Are your speeches music, or musak?

Every morning, I catch up on the news and weather from the little radio in my bathroom. When I shower, I turn up the volume if there’s an interview I’d like to hear but I’m pressed for time. I don’t always hear the words clearly, because of the noise of the water. But what I do hear is important for all speakers. I hear the tone of the words; the ups and downs of the voices.

I hear the warmth or the coolness, the friendliness or the hostility, the happiness or the sadness. So even if I can’t hear the words clearly, I still get the gist of what’s been said. I hear the emotion that underpins – and often validates – the message.

The tone of your voice is the rich background symphony for your words. It’s an indispensable communication tool. It augments and reinforces your spoken words. In case the audience doesn’t understand a word or two, they can still get your intended meaning through your tone. You see this in action when you don’t understand a language – yet you pretty well get what a speaker intends though tone.

The problem is, most speakers don’t use tone as a critical tool for comprehension. Instead, because of nerves, or inexperience, or simply without thinking, they slip into a monotone. Instead of a rich symphony, the audience gets muzak.

Why? Why does the emotional sub-text sometimes get lost when people make a formal presentation or speech? It’s because most speeches and presentations are written for the eyes and not the ears. The speaker is forced to read from the page or memory. Either way, the result is the same – a monotone delivery that has a good chance of lulling the audience to sleep.

Yet when we have conversations with friends and peers, we vary our tone according to content and context. We’re animated. Sometime we act things out, changing our tone dramatically. But when we deliver to an audience, tone is usually the first casualty of nerves or a time crunch.

How do we use tone effectively?

  • First of all, learn the TalkitOut Technique. It works on releasing your authentic voice, which uses tone naturally.
  • Second, analyze your speech or presentation for tone changes. When should you be happy, reflective, neutral etc?
  • Third, avoid tone traps. That when you go from one dramatic tone (say you are speaking about a death) to another (picturing a happy event). Have a neutral tone phrase or pause before switching to a different dramatic tone.

Give your words the rich background music they deserve. You’ll pass the shower test. And your audiences will thank you.