30March 2023

Public Speaking: it is all about the voice

In Public Speaking the voice is key.

And I am not necessarily talking about beautiful resonance and refined voice production
because if you are a sales team leader, a manager, or a trainer, it is not realistic to be talking about having the full-rounded timbre of a Shakespearean actor.
 In fact to a certain extent that might not even be helpful.
You don’t want your team to be basking in the beautiful sounds of your well-rounded voice to the exclusion of actually listening to the message you are delivering
Public Speaking is about holding the audience’s attention and that will be more readily achieved through a voice of contrast rather than a voice of beauty

I have a visual picture of a voice moving in three dimensions:
able to go up and down (pitch)
able to go forward and back in volume (power)
able to go side to side in speed (pace)

Vocal Variety visualised

Once you visualise this: up down, back and forth, side to side, you realise there is an infinite number of variations, degrees and combinations
Building up in volume, speed and pitch to a climax
Or maybe
building the volume but dropping the pace.
It will depend on the context and the message
As an example, take this climactic moment from Braveheart

they may take our lives, but they'll never take our freedom!

I am sure Mel Gibson tried out many ways of delivering this line
they may take our lives
they may take our lives
they may take our lives

As he is riding a horse in front of the assembled Scottish hordes, which I suppose in the context of a work presentation would be the equivalent of a motivational call to action delivered from stage in front of a large audience,
the volume needs to be at the higher end of the scale, backed up by a powerful declamation, thus transmitting passion and power.
The message: strength, action, and fight

But imagine the same lines delivered to a small elite group of listeners, still delivered with emphasis, but dropping down in volume almost to a whisper, with a long pause between the words never……and….take
‘but they’ll never….take our freedom’
The message: internal conviction and resilience

Or maybe
they may take our lives
delivered in a mid-range of pace and volume, then building up the volume and slowing the pace for
but they’ll never take our freedom

Or maybe
they may take our lives
delivered with power passion and emphasis and….pause…
but they’ll never take our freedom
delivered quietly with emphasis on ‘never’

Similarly, I would imagine any actor taking the part of Hamlet will go through each line of
To be or not to be
weighing up each word, deciding where the emphasis needs to be, how to contrast one phrase with another in order to best draw out their intended meaning

We are speakers, not actors

Our job is to impart a precise message, not to deliver exact words

I was recently once again invited to help judge a speech contest.
Clearly, a lot of thought and preparation had gone into honing the exact delivery of each word in many of the speeches
Consequently, some of the presentations felt a little stiff, self-conscious, and wooden
Inevitably the question arises:

How do you produce a presentation, that is well-prepared and thoroughly rehearsed without it becoming set and unspontaneous?

There are two things to focus on:
structure and
vocalising rather than memorising

Vocalise, don't memorise!

Simply memorising a speech by rote will mean every word and, in the case of some of the speeches I heard recently, every action is rehearsed and repeated again and again in front of the mirror until every word and gesture is fixed and now unfortunately ‘set in concrete’
this leads to a forced and unnatural delivery
Vocalising is when the speaker learns to build the presentation around some key ideas or phrases and talks through the speech regularly, not obsessing with the exact words, instead using their rehearsal time to flexibly move from key idea to key idea.  If the individual words come out slightly differently or take a different order each time, that is not a problem as long as the flow or chain of ideas remains clear to the speaker, so that he or she becomes sure of getting safely from A to B to C, etc

This means that once on stage the presentation is no longer one word followed mechanically by another word, it has become one fluid idea moving to the next idea

The key to success in any presentation is to know ‘in a nutshell’ exactly what the presentation intends to convey.  The more precise the purpose of the presentation, the easier it becomes to instinctively know which words and phrases need the extra emphasis

Structure is built around the key message

Let’s go back to Braveheart
they may take our lives, but they'll never take our freedom!

Does the precise message stress that they, in this case, the English, may take our lives?
Is it that our lives will be taken and we need to be prepared for that sacrifice?
Is it that our lives may or may not be taken, but the only prize that matters is freedom?

All similar messages but all with a slightly different emphases.
It is only when you know exactly where the emphasis is, that you will know where and how to put the emphasis in the delivery 
and once you know what words matter you will be able to support that word with a reinforcing gesture.

Remembering that this is a presentation and not a learned monologue

And so, should we do this with every line of the speech – probably not, but first knowing the precise message of the speech and then its keywords will help us find a more organic natural delivery style.
In most speeches, there will probably be only one or two key rhetorical moments, often at the beginning and the end of the speech that will benefit from the greatest practice and attention.

This quoted line from Braveheart is one such phrase as it sums up the whole message of the speech and clear thought has gone into crafting a strong rhetorical phrase that is designed to stick in the mind of the listener. It incorporates rhetorical hooks to aid memory, like the contrasts and rhythms of
take v never take in the two halves of the phrase
the balancing of the key terms: lives v freedom
and the repetition of they and our in both parts of the phrase

It all adds up to make a phrase that feels neat, resonant, full of meaning - and easy to remember.
(for speaker and audience alike!)

Words and Music

We have alluded to film in Braveheart and we have alluded to drama in Hamlet
To complete this little cultural excursion please let me offer you a few seconds of music, by Beethoven.

This excerpt from his ninth symphony very accurately mimics in sound the effect of a speaker making a strong rhetorical statement crafted to make a strong impact on the audience, which is then followed by what feels like a more conversational tone, expanding on that initial idea.

In the same way, a speaker could craft a key rhetorical phrase to capture the intended meaning of the speech and then move through the speech in a more organic, natural tone.
This is achieved by drawiing out the key points of the presentation and then rehearsing the speech through regular vocalisation.

And this is how you create the platform for a voice that sounds natural while injecting a variety of pitch pace and power by drawing out those keywords and phrases as they occur throughout  the presentation

Key messages to remember
It is the voice that holds an audience's attention.
(i)            Uncover the key message of the presentation
(ii)           Build some key phrases or images that succinctly reflect that message
(iii)          Choose the significant words in those phrases to emphasise and thereby build contrast into the delivery






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Michael's superb training style is underpinned by an incredible depth of knowledge and experience. Like all true experts, he delivers what he knows with ease and simplicity, exampling the skills he is teaching as he does so.

Very informative and great anecdotes which illustrated points and provided visual markers.

The most interesting training that I have ever taken part in! Experience + Wisdom + Perfect teaching approach.

The training was spot on. He really listened to us and customised his responses throughout.

Loved the creation of visual examples through the use of body and how relating the experience really helps demonstrate the message.

Very approachable and motivational. So much information, brilliantly delivered.

Loads of great analogies and stories - very friendly and helpful.

Very approachable and knowledgeable and good use of examples to simplify the material.

In just one day Michael was able to teach a class of children how to craft their own personal stories and experiences into powerful and engaging speeches that resonate with an adult audience as well as with a younger audience. It is a marvellous way to help them increase self-confidence and in the process - almost without them even realising it - become natural speakers and excellent communicators.

Michael has a style of speaking which draws the audience into his world, captivates them and leaves them with lasting memories of some of the descriptive phrases he has used and the information he has included. He also has the ability to pass the skills he uses in his own speaking on to those he trains.

Very good rapport, attention to detail, individual support, positive atmosphere and encouragement - a great place for learning.

• Very great example; how to express yourself, how to be engaging and how to match body language with what is said.