A successful speaker has to master both what they say — their content — and how they say it — their method. Before you even think about the method, you must know your content: know what you are going to say and practise it over and over.
Using a powerful method to deliver your story is imperative as it sparks emotion. As a storyshower, you are in the business of emotion, so you must emotionally move your audiences to inspire transformation. Your content alone will not do this; you must engage the audience.
Generally, people spend 95 per cent of their time thinking about the words they will put into their presentation or keynote talk. However, to be a successful communicator and speaker you also have to understand the method you will use to deliver your speech. You need to consider every aspect of your nonverbal communication — that is, everything apart from the words.
Let’s take a look at some key elements of nonverbal communication.
Your face is the most important aspect of your nonverbal communication and your eyes are the key element of your facial expression. People watch your eyes; wherever your eyes go, your audience’s eyes will go too. If your eyes are boring, the audience’s eyes will start to wander.
The conviction of the message is all in our eyes. Be mindful of blinking too much, thinking too much (which showcases in your eyes as they will give away if you are creating content or remembering) and be aware when your eyes wander.
The way you use your facial muscles is directly associated with your credibility, authenticity, warmth and approachability. If you scrunch up the muscles in your face when you’re talking about a serious moment, your expression comes across as unauthentic.
Instead, you should let those muscles relax. When you’re sharing moments of impact, such as giving a quote or detailed in-depth content, or even a moment in the story that has some low energy, don’t engage your face muscles.
Instead, make your muscles as relaxed as possible. Then you will come across as authentic and congruent with your story, and you will have more credibility. There are also moments in your talk when you will engage your facial muscles, such as when you are excited or when the energy in your story is rising.
Voice as a nonverbal component of your communication is also described as ‘paralanguage’. The Macquarie Dictionary defines the adjective ‘paralinguistic’ as ‘relating to factors associated with but not essentially part of a language system as tone of voice, rate of utterance, overall pitch range, facial expressions, accompanying speech’.
A discussion about voice includes ideas about the use of silence — that is, the pause. A pause will help build anticipation.
Use a pause to follow or lead into a critical point. The longer we pause, the more intelligent we come across. Jerry Weissman, described by The Huffington Post as ‘the world’s number one corporate presentations coach’, reminds us: ‘The pause gives the listeners — the audience — time to absorb the words.’ Slow down and use pauses to your advantage, and remember: the longer we pause the more intelligent we come across. If you listen to a High Court judge, you will notice that they usually speak slowly, pause often and for many seconds, and the pitch of their voice is low and deep, whether they are female or male.
They are intelligent and thoughtful and this comes across in their voice. Compare this with the impression you form of a speaker who rushes through their talk, rarely pauses or even stops for a breath, and lets their pitch get higher and higher.
This is, for example, the rise or fall within or at the end of a sentence, and it can determine the way your message is understood. Rising intonation at the end of a sentence can indicate that the speaker has more to say — so the listener will wait to hear what comes next — or that the speaker is asking a question.
If the intonation falls at the end of a sentence, the listener knows that it is a statement. If I have finished speaking, even to pause, I will end low. If I haven’t finished, I will end high and my audience will wait for what I say next.
People respond to our message depending on how we use intonation. Imagine you are on a plane, taxiing along the runway, and the cabin supervisor says over the PA system: The cabin supervisor comes across as warm, open, fun and approachable because of the rising inflection at the end of every sentence, while the captain comes across as having more authority and credibility — sounding like someone in control. Even though the captain is saying almost the same things as the friendly supervisor, through the falling intonation it sounds as if they are implying, ‘I’m flying the plane, so actually, please leave me alone unless it’s urgent’. This shows that not only is the captain in charge, but they are serious about their position and we learn to trust them through their intonation. As this example shows, intonation plays a huge part in how we come across in our conversations and in our talks.