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How to Turn a Boring Speaker into an Interesting One
in Ten Minutes or Less!
Vol.1, No. 4
In our recent issues, we’ve been discussing things that help build “Executive Presence” in communication. Now let’s look at how you build it from the rostrum.
We’ve all had the grinding duty of suffering through boring speakers. We’re especially “honored” when we have to listen to them right after lunch! Jan and I remember attending a conference and listening to a renowned keynote speaker who, while he enjoyed the veneration of everyone in the room for his vast experience, had the incredible habit of uttering a long drawn-out “Uhhhhh” at the beginning of every sentence. Being bored out of our minds, we decided to pass the time by counting the number of “Uhhhhhs” this speaker used. By the time we got up to 144, we were just too zonked to keep counting! Speakers like this, no matter how qualified, are at best taxing their audiences, and at worst insulting them. This kind of droning conveys to their listeners that the speaker lacks energy for the topic and interest in the audience. Listeners will forgive a speaker for many faults, but will never forgive him or her for lack of commitment, real or apparent.
Soporific speakers could totally turn their presentations around in ten minutes or less through a simple formula we’ll share with you.
But first, here’s a key concept: Without competent feedback, none of us can tell exactly how we appear or sound to an external audience. Well-meaning friends and family offer advice they think will help, but in almost all cases, they’re wrong and leave their friends and relatives with mistaken ideas that hold them back for years from delivering dynamic presentations. Has anyone ever told you “You talk with your hands too much”? Bless their hearts, your hands are two of your most important communication tools. It’s hard to use them too much!
To give participants in our speech coaching a second chance at first-class presenting, we introduce them to a formula we call
RSVP. We all know this stands for Répondez s’il vous plait (an aspect of good manners, by the way, that quite a few people these days could stand to bone up on), but we’ll use it differently here (though we know that if you use it, this formula will definitely get your audiences to “respond” to you). Here it is:
R = Really Hit Key Words
This first element of the RSVP formula strikes at the heart of all boring presentations: a narrow band of inflection. The tedious speaker delivers everything with the same plodding monotonous level of emphasis (usually low).
As a result, nothing stands out. We often hear this pattern as a speaker introduces a colleague. What a difference there is between the phrases:
“I’m really glad to be here today to introduce our new Director of Human Resources”
(spoken with about equal stress on all the words)
really glad to be here today to
new Director of
(spoken with emphasis on the key words)
The additional benefit is that you know the speaker really cares about the new Director and is eager to introduce him or her. The key here is to punch the words in your sentences that deliver the message.
S = Speak in Short Sentences
Most presenters speak in paragraphs, not sentences, often because they write out their speeches word-for-word (bad idea). The written and spoken versions of a language are quite different. A reader can go back for understanding, but a real-time listener can’t rewind!
Speaking in long sentences is one of the main reasons people use “Um” or “Uh.” When you speak in long sentences (replete with subordinate clauses and conjunctions), you’re asking the sentence to carry more ideas than it comfortably can. Speaking in short bursts of about 6-10 words per sentence helps you convey your ideas in bite-sized pieces that the audience can easily absorb.
V = Increase Your Volume
This is the magic secret of great public (and private) speaking. Ninety-five percent of people, even in normal conversation, speak too softly. We do this because we hear our own voice reverberating through our skull, making us think we’re speaking louder and projecting further than we actually are. One powerful female CEO we know who spoke too softly told us she used to speak louder but quieted down because she was told she came off too intimidating. We replied, “No, Barbara, you are still intimidating people, only now they can’t hear you, either!” She boosted up her volume, and is now communicating much better. We all need competent qualified feedback to re-calibrate our ears to match the volume level audiences need.
When you first try speaking louder, guaranteed it will seem like shouting. But if the rafters don’t shake and your listeners don’t put their hands over their ears, you’re probably speaking at a volume level they appreciate. In time, you’ll re-calibrate your ear, and your new powerful projecting voice will seem totally natural to you.
When you speak slightly louder than normal, several things happen. Besides the obvious fact that your listeners can hear you better, you get these extra benefits:
1. You build your energy level, which signifies commitment to your audience.
2. You are forced to slow down your rate, which helps the audience follow you.
3. You widen your band of inflection, which makes your speech more interesting.
4. You will be seen as more intelligent.
5. You just flat out will have more FUN speaking!
P = Pause at the End of Sentences
Speakers who constantly use “Uh” and “Um” have forgotten what the period is for at the end of sentences! (Remember the old telegrams “Having a great time STOP Wish you were here STOP”?) At first, you need to artificially pause more before starting the next sentence. When you first try this, the pause seems like an eternity. Trust me, the audience appreciates it and can follow more of what you say.
So, taken together R + S + V + P = energy, commitment, and an interesting speaker!
About “Uh” and “Um”
If you’re plagued by these two borers, you’ll never get rid of them through willpower or dropping penalty nickels in a jar. Just follow RSVP, and they’ll disappear like magic! (By the way, people who say “Uh” and “Um” a lot, also say “and” a lot, and even “And-Uh” and “And-Um,” creating a lot of looooong sentences and a droning tone!)
If you’ve been looking for a way to become an even more interesting and compelling speaker,
RSVP is the Royal Road. And we do mean “in ten minutes or less.” While some of these areas are habits of a
lifetime, they are all interrelated and a change in one can quickly bring about a change in the others. Start with any one of them (though we often coach people to begin with hitting key words and volume), and watch how quickly your audiences will come alive!
If you’d like a sample of what RSVP sounds like in action, we invite you to click on the link below to hear some snippets from our speeches. Jan and I really try to “talk our talk”!
Yours in communication excellence!
Jan and Neal Larsen Palmer
Communication Excellence Institute
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