Public speaking takes many different forms. You may have written a speech or presentation that you have to give in front of your co-workers and/or your boss. Maybe you want to talk to a significant other about something important. No matter what type of presentation, you may intend to say things one way, but your audience may get something entirely different.
One pattern I often talk about in my courses, and observe when listening to presentations, is how people emphasize their words. Some words are spoken very softly, and some are delivered with a strong emphasis.
Getting louder or softer when you speak is natural. No one want’s to sound like a monotone robot, right? But how do you know when to emphasize certain words, and which words should be emphasized?
Speaking keywords or phrases in a natural way on stage is a very effective technique when trying to get your point across. When I hear speakers fluctuate their volume in a random fashion, nothing seems to stick out. Then there are the people who have keywords set, and when they hit those words, they punch it. Personally, this turns me off as the message might come across less authentic, and pushier.
However, when I listen to people in regular conversations, they use volume in a normal manner and emphasize the right words naturally. When we speak to people one-on-one, we might not think about how we are saying things.
But why do things change when it’s our turn to talk in front of a group? All of a sudden, when all eyes are on us, it is different. It’s as though when we are presenting, or speaking to a group of people, we become self-conscious and then start to think about saying things in the wrong way. Then we realize everyone is looking at us, and we need to say something. So we say it, but it comes out wrong. Everyone is still looking and things get very awkward.
Fret no more! There is a solution.
There are a few tricks that will help you emphasize the right words at the right time. Small tricks with big results.
1. Record and Review
The best way to evaluate your use of word emphasis is to videotape your presentation and review it. This can be as simple as someone recording you on your phone, or as dynamic as a tripod and camcorder. Whatever your setup is, make sure that the audio is good quality. You want to make sure you can hear yourself clearly in the recording. Listen to how you emphasize your words. Does it feel natural? If certain parts don’t feel natural, keep adjusting. If you are practicing in front of a crowd, you ideally want to record the reactions of the audience members.
2. Listen to the Voice in Your Head
Next time you have a talk or speech to practice, try finding a quiet place. Make sure it is somewhere that has no distractions. Then get comfortable and read the speech to yourself. Read it and listen to the voice in your head. Notice the rhythms and tones that come naturally when you deliver the material in your own head. Note how it sounds and which words you naturally put emphasis on. This is how you want it to sound when you give your talk out loud.
3. Talk It out with Friends
Sometimes it is not easy to find a quiet place to practice. The solution is to practice in a location with noise. Call a friend and ask them to get coffee. Sit down with them over a cup of joe and recite your speech as if you are having a casual conversation or telling a story. Take a sip of your coffee, internalize a section, then say it like you mean it, in a regular voice across the table. If your friend asks a question or otherwise interjects, it is a good indication of how your audience might react.
4. Let Someone Else Read It out Loud
Sometimes you are simply too close to a speech and you need to hear it read aloud by someone else. When you listen to someone else go through your material, pay attention to the way they deliver certain words and phrases, using certain tones. It’s a good idea to ask them to read it to themselves one time so they are somewhat familiar with the content. Then ask them to read it out loud. You’ll be surprised how much you pick up from hearing your words spoken by someone else.
5. Practice in Front of a Group
It is amazing what a crowd’s reactions can tell you about your speech. Things that you think are funny may not come out as funny, while things that weren’t intended to be funny will make the crowd laugh out loud. In order to get a good sense of how a speech is received, I always recommend giving a presentation in front of a larger group to get their collective reaction. You can also prep your audience by telling them that you are looking for comments on your vocal variety and word emphasis. If your audience is aware of your goals, they can tune in and give more specific feedback.
You want to give a presentation or speech like you would to someone in a one-on-one conversation. It’s that easy. You see, we all inherently know how to be expressive, but when we get in front of people, we forget.
Try these simple tips and watch your speaking skills improve by multiples. Remember that the best way to become a better speaker is to speak more. So keep looking for opportunities.
Using tonal variety in an effective way is one of those skill sets that you will always be working on improving. Pay attention to how you say certain words and do your best to emphasize words in a natural way to leave a greater impact!