Some of us have a tendency to fade into the background, unable to hook people with our words. Others command our attention whenever they speak. There’s just something about them that draws us in and captivates.
However innate it may seem, speaking in a way that commands attention and respect is a skill that can be learned. The ability to move people into action, capture interest, or simply tell a joke well is developed with practice. Whether you want to cultivate job skills or make your presence appropriately known, you’d do well to consider what you say and how you say it.
From Martin Luther King Jr. to JKF and Barack Obama, rhetorical ability is a rare gift but it can be learned following these easy steps:
Don’t say anything until you have their attention
Don’t start speaking if you don’t have their attention. Stand in front of them with confident body language and they will quiet down and give you their attention.
Modulate the texture of your voice
Think of your throat as an instrument. Music is separated from noise by notes and rhythms, pleasing tones and variation. Make your voice be heard by producing it from your diaphragm, not your throat–talk from your belly.
Control the melody and pace of your voice
Don’t rush through any words or mumble. You know what great speakers, actors and successful politicians have in common? The enunciate perfectly and read/say every word with care and purpose.
Use prosody, or the “singsong” that provides extra meaning and makes everything more clear. It’s the upward lilt that turns “hmm” into the question “hmm?”, for example. Pursue it. Good prosody is simply more interesting than monotone.
However, you need to beware of uptalk, the horrible habit of ending statements like questions? Uptalk makes you sound more like a 13 year old little girl than a confident speaker.
Pitch, speed, volume can also be manipulated for meaning and enjoyability. Emphasize excitement with a rise in all three or drop them low for a sombre tone.
Finally, catch yourself before you utter “ums” and “ahs”. Leave a silence. Silence is okay.
Curate the content of your speech
First of all, make sure you’re telling some sort of narrative when you speak. It doesn’t have to be a story per se, but your speech should have a beginning, a middle, and an end, as well as some sort of purpose or conflict to be resolved.
Do not judge, do not gossip, do not bog your audience down with negativity. Julian Treasure described complaining as “viral misery”, and folks tend to avoid falling ill.
It’s difficult to listen to someone who’s always a drag. Instead, buoy your speech with amiability. There’s a moth to flame-like gravity to happiness.
Wear your individual personality in a perceivable way. Some call this “being real”. Stay honest, but not too honest. Keep to your word. Hope for the best for people and it will be felt, even if they can’t put a finger on why.
Know the audience
Some people are moved by emotion-filled anecdotes while others like the cold facts. Keep your audience in mind when drafting your speech or proposal.
You’re ready to go and be heard. Don’t forget the basics like making eye-contact and attentive listening and most importantly, just be confident–there’s nothing to lose.
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