Making a pronounced difference

Jul 18 2007 by Janet Howd Print This Article

Whatever accent we have, we must make sure that the way we say what we have to say when giving a presentation is well rehearsed and distinctly pronounced.

Using crisp consonants and lingering over vowels more than we would ever do in ordinary conversation automatically increases audibility. This holds true even if we are going to be using a microphone.

Microphones can only enhance what is already there. If there is no resonant energy going in, there will be no resonant energy going out. A presenter's voice should therefore be as alive when miked as it would have to be if unmiked.

Fantastic sound desks with skilled audio technicians who can take a puny voice and enhance its whole spectrum do exist. But one of the ironies of presentation is that these are never available to the novices who would most benefit from the technology.

Instead, they are found in the types of venue where invited speakers have already honed their vocal skills to a level that make such high powered assistance effectively irrelevant.

With or without a microphone there is never any need to shout but always a need to intend to be heard.

Presenters should not begin to rehearse a presentation without having an idea of the proportions - particularly the height - of the "box" they will be performing in Ė whether it is a small room or a large hall, all rooms are merely boxes. Neither should they fail to take into account the muffling effect that will occur when this box is filled with bodies.

As soon as the first draft of a script is written, it should be read aloud
It is much easier for a voice to have to turn down volume on the day, than suddenly to have to turn up and sustain volume levels that the vocal muscles have been given no chance to get used to beforehand.

So as soon as the first draft of a script is written, it should be read aloud. That's what a script is written for.

After the reader has gone through the script a couple of times to become familiar with it, a timer should be set and the script should be read out again

Reading aloud from the outset uncovers immediately if there is too much material to be comfortably gone through in the time allotted or if certain groups of words form unanticipated tongue twisters or - but this is unusual - that the whole thing is too short.

There are rules of oratory designed to help listeners catch a speaker's drift; hang on to a speaker's every word and sort out the wood from the trees. Such idioms together with metaphor and simile make words come alive and ideas thrive. Use them

Use visual aids only to emphasise key concepts.

Visual aids are just what their name says they are. They are aids to a presentation not its crux: otherwise, why have a live presenter at all?

Always expect technology to fail. Prepare accordingly!

Detailed handouts are useful - but if they are given out straight away audiences never know whether to read them or watch the presenter. Since to watch a speaker adds audibility to that speaker, handouts are best given out either at a relevant point when everyone is going to attend to them, or immediately after a presentation as aides memoir.

Today, the language of choice for the exchange of ideas almost anywhere in the world is English. The eloquence of that language is second to none, but the complexities of its spelling and its pronunciation, the variety of its accents and the changing fashions in its phraseology cause problems with comprehension even for people born to its use.

We presenters can do much to alleviate these problems.

We can take account of the rhythmic patterns of words and make sure that our tongues are trained to trip along with them rather than to trip up over them.

We can take account of the many vowels in English which slide around making even short words sound longer than they look. Try saying: 'cow', 'bay' and 'toy' versus 'cot', 'bad' and 'top'): and can make sure that we give each word we say its full resonant and rhythmic (ta ta) value (ta ta) articulately (ta ta ta ta taa)

We can also take account of the many English words where the same letter can be sounded in completely different ways or not even sounded at all ('bomb', 'tomb' and 'comb'); and the many English words which sound the same but have completely different meanings ('wait' and 'weight', 'tire' and 'tyre', 'fur' and 'fir', etc.) and help listener comprehension by not placing such words close to each other when preparing our scripts.

Such simple suggestions are not intended to dumb down the sharing of information, but to make presenters sensitive to the fact that words intended to be spoken must be crafted in different ways from words intended to be read.

Only scripts made from skilfully woven words can ever make a difference to the thinking of others.

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About The Author

Janet Howd
Janet Howd

Janet Howd is a voice coach who works with corporate, academic, legal, theatrical and private clients in the UK, North America, Australia and Europe.