What's the most common complaint or criticism we at ECG hear from our clients and readers about a presentation or speech? It is that they are too often boring, monotonous, dull. And that criticism, they say, has nothing to do with the content or importance of a presentation.
It's all about the delivery.
Too often, delivery is flat. It expresses none of the affect—emotion or attitude—through which so much is communicated. Without affect, messages run together like molasses poured from a jar.
As a presenter, you can avoid such a sticky situation by paying attention to how you are speaking, knowing and practicing the ways affect can enrich a delivery and clarify meaning.
STRESS, VOLUME, PITCH, RHYTHM
Speaking with animation comes naturally and unconsciously for most of us when we are involved in conversation. "No!" we might exclaim, our voices rising and drawing out the word in wonder or disbelief, lowering to express dismay or disappointment. An angry or alarmed "No!" is different yet, usually short and loud. It's the emotion or attitude that creates meaning for the listener.
Effective presenters build affect into their delivery to help create meaning. They do so in part by varying the prosodic elements that listeners use as signals and signposts, for understanding context and connection. Such variation also induces audience attention and interest rather than the lulled boredom of the uninflected, monotone voice.
GESTURES AND FACIAL EXPRESSIONS
They also use their entire bodies to build affect. American Sign Language and other forms of sign utilize movements of the upper body as well as gestures, facial expressions, and body language to speak without sound. Intended meanings of vocalized speech become clearer as well when the speaker uses the face and body to help clarify and emphasize his or her words.
Some presenters tell us that manipulating facial expression, stance, and gestures feels fake and unnatural. Key to overcoming those feelings is practice and feedback and more practice until they feel and look as natural as possible. Practice, practice, practice. Practice holding a natural face through a long pause, then beginning to speak with a smile or a furrowed brow. Practice eye focus, smooth movements of the hands and arms, a balanced stance. Practice a deepening voice, a laugh, a shake of the head.
Remember, too, that speaking or presenting is a category of communication with its own conventions and requirements, a set of expectations and standards different from those of conversation. To be most effective, heed them when you deliver.
But don't think that your words don't matter. They really, really do. Organization matters. Support matters. A fine delivery will not make up for lack of content, poor reasoning, or weak evidence. But don't let poor delivery ruin good content, either. If listeners have tuned out, good content becomes irrelevant.
Finally, some speakers possess individual characteristics that render them immediately more credible or authoritative and do not have to work so hard to retain audience interest and understanding. Above-average height may do that, for example, as can a naturally deep and resonant voice. And some people are so well-known and respected that even their flattest deliveries are met with admiration and acclaim.
But every voice can be trained, each body can learn to command. And every speaker can use the power of affect to secure the attention and understanding of his or her audience—which is, at its base, the intention of delivery.