Focus on speaker attitudes.
The main characteristic of human interaction, and presentations for that matter, is verbal communication. It covers just about all aspects of human activity: it is used to inform, to intimidate, to promise, to scare, to entertain, to threaten, and so on. Regardless of how much emphasis you have placed on technology to enhance your message, how much care you have invested in researching and preparing your content, how much attention you have paid to your gestures, your posture and your facial expressions, it all comes down to how you say it. Loudness, tone, enunciation, pauses, emphasis, word choice are some of the aspects of oral communication, some of the tricks the speaker can use to enhance the spoken word.
Barely making yourself heard as opposed to speaking above everybody else carries a different amount of weight in a social setting. Your voice can express conviction, fear, certainty, doubt and so on depending on the tone of your voice. In addition, how clearly and distinctly you articulate words and, consequently, your thoughts has a different impact on your audience. The speed of your speech, as well as the opportunities you give your audience to appreciate what you have just said by pausing greatly impacts your message. Furthermore, you can add emphasis by changing the tone of your voice or varying the speed of delivery. Most importantly, you can deliver the same message to a variety of audiences by making different word choices (and sentence structures) to match their background and experiences.
As a speaker, it is important to remember that whether giving a presentation or talking to a friend, whether teaching a group of learners or interviewing a teacher, whether enjoying coffee with a colleague or negotiating a deal, “A species’ survival depends critically upon its ability to communicate effectively, and the quality of its social life is determined in large measure by how and what it can communicate. Human social life as it is presently constituted is predicated upon an extraordinary level of communicative virtuosity – a level of virtuosity that the uniquely human ability to use language confers. Absent this, our lives would be quite different.” [i]
As a speaker, you need to be favorably disposed towards your audience; you need to be inclined to appreciate their idiosyncrasies, to help them understand your message, or support them when they express doubt or disbelief.
This approach has a social and a functional dimension.
Socially, we are drawn to people who are polite and welcoming. We respond positively to people who make us feel comfortable and at ease. We tend to open up to them and what they have to say.
Functionally, we identify with people who understand and appreciate our needs and expectations. “When planning an important communication, the focus should be on language, because it’s language that governs thought, persuasion, and the perception of character, attitudes and values” (Blake,1987, p. 43).[ii] Language does more than just convey meanings, communicate facts and lead to conclusions. It helps listeners define their perception of the speaker and, consequently, of what is being said.
Your speech, and your language, needs to be free from obscurity and sharply defined. Both these qualities should be reflected in your delivery as well as your content.
In terms of delivery, special attention should be paid to enunciation and loudness. Words must be carefully enunciated so that the audience can understand what is being said. One of the greatest errors made by speakers is speaking so fast that they lose the ability to enunciate properly. As a rule of thumb, slow is better than fast. In addition, you must speak loudly enough. Again, if the audience cannot hear you, then all is lost. Regulating the volume of your voice is important. Variations in volume can communicate a great deal of meaning. Think about what a whisper conveys. In contrast, think of a loud shout. Volume and rate of speech are the functional equivalents of italicized or bolded words in a written text. [iii]
In terms of content, consider the following: “A fundamental characteristic of language is its capacity to name things. During the naming process, language necessarily provides signification to the item and excludes everything else from that particular category. This provides both division and unity because it excludes certain factors as it allows a common understanding of previously disparate ones (Burke, 1969).[iv]” Each term you use, each description you make should closely define what you include as well as what you leave out. You need to be consistent so that your audience can follow you. You also need to pay attention to the reference you make. The easier they can relate to them the more they will appreciate what you have to offer. By contrast include as many technical terms as necessary but do not overdo it. You may want them to identify you as an expert. However, you do not want them to go away with the feeling that you were talking down to them.
Your voice and speech should show no signs of uncertainty in your abilities or the correctness of your beliefs. Chances are that you have been selected to prepare and deliver a particular presentation. It is a sign that your supervisors and/or your peers have faith in you and what you stand for: your background and experiences. This acceptance did not happen overnight. You have proven your worth within your work environment. Think of them when preparing and practicing your presentation. Visualise their reactions and responses and adapt your performance accordingly during practice.
In particular, “Confidence is a self-assurance arising from an appreciation of one’s true abilities, whereas humility is having a modest opinion of one’s own importance. Speaking with confidence includes the words you choose, the tone of your voice, your eye contact, and body language.”[v]
The basic principle to adhere to is that your speech should express or cover much in few words; you need to be brief in form but comprehensive in scope. Minimalism, a term used in art is the style in which the simplest and fewest elements are used to create the maximum effect.
Your presentation should adopt this principle for the following reasons. First, think of how much your audience needs in order to understand your point rather than how much you need to say to make your point understood. They are successful professionals like yourself, so give them credit for that. Second, do not exhaust their patience. Get to the point of what you are trying to say fast and get them to process your message rather than the other way round.
When speaking, it is important to be in your normal state of mind; it is important to be unpretentious, genuine and sincere. In other words, be authentic.“Being authentic can be empowering. You will know that you are living a life with purpose, using your talents and skills productively, and doing it peacefully and harmoniously while contributing to the lives of those around you.”[vi]
In other words, being authentic can help you feel better and be more confident. You know who you are and what you can achieve. As a result, you can build solid and longer lasting professional, personal and social relationships. Furthermore, you can set clear targets by increasing your (self-) awareness by knowing what your next step could or should be and how to navigate around challenges and obstacles.
Be a listener.
Pay attention to how your audience responds and what they need; show respect for their reactions and take them into account. A good speaker is one who reads his audience and adapts to their needs. He does not sidetrack. He does not abandon his aim. He does not remain silent. Rather, he responds to doubts or questions that may arise to make his message more specific, timely and relevant.
[i] Krauss, Robert M., The Psychology of Verbal Communication, International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences (edited by N. Smelser & P. Baltes), 2002.
[ii] http://prmarketingcommunication.com/2012/02/12/verbal-communication [Accessed February 20th, 2013].
[iii] For additional tips visit https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/speech/delivery.htm [Accessed February 20th, 2013.
[iv] http://prmarketingcommunication.com/2012/02/12/verbal-communication [Accessed February 20th, 2013].
[v] For additional tips visit http://www.littlethingsmatter.com/blog/2010/11/30/10-verbal-communication-skills-worth-mastering [Accessed February 25th, 2013].
[vi] For an extensive discussion of authenticity visit http://www.littlethingsmatter.com/blog/2010/11/04/the-invisible-power-of-authenticity [Accessed February 25th, 2013].