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


Delivery Tips: Yes, You Should Rehearse Your Presentations

Find time to do some rehearsal

This article from from TJ Walker asks the question “should I rehearse my presentations?” and answers with a resounding “YES!” Of course he’s right. He’s also right that it’s a great idea to record yourself rehearsing your talk and review it so you can get a better sense of how you’re doing. I especially like his advice to find the best part of your talk and do more of whatever it is that is working. Too many presenters focus exclusively on what isn’t working and find themselves paralyzed by it.  Learning what you do well and emphasizing that is a much more effective strategy.

I worry, though that he puts too much emphasis on the idea of making a video, which many would-be presenters will simply find too intimidating or time-consuming.  If you’re a politician or you’re giving a big keynote speech to a ballroom full of people it’s certainly a good idea to make and review a recording of yourself.  But many of the small presentations we do every day don’t require this sort of preparation and  we often can’t find the time to do this degree of rehearsal for those that really are important.

The truth is that any kind of preparation you can do is a good thing. Review your slides, study your notes, deliver your presentation to your cat if it helps you. Just try to find time for some sort of rehearsal.