What is Your Authentic “Voice” as a Presenter?
Please welcome guest author Kathy Reiffenstein. Kathy is the author of Professionally Speaking, a blog on creating persuasive, confident speakers. In this post, she addresses the issue of “voice” as a speaker’s style.
In presentation skills training classes, you’re usually given one of these two pieces of advice:
“Be yourself! Be authentic!”
“Do it this way because this is the right [interpretation: only] way to deliver a presentation.”
They seem contradictory, don’t they? In fact, I think the best approach is a blend of both.
Audiences will spot insincerity or inauthenticity a mile away so it is certainly important to be yourself. But what do we mean by that?
- Be sure you know what your natural style looks like. If you’re not sure (or even if you think you are), videotape yourself speaking and then view that tape (perhaps with a speaking coach) multiple times. This will give you a sense of how you come across, how you sound and provide some insight into your strengths. This is the visual part of your authentic “voice.”
- Let your personality show through. This is also part of your “voice.” Your audience wants to connect with a human being, not just some robot who knows all the correct speaking techniques. So if you’re naturally humorous, let the audience see and hear that. If you’re typically enthusiastic, let the audience feel that. If you’re very organized, let the audience see that in the flow and structure of your presentation. Similarly, in an interview, the great South African jazz pianist, Abdullah Ibrahim said that it is each musician’s unique style that makes their music special. “Because of the specific character of that person, he or she has found their own voice, and that is what makes their music so vibrant.”
- Speak in a “human” voice. Too frequently we think that to be professional, we need to exclude any emotion from our speaking. But that’s not very human. It’s OK, and in fact authentic, to show the audience when you’re passionate about an aspect of your topic or upset about a particular inequity. A post on Six Minutes describes this as Pathos, a critical component of great speaking.
- Deliver your presentation from notes rather than from a prepared script. Though you may have a writing “voice”, your conversational voice will be different and reading from a script will tend to make you sound wooden instead of authentic. Notes will allow you to speak more naturally and be more spontaneous.
PRESENTATION BEST PRACTICES
Being yourself doesn’t mean that you can’t improve your skills. There are certain techniques that are universally appealing to audiences. Take, for example, the “ums” and “ahs” that some people use in their daily speech. While this behavior may indeed be natural for a certain speaker, every audience on earth will appreciate a technique that eliminates these useless filler words. Just beware of getting carried away with perfecting your technique at the expense of your authentic style. As Speech Coach Lisa Braithwaite says in her blog, “Audiences don’t care about perfection. They don’t expect it. They want to relate to you, laugh, cry, be surprised, get goosebumps and feel something when you speak.”
Since, as a presenter, your major responsibility is to communicate your message effectively to your audience, you need to know how to be effective. Make yourself aware of the various effective presentation techniques. Adopt the ones that enhance your existing “voice” or style and be prepared to utilize others when appropriate for a particular audience.
As an example, let’s say your style is typically relaxed, even folksy, and that works fine with most of your audiences. But on the occasion of presenting to a group of foreign diplomats, a more formal style may be more comfortable for this audience.
- Be yourself.
- Be aware of the impact that your “voice” has on others.
- Have the appropriate repertoire of presentation skills to draw from for the benefit of your audience.
Blend your personal style with good presentation techniques and you’ll be authentic to both yourself and your audience. And you will present a “voice” that is both unique and appropriate to the task at hand.
Kathy Reiffenstein is the founder and president of And…Now Presenting!, a Washington, D.C. business communications consulting and training firm, where she draws on her background in sales, marketing, and customer service to create confident, persuasive speakers. She works with business executives, authors, non-profit leaders, and the military to help them speak clearly, effectively and engagingly to their audiences. Visit Kathy’s blog for presentation tips, resources, and insights.