As entrepreneurs you’ll be used to running meetings and giving presentations online. Or you certainly will have become used to this way of working over the last couple of years. But are you communicating the best way possible with your investors, customers, team members and suppliers?
I was inspired by watching the classic movie The Wizard of Oz recently. Using this frame, and accompanied by the Scarecrow, the Lion and the Tin Man, let’s consider some of the tools we need to be effective speakers that will help us to drive our businesses forward.
We need a brain, of course. We need to be able to think clearly about what we’re going to be saying. Speaking coherently is very difficult without a brain.
We also need courage. Whether you’re giving your first-ever presentation in a brand-new role, or you’re tasked with pitching for a big client; you’ll need a certain amount of courage every time you speak.
But, most important for speakers, is the heart.
To keep an audience entertained, especially if you’re speaking online, you’ll need heart. You’ll need bags of passion, energy, enthusiasm, and vibrance.
For me, there’s only one true outlet for the heart – and that’s through your voice.
The way we use our voice when we speak determines whether our words live or die.
An audience, struggling to stay awake and alert, will find it much easier to listen to us deliver poor content in a lively, engaging way, than they will when we’re giving them pearls of wisdom or outlining an important business opportunity in a dull and dreary manner.
The problem is that so many of us find it so difficult to add effective cadence to our voice when we speak. And for entrepreneurs it is particularly important to recognise and address this issue.
To go back to the Wizard of Oz, for good communication we need a brain. We need to be able to think clearly about what we’re going to be saying and speak coherently.
We also need courage. Whether you’re pitching to potential investor, or you’re giving a presentation to a potential big customer; you’ll need a certain amount of courage for every public speaking situation.
But, most important for startup founders when speaking, is the heart.
To keep an audience engaged, especially if you’re speaking online, you will need heart. You’ll need bring plenty of passion, energy, enthusiasm, and vibrance.
In my view, there’s only one true outlet for the heart – and that’s through your voice. An audience, struggling to stay awake and alert, would find it much easier to listen to us deliver poor content in a lively, engaging way, than they would listen to us provide important content with a dreary delivery.
Here are some activities you can undertake to help you add cadence and interest to your voice and give standout presentations that people will respond to positively.
Be yourself but bigger
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve suggested to clients that they add more vocal variety to their speaking, and they say, “Well, it’s just not me. I’d be embarrassed to do silly voices.”
I said the same thing when I started out with my speaking. But it’s important to understand that nobody is asking you not to be you. Simply use your voice to add passion and heart to your speaking.
When you speak, you should be you. But you should be a bigger, an exaggerated version of you.
People often tell me they can’t believe the difference between the me that speaks on stage and the me that goes for dinner with them afterwards.
I’m the same person in both situations, of course. However, the stage me understands that to engage an entire audience – I must be an exaggerated version of myself, and I need to make the effort to really exaggerate my voice.
You can do this too. Be prepared to exaggerate your voice, modulate your voice, and use YOUR voice to help us go on an entrepreneurial journey with you.
Listen Back to Your Performance
When you’re working on your vocal variety listen back to yourself.
Some time ago, I gave a speech using the story of the Three Little Pigs to illustrate a key point. I decided to give different voice for each pig to add interest. I gave the talk and I really worked hard on each of my pig voices.
Afterwards, a friend of mine called me and said, “Great talk, Dan. I loved your story. My only suggestion would be that you use a different voice for each of the pigs. Make it a bit more fun and engaging for the audience.”
That evening I nerved myself to watch the recording of my talk. How right she was. All three pigs had the same voice!
As speakers and entrepreneurs it is important to recognise that the voice we hear in our head isn’t the voice other people hear when we speak.
Record yourself when speaking, or rehearsing. It can be tough to listen to our own voices played back to us. But try it. You’ll hear what everyone else hears and you’ll discover if there really is any variety in your voice.
I thought I was doing a distinct voice for each little pig. However, I needed to exaggerate those voices far more.
As entrepreneurs we need to be resilient so don’t be embarrassed. We might feel we’re being too silly and we’re adding too much – but to the audience, it’s probably not even enough.
Listen to yourself as often as possible. This will help you build your speaking skills which will be invaluable as your business grows.
Give new things a try
Most of us didn’t choose the accent we have. But we have one because we listened to the people around us as we grew up.
We begin mimicking voices from the moment we start speaking. So, why not do this with our public speaking too?
I find it helpful to mimic the vocal style of people I see on TV. After all, if we’re going to be presenting online, we’re essentially looking for the same vocal qualities that broadcasting professionals have.
It might be an actor, a comedian or a news anchor. It is good to mimic any kind of TV or film entertainers because they’re usually the ones doing the most with their voices to try to engage us.
This doesn’t mean you should start trying to do impressions of them. There might just be little things here and there that you like. Small things they do that you can try and incorporate into your own speaking when you’re on stage.
Let’s have a look at some specific tools we have at our disposal if we want to use our voices to create more engaging talks.
Use High and Low Volume
Changing your volume can enhance the engagement your audience feels.
If you’re online, lean towards the camera and whisper something that might be a secret or a reveal for your audience. If you’re in person – do the same by leaning towards your audience in the seats in front of you.
Shout out the punchline to a joke or a big realisation.
Modulate your volume as you speak. A sudden change from a lower volume to a higher one can really jump-start your audience and bring them back into a speech that they might have been drifting away from.
Use Pace to grab attention
Varying the pace at which we speak helps us win the battle for our audience’s attention.
If we speak at one pace the entire time, an audience quickly becomes used to it. They quickly become bored by it. They quickly stop listening to it.
Think of ways you can really vary the speed at which you’re talking as you move through your talk.
You might be telling us a story where everything is happening very quickly and frantically, and you’ll speed up your voice to emphasise that.
Or you may want to powerfully deliver an important message and you’ll slow down the pace and really give the audience time to take it in.
Express Emotion with changing pitch
Your ability to change your pitch is the most important vocal tool you have at your disposal. It is like painting a picture and adding colour.
It’ll include using a deeper voice or a higher voice, but it’s also how you’ll express your emotions as you speak, for example, sadness, happiness, laughter, pain, joy, guilt, tiredness, sympathy, sarcasm. There are so many ways of saying the same sentence but using a different pitch to convey emotions.
Have a play with the following sentences and convey happiness, then fatigue, sarcasm, relief:
“This looks like an amazing business opportunity.” “It is so delightful to see you.”
By changing how you use your voice you can get across different emotions to your audience.
Developing communication skills is vital for entrepreneurs. It is not just about writing a good presentation. How we use our voices will make a huge different to the impact of what we say. So, take the opportunity to record yourself and work though the tips above to increase your effectiveness as a business communicator.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dan Magill is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org