When You Must Read Aloud: The Voice in Business
Power Point and its use in conference calls, Web-Ex sessions, and webinars has made the sound of the voice more important than ever. Yes, just when you thought you could again hide behind a slide show, your “disembodied” voice starts to take all the focus. Your history, education, emotional state and preparedness are out there in front for all to hear, as well as the challenges you face with reading aloud in the first place! And there is no smiling face or firm handshake that can be offered to soften the impressions or invoke forgiveness for mistakes or poor first impressions.
So what’s a 21st Century business person to do? Here are three areas to focus on to improve your vocal image on important calls and conference calls when you must read a script:
- Practice reading aloud
- Practice storytelling
- Practice speaking with intention
Practice reading aloud every day. Reading aloud is difficult, even for actors. Some people claim it’s because we’ve lost the art since we don’t even read aloud to our children anymore. An article in the New York Times in May of 2009 addressed this; “But one of the most basic tests of comprehension is to ask someone to read aloud from a book. It reveals far more than whether the reader understands the words. It reveals how far into the words — and the pattern of the words — the reader really sees.” This is just as true when reading a presentation script as it is when reading from a children’s book. In order for your voice to convey meaning, you can’t just think meaning; you have to feel meaning. Your voice reflects what’s on your mind. In fact, it is the voice of the mind.
One way to find and feel meaning is to emphasize “Color” words. These are words that may have an emotional pull or that can be stressed for emphasis. They may be words like “exceptional,” or “increased” or “successfully.” They may be descriptors like adjectives and adverbs, or they may be names of people and places or dates such as September 11. When you use color words they evoke a response from your listeners, but they also evoke a response from you, the speaker, if you pay attention to them. Let them create an image in your mind that is meaningful to you. It will reflect in the sound of your voice.
Practice storytelling. A wonderful way to vary the presentation when you must read from slides is to add stories to illustrate points. In his new book, Letters to a Young Entrepreneur, my friend Ricardo Levy says this when discussing the external qualities of an entrepreneurial leader. “You need to become an engaging storyteller, one who conveys an authentic and convincing message.” The power of story is that it creates meaning out of data and information. And your story reminds me of my own and connects us. Collect stories and use them to illustrate meaning in the numbers. Work them into your calls to get away from just reading the slides, even if just for a moment. For more on the power of storytelling, I highly recommend Denise Graveline’s smart post, “Six Smart Things a Story Adds to Your Speech.”
Practice speaking with intention: Your impact as a speaker is dramatically increased when you align your intention with your content. The voice that is infused with passion and intelligence is the one that is connected to the meaning of the words as well as the reason for the conversation. Set an overall intention for your work as a communicator, and a specific intention for each call. For example, your overall intention as a speaker may be “to engage others to follow my lead.” Your intention for a specific conference call may be “to get the customer to buy our product today,” or “to make sure the listeners understand the current challenge.” Different intentions invoke different sounds in our voices because the voice IS the voice of the mind.
Suggestions for practice: When preparing to give a presentation using slides or a script that you must read, focus your practice like this:
- Spend time every day reading out loud. Record yourself and critique the reading for variety and expression.
- Find color words and highlight them in your script. Then practice reading the script aloud, emphasizing the color words and infusing them with emotion and meaning. Exaggerate at first then tone it down.
- Create a collection of stories to use in presentations to illustrate points. Make sure they have a beginning, middle, and end. Practice telling them with expression. Always have them ready to use.
- Set an intention for every meeting and write it down. Keep the intention in front of you during the meeting. Afterward, jot down your observations: Did you stay with the intention? If so, did it change the way you presented your points?
- Give yourself feedback and get feedback from others. You will only be able to make changes if you are aware of what you are doing now.