It's all in the voice. 1-Clarity
It’s all about the voice
As a speaker, our number one tool for communicating our message is of course our voice;.
(i) a voice that is clear;
(ii) a voice that is engaging and
(ii) a voice that sounds confident and in control
All easier said than done of course.
The simplest one to deal with is the first one, a voice that is clear.
2 things to consider are speed and definition.
In this comic example by Paul Whitehouse, you could say that speed is good, however, we are struggling a little bit
Most of us have a tendency to speak too fast and not very clearly at the best of times and that becomes magnified on stage when the added onrush of nerves may cause us to hasten and garble even more.
The first step to counter this is to step back and experience from the inside how ‘slow’ a well-paced presenter is actually speaking
It will typically surprise us.
Therefore one little tip I give to speakers to get a sense of this is to go away and listen to a news bulletin and to try to speak along with the newsreader as they are speaking and to experience that they are probably speaking much slower than you might initially expect, even though it does not come across as particularly slow while listening to them.
If to the tendency to speak too fast, we then add the effect of a blurring acoustic in a large room and the likely physical distance between a speaker and their audience, very quickly the words can seem rushed or indistinct to the listener.
We then tend to compound speaking too quickly with speaking unclearly, running our words into each other, dropping endings and not finishing our consonants.
I used a short clip of Hillary Benn in a blog a few weeks ago and I would refer to it again now, in this case purely to experience how much he measures and holds back the pace of his words and how he annunciates each one so clearly, consciously finishing one word before starting another.
He seems to be very aware of the danger of rushing and he consciously counteracts this by taking extra care of the pace of his delivery.
When we take into account the normal level of panic that afflicts most of us when we need to present (and by the way – it is normal!), it can feel as if we have a whole row of words, completed thoughts and phrases, maybe all jumbled together, jockeying to come out of our mouths at the same time. And therefore we give the impression that the next sentence is already fighting to come out before we have finished the one before.
The effect is like we are at the the start of a horse race, a pile of thoughts and ideas milling around in our head - ‘And they are off’ – and all the words want sprint out together.
For many of us, this is the experience when we need to stand up and speak, except most of the time it does not even feel as if the horses want to run in the same direction!
Maintain a connection in your mind between your gestures and your voice.
Use your gestures to support and control your voice and allow your voice to be underscored by your gestures.
This way you can use your gestures as a way of slowing down your delivery, for instance:
- using a gesture to support a key word;
- using gestures to control the flow of words;
- using gestures to express the feelings behind the words
If you feel you are in danger of rushing, maybe start to think of your mouth as a gateway, and rather than imagining a stampede of words and ideas all trying to get out at the same time ('and they are off'), think rather of lining them up to come out one after another.
Therefore I recommend, particularly early on in a presentation, to put a focus on your mouth, and thereby instead of allowing the stampede, imagine your mouth more like a turnstile where only one word can pass through the turnstile at a time - and while you are at it, make sure that the last word has fully passed through (with a nice proper consonant at the end if required before you allow the next word to start to come through (this is what Hillary Benn does so well). If whenever you speak, you have a tendency to run one word into the next under normal circumstances, it might even be worth practising a few tongue-twisters, to make sure that your annunciation is not lazy and unclear. Phrases like:
Red leather Yellow leather
Peter Piper Picked….etc
or maybe simply listing Italian pasta with an extra latin flourish to your diction (and you will notice that typically Italians are very good at using their gestures to support and even dramatise their words):
Macaroni, Ravioli, Lasagna, Rigatoni,
making sure your mouth is fully exercised as you do so.
The ancients used to put small stones into their mouths and try to continue to speak clearly through all the pebbles. (Do wash them first!)
Please note, that I am not highlighting elocution or pronunciation in order to sound particularly cultured or educated. Being an engaging speaker is still about being you – maybe a more clear and probably slowed-down version - but if you have a ‘foreign’ or ‘regional’ accent – who cares? As long as it is clear!
I am certainly not recommending changing accents or patterns of speech.
I have met many students attending a Public Speaking course who say they want to lose a regional or what they regard as their foreign accent. And I will immediately question why.
- A speaker’s credibility may well revolve around their delivery – pace and emphasis,
- it may be seen in their structure – clear and transparent,
- it may be about the choice of content – relatable and identifiable; However, it rarely comes from a speaker’s accent or diction.
It is all in the clarity!
Sky News correspondent Beth Rigby radiates all the power of her personality without trying to bury it in ‘perfect’ diction, but notice still how clearly the words come out, each one following the one before clearly through the turnstiles.
An elocution teacher may choose to become very exercised by the dropping of the ‘g’ in words like
‘scarring’ and ‘recovering’, but that does not affect our understanding and whether Beth Rigby chooses to say ‘scarrin’, as opposed to ‘scarring’ (without a beautiful ringing ‘ing’!) or ‘recoverin’ as opposed to ‘recovering’, is not signifiant.
The important fact is that her words are clear and easily understood.
To make my point maybe, if we return to Paul Whitehouse's 'Rowly Birkin QC' and make the contrast with Beth Rigby. ‘Rowly Birkin's accent is of an apparently highly educated individual, but the clarity of diction is totally lacking – of course, exacerbated in his case by the fact that his character is always ‘extremely drunk’.
My point is, that we can put aside details of accent and education, and as long as the message is expressed with clarity and power, the speaker will already have gone a long way to raising their credibility and getting their point across
To sum up
Use gestures as a way of controlling the flow of words
Think of a turnstile that restricts the speed of flow