It's an annoying, bad habit. I'm talking about "speechy voice." Today we're going to talk about why you do it and how you can stop doing it.
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Well, hey, everybody, Sari de la Motte here, and it's been a while since we had a Sound Check podcast, I apologize for that. I have been busy writing my book which is now off to the publisher by the time you hear this, and will be coming out later this year. It is for trial attorneys, although it applies to a variety of different speakers. So, if you want to learn how to move any kind of hostile audience to one that wants to be there, you might want to pick up a copy when it comes out. It's called From Hostage to Hero. I'll be letting you know, of course, in the podcast when it is available and ready, but very exciting to have that finally done.
Well, in today's podcast we're going to talk about something that drives me nuts. So, of course, I have to talk to you about this thing that drives me nuts so that you will hopefully stop doing it, and that is speechy voice. Oh my god, you guys, I hate speechy voice, and yet so many speakers use speechy voice.
Now, if you don't know what I'm talking about, I'm talking about the type of talking that people do when delivering presentations and they talk like this for the entire time that you are listening to them. That's what speechy voice is. And you know what, it's just annoying and I don't really want to make you feel bad about it if you do it, what I want you to do is to stop doing it. So, in today's podcast we're going to talk, about why you do it and how you can stop doing it.
What I found when I work with speakers, and I work with speakers all over the United States, they're either flying to work with me or we can get online and talk about putting content together, but it's always in the delivery portion that speechy voice shows up. What I found is that there are really three phases that every speaker goes through. The first phase is where you're kind of in that bumbling phase. You don't do a lot of public speaking yet or maybe you do do a lot of public speaking and this is just a speech that you're starting out with and so at the very beginning as you're trying it out, you are in a bumbling stage. So there's lots of "uhs" and "ums" and "okays" and maybe you're just not finding your words very easily. That's the first stage. Again, you're either there because you're starting out as a speaker or it's a brand new speech to you. Whichever one, that seems to always be the first phase.
The second phase then is the speechy voice phase. As that speech comes together, or as you start doing more and more public speaking, then we start taking on this kind of ... Gosh I don't even know how to explain it. Maybe I would say it's kind of commercial voice or the game show host voice, and you start not sounding like yourself and sounding like someone completely different.
I was working with a client once and he had this big speech coming up, he'd just been inducted into a very big deal organization, all the new inductees were expected to give a speech kind of acceptance or “I’m so glad to be here” kind of speech. And as they were working on a speech, he'd come up with a draft, we spent a couple of weeks working on it and so I said, well, let's hear it. And of course being an attorney he fought me on that for a while. Everyone tends to. They're like, "Well, let's look at the content a little more. Let's do a little bit more with polishing this." They never actually want to stand up and actually try it out.
By the way, that is where you really get the good stuff. I mean, it's very difficult ... I'm a person who writes speeches all the time. I help other people write them, I write them for myself. It's very difficult though to get to the really good stuff until you’re actually embodying it; until you actually get up and start playing with it. This is particularly true with storytelling, and I think nearly every speech should include at least one story if not more. But it's very difficult to write a speech, the storytelling part at least. Very, very difficult. So, what I suggest that you do is that yes, you start with writing it down, writing down what you want to talk about, how you want to talk about it, what stories you want to include, where you really get good is where you stand up and you just start talking about it, just start saying it out loud. That's when you really find out the good content.
So anyway, I said to him, "Well, let's hear it. Let's hear where you are and how it's working." So he said, "Okay, fine." He stands up and he starts his speech and I'm telling you, he's not 30 seconds into that thing and I say to him, “Wait, wait, wait, stop." And he said, "Why? What's wrong? Something wrong with content?" I said, "No, there's nothing wrong with content but I have to ask you something." And he said, "Yeah." And I said, "Why are you talking like that?" And he said, "Talking like what?" I said, "Like that. Like it doesn't even sound like you. Who is this person?"
And so he sits down and he says, "I know, I hate speeches because I never feel like I can be myself." I said, "Listen, the only speech that anyone ever wants to hear is the one that sounds like yourself. The one that sounds like you. It's the speechy voice speeches that nobody enjoys." And yet somehow, somewhere we have gotten this idea, it's come down the pipe or the pike or whatever the word is, that to do a speech properly we have to have that weird freaky speechy voice. What I'm here to tell you is, you do not. You absolutely do not. You want to sound like yourself. Which brings us really to the third phase that only really expert presenters get to. And I'm telling you right now, this is the secret, you can get there too. And that is the conversational tone.
It's when you can get up in front of an audience and talk like you sound with good presentation skills. I'm going to share in a moment what that is. There's one huge ingredient that's going to help you here. Actually two, but one that's more important than the other one. When you can get up in front of an audience and sound like you, those are the speeches that we like to listen to. We like real-deal humans. That's what we want and that's what we're looking for. So, when we're talking about this idea of getting rid of speechy voice, the place we're going to is that you sound like you. Out of the bumbling stage, out of the stage where it's the "ahs" and "ums" and all that kind of stuff to the place where it sounds like you with good presentation skills.
All right. So, let's talk about ... first of all, before it's about how to get rid of speechy voice, let's talk about why I think you're doing it, if you are in fact doing it. That's really the first one. The first reason why I think you're doing it is that you don't know you're doing it. This is true for a lot of people. So, when they come in and they work with me one on one, I'll point out to them that they're talking in speechy voice, or I'll notice the minute I say, "Okay, let's try this out." First we've been sitting here talking just normally, and the minute that I say, "Okay, let's try it out." It's like something just comes over them and suddenly they're in speech land and they're using speechy voice.
So, the first thing is that you don't know that you're doing it. If you don't know that you have speechy voice or you're wondering and you're listening to this podcast whether you have speechy voice or not, I'm going to suggest that you record yourself giving a speech. And not just listen to it yourself, have someone else listen to it. What you want to ask them is, "Does this sound like me, or does this sound like game show host me?" If it's the second one, then you know that you're using speechy voice. I will say that again, most beginning speakers or those of you who don't do it that often most likely are using speechy voice.
For some reason this is just something that we picked up, we think that it's something that we have to do, which really brings us to the second one is that we think it's expected. That's the other reason why we're doing speechy voice. We've either seen it other people have done presenting and as I'm talking about this, I think this is part of the issue is that there aren't a lot, unfortunately, and that's what this podcast is out to fix, but there aren't a lot of really great presenters out there. There are some, but even in some of the TED Talks, I've talked to people about this. There's some great TED Talks out there in terms of the content, but the delivery isn't stellar, unfortunately. I think it's because people have not spent time learning how to give a good presentation.
I think it was my friend Rachel, who was telling me about this. She was saying, when you think about it, we spend most of our time in school, (and she probably got this from somewhere. And if you know where this is from, do let me know because I can't remember exactly where I picked this up), but we spend most of our time in school learning how to read, we spend the second amount of time in school learning how to write. We spend hardly any time learning how to speak, and practically zero time learning how to listen. And boy is that ever true, and yet if you've heard me in the past podcast talk about this, the power that you have, if you know how to speak in public well, is immense. You have so much power if you know how to do it well. Again, partly because so many people don't.
So, we have this very bad model out there of what public speaking is or what it should look like, and so what I'm suggesting is that you throw away that model that you think that you should sound like the people out there that sound speechy, or that you think people are expecting you to sound speechy. They aren't. In fact, your audience is going to thank you either out loud or in their own minds for not sounding speechy. It's quite ballsy, frankly, to sound like yourself in front of an audience, and to do it well and have that good presentation skills to back it up. That's what we're after. Nothing else. Get rid of the speechy voice.
The third reason why I think you sound speechy or using speechy voice is because you've memorized your speech. As a presentation coach, I will tell you, I think across the board, it is a pretty bad idea to memorize your speech. Any speech. Maybe if it's only five minutes long, that's okay, but even then, I'm going to suggest that you don't and here's why. Because you sound speechy. That's the big problem, is that the minute that you memorize it, now you're just reciting your lines. And of course, if you're reciting your lines you're not going to sound like you. Even if they're lines that you wrote. The best speeches are ones that yes, you have written ahead of time. Yes, you have prepared, you've got the words on the page, you said them out loud several times so there have been in your mouth so to speak, but they are not said word for word once it comes down to speech time. I think that's because or I know that's because if you do that, it's going to sound speechy.
Now, several people will say, "Well, what about actors?" Well, what about actors? That's a craft. That's why they call it a craft. It's a completely different thing. Actors are able to deliver lines and make it sound real and conversational, which again, is where we're going for, because they have gotten into the craft of embodying the character, becoming that person and living in their skin. I mean, that is a whole other thing here. What we want you to do is show up in your own skin and sound like yourself.
So, a couple of things that you can do to get away from speechy voice because we don't want speechy voice is that first of all, you can cut jargon. That's a huge part of it. I mean, so often when I'm working with speakers of any kind, particularly my trial attorneys, but it's really across the board, jargon is huge. For example, with my trial attorneys they'll say things like, "And then the occupant of the vehicle exited the vehicle, and blah, blah, blah." And I'm thinking, first of all, who would ever say occupant? We don't drive vehicles, we drive cars. We don't get into, what's the word that they tend to use. It's not the word crash. It's escaping my memory. But the point is, is that we need to use language that everyday people use.
Now, if you're not sure if you're using jargon or you even think you're not using jargon, ask yourself, is this how we'll talk about this if we were just over coffee. For example, many times when I'm working with a speaker and they're having trouble with getting across what it is they want to say, or it's sounding a little too jargony or you're too technical, I say, "Okay, sit down." I actually literally make them sit down, especially if you're standing working on the speech and I say, "Tell me about this if you're just over coffee and you were just wanting to share this great piece of information with me, how would you talk about it?" And in every case they say, "Well, it's like this." And they just start talking about it and suddenly they sound like themselves again. That's what we're after, is that you just sound like you're talking about it over coffee. That's the conversational tone that we want. If you're using jargon, you're nearly never ever sound like that because you're using words that you would never normally use. You're using them because you think that's what you need to use in terms of a speech.
Now, other things that you can do to avoid speechy voice is that you can incorporate two very important things: pause and gesture. What I'm asking you to do is yes, sound like yourself by being conversational in tone, but with good presentation skills. So, the pause is going to really help you because here's the general rule of thumb, you want your pauses to be bigger, and your gestures to be bigger depending on the size of the group. In fact, all that presentation skills really are is good communication only bigger. So, your gestures have to be bigger and your pausing has to be bigger. If you can do that, then you can sound like yourself, but it sounds more professional, notice how I've slowed down my speech, using more pauses, and if you could see me I'm actually gesturing as well.
Gesturing is a big one because so often, I'll have a whole podcast on gesturing, which will be weird to have a podcast on gesturing because you can't see me. We'll talk about gesturing because it's so important. Gesturing is huge because oftentimes when you are at coffee to use that example, you're just using these small gestures to talk to your coffee partner back and forth, but the minute you get in front of an audience, even if it's only 12 people, or 1,200 people, those gestures stay small and now you look small. So, we want to keep the tone the same, the conversation tone, but we want you to add gestures that are bigger than you normally use in your day to day life and that will feel weird and we want to use longer pauses.
Not all the time. Notice how I'm going quicker and slower and sometimes have a big pause, and other times it's not so big. In fact, that's part of why you sometimes sound speechy is if you do everything correctly and have lots of long pauses, then you start to sound speechy again. Again, you want to have the pausing and the good gesturing, but not so that it's perfectly exactly right because that's not going to help you either. You want to have the pausing and you want to have the gesturing but not so much that it's totally super shiny perfect. It's important to be real in front of a group and sound like yourself with good pausing and good gesturing and that my friends is how you get away from speechy voice. It's the good presentation skills that are going to support you, it's not the speechy voice that is going to make you sound like a presentation rockstar.
Every presentation really is all about taking your audience on a journey. It's not about you standing up there giving information because that's not exciting for anybody. You're taking your audience on a journey, and to do that you want to use the appropriate voice for the appropriate thing. So, yes, if you're telling a story, you might have different voices for the different characters. You might speed it up, you might slow it down, but if you're just giving information, if you're helping your audience learn something as they are on this journey, you still want to sound like yourself. I mean, can you imagine being in a classroom all day with a teacher who you're speechy voice? No, teachers don't use speechy voice, they're just themselves but they're informing and inspiring their students by being themselves with hopefully, good presentation skills.
All right. That's it for this episode of Sound Check. Until we meet again, either here on the podcast or in real life, I invite you to find your voice and amplify it. Talk soon.
Sari de la Motte is the host of "Sound Check" a podcast for speakers looking for tips on how to increase their "executive presence" and ability to confidently connect with their audience.