If you’ve seen a typical business presentation you’ve undoubtedly witnessed a phenomenon I like to call ‘The Talking Dead’. You’ll have to look really close to find the life behind the presenter’s eyes and if they are really good you won’t see or hear any vital signs. I’m not sure where this all started. Maybe at some point in history, someone with great credibility stood at the front of the room and bored the pants off the audience while aspiring business leaders watched and thought to themselves, “If I pretend I don’t care, and show no signs of life I can deliver presentations too!” It multiplied and now we have boring, lifeless, information filled presentations.
First, the goal of any presentation is to get a message to the audience. The best way to do that is to make a connection. There are many ways to make a connection, and a rather large one is with your voice. Your voice. Not a lifeless, monotone, business voice. Not a replication of someone else’s or even an exaggerated version of your own.
A term used by vocalists, ‘Vocal Authenticity’. Singers know when they get on stage to perform they will be their most powerful when they use their own voice. They find it through experimentation, studying other artists, and connecting at a heart level with their words. It takes time for a new vocal artist to develop vocal authenticity. You’ll be relieved to know I’m not suggesting you stand at the front of the room and belt out some notes to become a better presenter. Instead, consider these three truths:
When you withhold the life from your voice you withhold your humanity and you sacrifice connection.
Pay attention to your voice when you speak with your best friend, spouse or parent. When you’re in conversation with someone you hold in high regard you instinctively express yourself using your voice. You might lower it when you are telling a secret or get really animated as you add drama to your story. As humans, we are great at expressing ourselves through story. The next time you engage in a juicy conversation take notice of yourself. The voice you bring to that conversation is the voice you’ll want to bring to the front of the room. The one where you talk with your hands, get your facial expressions involved, and naturally bring people along with you. You are interesting. You are relevant. You have what it takes. When you are present minded and sharing a message the way you do you’re sharing a piece of you. Your audience appreciates you and what you have to offer.
When you align your words, your actions, and your voice you build trust.
Have you ever heard someone say ‘I’m excited to be here today…’ and they look anything but excited. In fact, they look like they were forced at gun point to show up. Usually those words come out at the beginning of a presentation. It could be the first indication that the speaker can’t be trusted. If what you are saying is not being expressed in your tone and your body language your audience is left to wonder why? They may interpret this incongruence as nerves, but if they can’t see other signs of anxiety they may decide you are lying. You set your audience up to be skeptical and challenge what comes out of your mouth. This is typically an unintended consequence of holding back. One of my clients described the eleven second walk to the front of the room as if she was walking the plank and soon to be plunging to her death. I don’t take this lightly. The flood of energy and emotions that rise up is enough to create a foggy, frantic brain and leave us wanting to collapse or run away. The best way to get back to you and regain some composure is to breathe. When that doesn’t work breathe some more. Rest assured I am not asking you to act or be someone else. I’m not suggesting you be perfect. I’m asking you to bring your whole self to the front of the room and that means your voice too. You can do this.
Your voice is an extension of your beliefs.
It’s important to know what you believe about your audience, your content, and yourself when it comes to using your voice. I’ve been in an audience as the speaker decided to share her tips and tricks for being better, but in doing so she used a tone just like my mother did when she was mad at me. She looked disappointed at times and shared common pitfalls with us as if we were idiots. I walked away from that presentation feeling worse about myself for having listened to the speaker. I don’t think this was her intent, but her beliefs about the audience were coming out in her tone, pitch, and words. Be sure to get clear on your beliefs before you present because they drive your thoughts which drive your actions at the front of the room.