They Have You At “Hello”: Be Aware Of Your Public Speaking Voice

Here’s one more thing for presenters to worry about; research shows that listeners will judge a speaker based on listening to their voice after just half a second. Perhaps even more astonishingly, different listeners consistently come to the same conclusions about whether someone is intelligent, honest, nervous, attractive, etc, after nothing more than hearing them say “hello.”

As someone who has coached speakers and managed teams of trainers, I can tell you that there are few things more important in any presentation than the speaker’s voice. When I ask for audience feedback on a presenter, the most withering criticism is often leveled at how they sound. The lowest-rated speakers are usually those who are described as speaking in a monotone, sounding bored, tired, insincere, condescending, or sarcastic. (Accents can also be an issue). At the opposite end of the spectrum, the presenters who receive overwhelmingly positive reviews are often described as enthusiastic, engaged, funny, energetic, or compassionate. While audience members don’t single out a presenter’s voice as a positive element as often as they notice it as a negative one, these are all qualities that are conveyed primarily by how a speaker sounds, whether the listeners realize it or not.

Whenever you’re speaking to an audience, you should make persuading them to adopt your ideas the main goal of your talk. But that’s almost impossible if the sound of your voice makes them think you don’t care or, worse, that you don’t believe what you’re saying. Chances are they’ll just stop listening and you’ll wind up wasting everyone’s time–including your own.

So always keep in mind how you sound, particularly at the beginning of a talk when you’ll be making that all-important first impression. Imagine the tone you want to use for your talk in advance and try to match it, even if your nerves threaten to make your voice crack and rise an octave. And if you have never heard yourself give a presentation, consider recording yourself. You may be surprised (for good or bad) to hear what you sound like to an audience that isn’t inside your own head.

They Have You At Hello


Presentation Skills: Introverts and Extroverts

I really liked the TED version of this presentation because of the way that Susan Cain talked about her own struggles as an introvert with public speaking. That’s not in this condensed version, but some of my other favorite parts are, including the research that shows that audiences find extroverts to be more persuasive and believable than more introverted speakers.

I love this kind of science, but the idea that extroverts are more convincing is understandable even on a common-sense level. Extroverts tend to be much more engaging and more enthusiastic, both of which help an audience pay attention and stay focused on what’s being said. Enthusiasm is particularly powerful because it can be quite contagious and help win people over to a presenter’s point of view. If you think about it, the RSA videos are kind of like the “extroverted” versions of the original talks. They’ve been edited and animated to make them more engaging and entertaining.

As a closet introvert myself, I know that I’m a much more effective public speaker because I make a conscious effort to be more extroverted. I try to bring as much energy as I can to every presentation, I tell my best jokes and stories in an attempt to be entertaining, and I talk to people that I don’t know in a way I’d probably never do if we were random guests at a party.

The difference between being an introvert and at least being able to act like an extrovert is often the difference between success and failure in a presentation. Maybe you’re not a natural extrovert, but a lot of people (including Susan Cain and myself) aren’t, and we’re doing passable jobs at public speaking. Can you manage to be an extrovert for 30 minutes? An hour? Try giving it a shot. If you’re still having a hard time, try co-presenting with someone who is more outgoing than you are. I find that I’m even more successful when I’m paired with someone who is an extrovert (or seems like they are one).

That doesn’t mean that I’m telling you to be fake, to put on a personality that isn’t your own. Audiences react badly when they perceive that someone is acting “phony.” What you want to do instead is be the best, most interesting and energetic version of yourself.

RSA Shorts–The Power of Quiet

Elements of Great Presentations: Energy and Tone

It’s often not what you say that matters, but how you say it.

Last week I was lucky to be able to give a talk called “Creating Killer Presentations” at the annual ILTA conference in Nashville and to hang around for a while to take in some of the other talks. I saw great presentations, presentations where I wished that I could sneak out of the room almost as soon as they’d started, and presentations that managed to succeed despite what seemed like impossible odds.

I’d place my friend Jeffrey Roach’s session in that last category. He was teaching hands-on “Advanced Excel” to a room set up with fifty computers– which any trainer will tell you is a nightmare to begin with. It’s just too many people and too many computers for one person to manage. Especially when you have pervasive technical problems, like Jeffrey did. Internet connections didn’t work, files couldn’t be opened, keys were actually falling off of the keyboards. It was so bad that there were a significant number of people who couldn’t follow along on their computers for the whole first hour.

A lesser presenter might have been flustered, given up, cried. But Jeffrey just kept moving ahead, making jokes and keeping the audience entertained while teaching a modified version of the class he’d planned. And it worked. The audience followed along and didn’t seem too dismayed by the technical difficulties. Almost all of them came back after a long break for the second half of the session, the evaluations were great, and I heard several people come up to Jeffrey over the next couple of days to tell him how much they’d learned.

Why did it work?  Because he didn’t let the technical problems set the tone of the session. He kept moving ahead and stayed upbeat while delivering what the audience had come for– Excel training. If he’d focused on what wasn’t working or gotten flustered the audience might have thought that they were being cheated or even felt embarrassed for him. But Jeffrey was able to make the session work by keeping his energy level up and setting the tone for the audience.

The energy you project to your audience is critical in any presentation. I noticed this over and over again at presentations throughout the whole week. The presentations that seemed to be the most successful weren’t always the presentations that had the best information or that went off without a hitch. They were generally the presentations where speakers kept their audiences actively engaged and didn’t allow minds to wander and start wishing that they were at another session or even back in the office instead of at the conference.

Whether you act nervous, excited, bored or uncertain, your audience is likely to mirror your attitude right back at you. I sat through some presentations that contained really good ideas but were drug down by the way they were delivered. Standing behind a podium or, worse, sitting at a table, can quickly drag down the energy level of a room.  So can speaking in a monotonous tone. Believe it or not, having a great speaking voice isn’t always a great thing. A deep, smooth radio voice is likely to lull an audience to sleep if you don’t work to vary your tone and keep their attention. And if things are going badly, like they were at Jeffrey’s presentation, you can’t just give up and admit defeat. If you do the audience will too.

There are some really simple things you can do to bump up the energy level of any presentation. Be aware of your voice and keep varying your delivery. Don’t stand or sit in one place for your entire talk if at all possible. Plan your interactions with the audience so they don’t get a chance to doze off or let their minds wander. And mix up your material so that you don’t stay on any one topic for too long. Nothing pulls down the energy of a room more effectively than an endless series of bullets read from a projector screen.

Motivational Speeches: Show a Little Enthusiasm

Showing a little enthusiasm in your presentations is a great way to bring up the energy level in the room and demonstrate to your audience that you really care about your subject.  Enthusiasm is entertaining in itself and audiences will be much more open to the message of a presenter who is clearly excited.  They’ll even be more tolerant of a presenter who isn’t perfectly polished if they can tell you care.

Of course your enthusiasm has to be genuine– you can’t fake it.  But try to show your audience why you’re passionate about your topic if you want them feel anything.

That said, you probably don’t want to be quite as excited as this kid learning to ride his bike.  It might be a little much in a professional presentation.

“Thumbs up for rock and roll!”