants Always Understand Small Elephants. It always makes me smile.
Are you finding that you aren’t having the impact you want with your audience?
It could be that you are not using your voice with impact. You will have noticed how hard it is to listen to someone who talks in one monotonous tone; loud, high or low. In fact sometimes with no intonation it sounds like the speaker does not care about their subject. This is a sure fire turn OFF for the audience.
I am sure you’ve heard that low vocal tone has more gravitas than high vocal tone. I am sure someone has said to you that you need to slow down your speech to gather impact. These are things we hear about all the time, but actioning it is difficult.
There are more factors though: I also include projection, pausing, the sing song in your voice and emphasis in your presentation to create impact.
There is one podcast I always recommend to my clients as a fine example of how to use your voice.
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History
Dan Carlin is one of the podcasting stalwarts, one of the greats. His podcast episodes can stretch up to 5 or 6 hours, of just him speaking. He tells stories from history, using artefacts and evidence so that the voices of the past come alive. He does a great job of putting the stories of the past into your world, so they feel relevant.
But my favourite thing about his presentation style is his use of his voice.
Have a listen, and note how he pauses, his energy, his pace (he speeds up and slows down), the way he puts emphasis on certain elements. His work is a masterclass.
Here’s The Thing: Ira Glass – this specific podcast has Alec Baldwin talking to This American Life overlord Ira Glass talking about how long it took him to find his voice, and how to be authentic rather than to take on that “NPR” style. Listen to that episode here.