Finding your voice for better presentations? – a speech gurus view
They say public speaking is the most feared thing in the world. We sat down with Sarah Wilmot, the creator and director of Vocal Athletics to get an insight into the power of the human voice and how a healthy voice can actually help marketers to get ahead in business.
What do you do and what drew you to it from your previous career?
I am a voice consultant, which means I empower people to find their true voice. In a way, I am a personal trainer discovering how to achieve free and authentic voices and speech for people. My previous career as a speech pathologist and study of foreign languages, allowed me to hear aspects of speech and voice that many clients initially are not tuned in to. My classical singing training as well lead me to be a highly intuitive coach, and I am able to recognise the emotional and psychological patterns that lead to vocal patterns. I work with each person as a unique individual, aiming to remove strain to facilitate ease, unlocking hidden aspects of self which lead to dramatic changes in volume and clarity.
What types of people do you get coming to see you?
There doesn’t seem to be just one type! I see people from such a wide variety of areas: CEOs wishing to obtain greater presence in their speeches; workers giving presentations at conferences; students wishing to be more confident in university presentations; people wishing to improve the quality of their social interactions. What they have in common is a desire for change. They may want to be more articulate, to get a better job, a promotion, to be heard, to be better understood or to interview well. I work with those who are nervous, those who speak too fast, or who are too softly spoken. I also see those who already speak extremely well, but wish to perform better.
Why is it important for people to find their authentic voice in the workplace?
The old adage of it’s not what you say but how you say it rings true here. Research has shown that people with attractive voices are judged to be likeable, honest, dominant and likely to achieve. We gain a great deal from first impressions of people and their voices. An authentic voice is one of gentle power. It inspires trust and confidence in both the speaker and listener; our voice needs to reflect our true abilities. We are all looking for success and how to be the best we can be, and a good communication ability can reflect this.
How can marketers present themselves in a way to get their voice better heard?
In this current economic climate, many marketers are striving to keep budgets and to show that they are still required. People want knowledge that their money will be managed wisely. A speaker who is in control of their voice and speech patterns is able to communicate more effectively in the business environment and get their needs met. Marketers need to use a variety of communication skills including easy voice and speech as well as body language, presence and posture to be effective.
What tips do you have for giving winning presentations?
A good preparation routine is vital. Most people wouldn’t dream of running a 10km marathon without some training, yet this is exactly what most people do when speaking in public. We need to prepare in advance, know our material, as well as become aware of our body as an instrument, with easy breathing, body movement and speech. Limber up your body and voice to become a speaking athlete: the breath needs to be deep; the voice agile; the lips, tongue and jaw loose and mobile. Place yourself in the role of an audience member, and check how fast you are and how clear. We generally pay more attention to ourselves than to actually who is listening to us. And drink enough water: a dry mouth is a presenter’s nightmare.
How can people avoid the dreaded fear of public speaking?
For some, even the thought of doing a presentation is enough to make their heart rate increase. Gentle exposure and practice is what’s needed to overcome this. Ask a trusted friend or colleague to run through the presentation before delivering it to a larger audience. Trust that you know your stuff. Before a presentation, go through your material, how big is the room, the audience size. People can conquer their fears by learning to trust their body and breath. Awareness is the key. Speaking can be regarded as an athletic activity and we can always develop our abilities further. We can learn how to harness nerves and use them to our advantage to give winning presentations every time.