In the original black and white movie, Count Dracula walks into a big loud party in a castle. He’s all duded up in a tux. Heads turn. All conversation stops. This guy is putting out shear energy- and he’s not even talking!
I share this with clients who feel the need to clear their throats or sip a lot of water during their presentations. Others start developing a raspy voice. Many of these annoyances come from the bad habit of speaking and projecting from your throat!. Folks get so caught up in looking at their audience and thinking that their speaking voice comes from their mouth’ that they forget- or don’t know- that the innervation of our voice is actually from our stomach! (For the moment- please forget about the word ‘diaphragm’.) We all want to communicate our passion and sincerity- and keep our listeners spellbound- but there’s a much easier, more effective means of achieving this. Let’s tackle the problem!
Energy- as in “You need to put more energy in your presentations/interviews/speeches”.. or “You need to stop shouting!”
The real goal of your ‘energy’ should be defined via the mindset of ‘I’m standing here before you because I’m the best person to share what you need to know. You’re lucky it’s me because I really know what I’m talking about- and I’m seriously excited to have the opportunity to talk about [ your topic]. ‘
In fact, you can even use the italicized part in your opening remark. But many speakers take ‘energy’ to mean: boost your volume close to a shouting level and decide which words you want to ‘punch’. Then they get caught in ‘up-speaking’, or what I call upticks. This is the ending of every sentence up/up/up without ‘landing’ until you catch yourself and calm down. Three bad things happen:
1. Many speakers going for a louder voice are pushing from their throats instead of from their stomachs. This creates a tighter sounding, thinner and sometimes higher voice. Tight because the throat isn’t meant to propel words.. thin because you’ve lost all torso resonance.. and high because the straining from your throat also tightens your vocal cords- thus making your pitch higher. Remember that your voice is ‘pumped out from the stomach’ and develops a lovely, natural resonance by vibrating in your torso as it passes up through your vocal cords- and out through your mouth. You can be clever.. warm.. deadly serious.. friendly.. or as loud elements in your presentation call for- (eg. hammering home a point) but you don’t want to push out your voice from your throat.
2. ‘Punching’ or ‘emphasizing’ individual words only serves to relegate your information into a series of: isolated words! As many of my clients know: I refer to it as ‘oomphing’. This is not clear communicating:
I’m hearing a caveman grunt- trying to communicate with the few words he/she’s learned. (yes, I am wondering if we need to say caveperson now). Here’s what this person is really intending to tell us :
Our pension system stands to lose 1.8 million dollars in state revenue- which is a nearly 40% cut compared to last year.
Our former CIO James Smith takes full responsibility for what happened.
We discovered that their company earned more than $50 million dollars in fees by conspiring with outside vendors to over-charge 180 clients.
Please assure you’ve done extra research on your topic. The extra knowledge that has padded your perspective becomes gold in padding your confidence. Now your body is relaxed.. your pumping your voice out from your stomach.. your brain is relaxed because you’re imparting what you’ve decided.. and you’re standing there, sharing it. Please remember to provide your information in complete units. I call them ‘cognitive chunks’. Do not be afraid to try this. The ‘energy’ within the information will naturally fall into place… and your face will in turn soften and become more emotive as you’re more attuned with what you’re saying. And trust me- you’ll look better.
3. In effort to impose an overlay of hoopla and excitability- often when it’s not warranted- many of you are imposing a ‘fake energy’, as distinguished from fake news. This wreaks havoc on the real sentiment behind your information. I’m hearing sentences broken into a series of segments that veer upwards.. [pause].. upwards.. [pause].. and finally ‘land’ with an up/down at the very end. Mid-sentence upticks make you sound nervous or rushed, and the ‘up/down ends’ definitely create a semantic implication of ‘there you go! bet you didn’t know that! Whoa!’ . This often does not convey the real sentiment that you intend to communicate.
Try fixing some or all of these bad habits by practicing a few sentences. Grab some notes or text from a presentation or speech that you’ve done- or one that you’ll be doing. Think about projecting from your stomach and not forcing your voice.. do not get caught up beforehand with ‘what you should emphasize (hint- remember the cognitive chunks) ... and trust that the facts/implications/innuendos that your brain is aware of will create the natural flow and up/down inflections of your voice. You’ll first whiz through the information quickly to yourself to ‘internalize’ it.. it’s ok to use a quiet muttering voice as you do. Then- go for it! If you’re successful, you’ll be hearing a new, improved voice that better reflects a smart, relaxed, likeable person.
Each of us has a unique voice and manner of communicating. The personal dedication you bring to your work registers in different ways among you and your colleagues. Many of us react to the same information differently.. and then there’s the small matter of our widely divergent personalities! If you allow your anatomy to help you speak and project in the most natural, effortless way.. if you’re in touch with the greater and more localized nuances of your story.. if you remember that each listener in the room has their own personal reactions to your information.. if you don’t try to impress us by trying to impose a speaking style that you believe you need to achieve- then you have found your Personal Energy- and your listeners will like you, trust you, and want to get their information or inspiration from you again.
News consultant Joanne Stevens has written extensively about broadcast writing, reporting and anchoring, including columns in the former print version of RTDNA's Communicator Magazine, and earlier versions of the RTDNA website. She has taught at Columbia and New York University and serves as a news award judge for the New York Press Club. She has returned to RTDNA.org to offer a new series of News Coach columns with tips, best practices and more. - Click on the RTDNA logo below to learn more.