On this blog, Nick Evans, Senior Consultant at LDL, offers five presentation skills pointers inspired by a recent trip to Italy.
A recent event reminded me again of the power of verbal communication when selling or seeking to influence others.
Visiting my sister, who has run a company in Florence for a number of years, I was sitting back and listening to her Italian friends and the varied ways in which they were using their voice and words when presenting thoughts and ideas. And as a presentation skills coach (who tries his best to teach this stuff!), I thought to myself – how do these skills come so naturally to them?
Perhaps Italians are just naturally better at communicating with others, in the same way that they are naturally more stylish, or naturally better at playing football. Perhaps it’s part of the culture, famous for its opera and romance and family meals.
But although culture probably has a lot to do with the way Italians might communicate, I think it’s interesting to ask how those skills are acquired. That seems to start with education.
The art of public speaking
As my sister and her friends were telling me, the Italian education system actually promotes the development of verbal communication skills, consciously and subconsciously, in children from an early age.
It’s probably no surprise given the history of the country. Since the time of the Romans, Italian children have had formal and informal coaching related to ‘la voce’, the voice, and to the art of public speaking.
Influenced, as in so many ways, by the ancient Greeks, the Romans included public speaking as a major subject of education. A vital competence – especially if you wanted to become a politician or a lawyer – oratory was also a big form of entertainment, and famous orators became wealthy and prominent members of society.
The Romans loved public speaking, and they were very good at it, and it is evident that the tradition has continued in Italy to the present day.
And how about the UK?
In the UK, it’s probably true that a lot of us don’t tend to be so naturally charismatic on our feet. Many of us might even be dealing with a negative attitude to our voices – “I don’t like my voice!”, “it doesn’t sound like me!”.
It doesn’t help that public speaking isn’t a major part of formal education here. Show and Tell sessions in primary schools are a good start, but public speaking is not really emphasised.
But that doesn’t mean that those skills are fixed, that we’re either born a charismatic Italian or an awkward Briton. As the Greeks and the Romans knew, everyone can develop their public speaking skills with practice.
5 Voice and Speech Tips for Public Speaking
The good news is that we all have a distinct voice and the ability to add liveliness into our speech. And with a few pointers and a bit of practice, we can all learn to communicate more effectively. It’s never too late to learn.
In that spirit, I’ve put together five quick, simple and interconnected voice and speech tips based on what I have found to be effective when coaching.
The power of short moments of silence. Not an easy or natural skill in a noisy world. A focus on pausing every now and then is a bit like having a comma or full stop in a written sentence – it punctuates what we are saying and aids understanding. Pausing also helps with speed. How many of us have been told to ‘slow down’ – not as easy as it sounds. An answer is to consciously build in a pause at the end of a sentence. This helps people to listen and gives the speaker a chance to breathe.
Altering our tone is a good way of keeping others interested in what we are saying. But it is sometimes difficult to alter our tone during a presentation (not all of us are in the acting profession, where it is possible to spend hours concentrating on tone). Instead, focus on breathing every now and then – particularly at the end of a sentence. This, in turn, creates not only the important pause, but also our voice will naturally tend to start with a different tone after that pause.
Shorten sentences. It is no surprise that Stephen King is one of the best-selling authors in the world. His creativity is amazing but so are his variations in short sentence structure to keep the reader engaged. A simple approach to sentences can work – short and succinct. This will help with both breathing and pausing.
4. Word Emphasis.
By stressing particular words, and even adding a pause, we can place an emphasis every now and then on key words and phrases. Is it, for example, ‘to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world’ or ‘to bring INSPIRATION AND INNOVATION to every athlete in the world’ or ‘to bring inspiration and innovation to EVERY ATHLETE in the world’?
Adjust volume through the use of eyes. How many of us have been accused of mumbling or, in reverse, of being too loud? A good way of turning the volume up is to look at a person at the back of the audience and speak to them personally. The volume will increase naturally. To lower volume, do the reverse and look at someone in the front row.
And, finally… Have fun!
The key is to have fun: be conscious of communication during meetings, with friends, at home and with the family, and have fun shaking things up. Get in the habit of working on your voice and speech so that, when the presentations arrive, you are already practiced.
It may not be possible to transform ourselves into a charismatic Italian overnight, but by working consistently at the small things we can all surprise ourselves.
Learn more about LDL Presentation Skills Training, or read more Presentation Skills Blogs such as: “What’s Your Communication Style? 4 Tips to Increase Effectiveness“.
Nick Evans is Senior Consultant at LDL, and a specialist presentation skills coach for individuals and teams. His experience is extensive and includes working at all levels with over 200 organisations throughout the UK, Europe and the United States. Nick has clients in IT, finance, professional services, manufacturing, pharmaceutical/medical, the public sector, publishing/media, retail, telecommunication and travel.