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Jeremy Cain discusses lights, camera, action!...action!...action?

It was one of the most eagerly awaited conventions of the year. The organization in which I was employed had invested greatly in securing a presentations stand, in order to ensure our presence, and a one hour time slot on the main stage. The goal of our presentation was simple. To "wow" our audience, and take advantage of this opportunity of presenting our showcase product to the industry. After eighteen months of technical development, from over one hundred and twenty developers, we were now ready to show the world.

Such was the pressure and expectation of the convention that our organization had invested in several full motion graphic DVD titles and introduction sequences, as well as a television styled presentation.

So there I was, the vessel of these efforts. My task to simply stand there and conduct the array of visual treats, to walk the audience through the product showcase and feature highlights, and make mouths water, hands tremble, and distributors race to our stand for contractual discussions.

What could possibly go wrong? ...well after all but introducing myself and our organization, all power to the main stage failed. No video. No sound. No product demonstration. No presentation. Only the deafening sound of silence, and the look of a thousand faces questioning what next?

Presentation Article and Advice about Communicating Your Message

Lights, camera, action!...Action!...Action?

Jeremy Cain, Presentation Consultant,

Under pressure

I felt my ears beginning to warm and redden; this was without doubt the most traumatic experience of presentations career. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and an audience that looked as though someone just announced Christmas was cancelled.

It's hard to know what to do really. Whether the right and just thing is to simply hold one's hands in the air and beg forgiveness and walk away, convincing one's self that without the media and visual aids I could never do the product justice anyway. Or to rather take responsibility for the investment, for the efforts of all those that have put me there, and all those who were waiting for me there.

And so I did what any good presenter should have done, would have done, and must always do. I chose to rely on the one tool that I have to carry me through the toughest of presentations. The one tool that is unique and distinctly mine, and the one tool, which communicates more strongly, more clearly, more directly, and more convincingly than any media presentation or slide show. I am of course talking about my voice.

The presenter's tool

When it comes to communicating with your audience your voice is your strongest presentation tool bar none. Forget your visual aids, your slides and your media resources. Your voice can help you not only communicate your thoughts, but more importantly allow you to emphasis and stress areas and subjects that are more relevant, and of greater importance than others within your presentation. And in as much as your voice enables you to achieve all this, it also enables you to ease and calm the tone of sections and areas that you feel require lesser focus and attention.

So why is your voice so important?

There are many reasons why your voice is your most important presentation tool, and perhaps to choose the most important reasons one could easily look to the following:
  1. Your body entrails, or rather physically responds to your voice. When you see a presenter speak whose voice is energetic, they usually project an infective and injected appearance. It is hard for them to stand still, and so the passion of their speech exudes through their physical presence and in effect the motivation and attention of the audience increases. Think in opposition. A presenter who simply stands and reiterates his or her speech, appears dull and lifeless, quickly switching off any attentive processes from their audience.
  2. A pleasant or "nice" voice is simply not enough. Using personality, character, and various dynamics, will turn an ordinary presentation into an extraordinary one, grabbing the attention of listeners from beginning to end.
  3. A presentation is more than a slide show or set of visual informatics. What your audience hears, your voice, not only enhances visuals, but more importantly induces feeling. And as all sales people will tell you, that this is the level where the listener makes the decision to believe and buy.

Know your voice

Knowing your voice is important, but it is only acknowledging the fact. What's more interesting and productive, is examining simple techniques to improve your voice, to help you make better use of it.

To help improve your presentations voice, we'll examine the four key areas of it. Areas which I call:
  • The dynamic impact of voice
  • Situation and speed
  • Pauses and reflection
  • The personality of voice

Increase the dynamic impact of your voice

It may seem overly simple, but better speakers change volume levels more frequently.

Much in the way that an actor covers a broad spectrum of emotions and expressions during a play or ninety minute movie. The volume of your voice can create moments of calm, moments of humor, moments of "Sit up and listen, I'm talking to you now!", and moments of acceleration of speed and enthusiasm, delivering a much richer and more interesting presentation and audience experience.

Though you most likely won't have to act out or be dramatic in your presentation, changing the volume level of your voice does increase the effect of your presentation, and what's more does not require any acting or training skills from you, only patience, and practice.

Situation and speed

The situation and topic of your presentation subject will have a natural influence over the volume range of your voice during your speech. No one speaks loudly about kindergarten's and nursery's, no more than no one whispers about video games and software. But then a continual whisper will exhaust and annoy your audience in much the same way that an overly bearing and continuously loud voice will deafen the ears and mind of any audience member.

And whilst the subject has influence of volume, the nature of the material in general with govern and determine the speed.

Pauses and reflection

You've undoubtedly heard that the success of any great comedian is timing. Knowing when to deliver the punch line. Well, in many ways, a similar parallel can be drawn to the presenter.

Audiences tend to differentiate professional from non-professional speakers by the length and variety of pauses during a presentation. A non-professional speaker's dialog will be littered with "'s" and "...err's", whilst a professional speaker does not project a notion of fumbling, of misplaced notes, or memory lapses. The length and variety of pauses in speech by the professional presenter are designed specifically to allow the audience time to digest. To ponder, consider, and think about the statements and comments made to such a point. To gain understanding, and therefore conviction.

Improve the personality of your voice

The most interesting and dynamic speakers use their voices as instruments. Just as a classical composition, or modern musical interpretation relies on variety, on volume and range to charm the listener, speed to add energy, and volume for emotional intensity. So too do these characteristics have consequence for your presentation.

When preparing let your voice reflect the energy you want to exude, for your presentation and ask yourself, "What do I want my audience to feel?"

Remember your audience are not computers or robots, and they don't want to be addressed as such, in monotone, with no dynamism. Your vocal range is your only tool that will enable you to add personality, color, and human quality to your presentation.

Empower your voice

Now that you are able to address the aspects of your voice that matter most for your presentation, with a little practice you will find that your communication, relationship, and dialog with audiences will increase and improve tenfold.

Though I can honestly say that I can't recommend addressing over a thousand people, who came to view a product, but instead found a speaker with no visual support. I can tell you that I did indeed manage to motivate the audience, so much so that not only were we able to secure the distribution agreements that we had pursued prior to the convention, but more than this, a larger corporation was so enthused by our developments, communicated only through my voice, that they approached our organization for further talks, and went on to acquire the group shortly thereafter.

The power of the voice is often overlooked in modern presentations. People turn increasingly to DVD, to television effects, slide transitions, and surround sound. But in as much as the expectations of the audience have changed, the role of the presenter has not. As a presenter our role is to enthuse, excite, or otherwise gain conviction from our audiences.

Your voice is your only tool that can truly accomplish these goals. Yes, high quality professionally designed visual can support and enhance your message, but you are the messenger, and your voice, the message.

At a time when every presenter is introducing animated backgrounds, three dimensional effects, and sound tracks to their presentations to make them more multimedia. Try to keep clear in your mind the goals of your presentation, they are often very simple, and more easily than not achieved through the power and control of your voice, than the reliance of technology and effects.
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