Vocal Variety

Vocal variety is a great tool to add to your speaking skills kit. It includes things like your tone, your speed, your volume, and your pitch. It’s something you that already use in everyday conversation, but it can be easy to forget about it if you are nervous before you have to give a presentation. Your voice is an instrument that you can use it to great effect with just a little practice. It’s a way to add interest to your speech and hold your audience’s attention.

Turn it Up

Parents often use a whisper when they want to calm or get the attention of an upset child. Why? Because it difficult to hear what someone is whispering unless you are quiet and able to focus on the words. Try using a quieter voice to emphasize a point or regain the fading attention of an audience. Similarly, a pause can capture attention due to the absence of sound. The so-called “dramatic pause” calls attention to what you are about to say. The classic example of this is Henny Youngman’s joke, “Now, you take my wife…please.”

Slow it down

You can also drag out your words for effect. Instead of saying it was a long trip, say looooong, drawing out the middle of the word. Speeding up has the opposite effect. Think of the commercials you hear where an actor is reading the fine print at very high speeds. It can be annoying when it goes on for that long, but it’s definitely an attention getter.

Although you don’t want to go quite that fast, you can definitely play with speed to great effect. Watch how actor Danny Kaye and some of the cast of the 1956 comedy musical The Court Jester masterfully use a variety of speeds to keep viewers on the edge of their seats as they try to remember whether they should drink from the “flagon with the dragon” or the “vessel with the pestle” to avoid death by poisoning.


Sizzle. Spray. Gurgle. Onomatopoeia is a word that is associated with its actual sound. If you can weave a couple of them into your speech, you can capture the audience’s imagination and hold it. This is especially effective if you are weaving a story through your presentation. Words like these are often used in children’s books, which are a great tool for practice.

Emoting for Effect

Ham sandwich. Ham sandwich? Ham sandwich! This is a popular phrase to use when practicing using a variety of tones and varying your speed and pitch. Try saying “ham sandwich” in different ways, such as excitedly, sadly, happily, or lovingly. How does it take on different meaning as you vary your phrasing? What effect might that have on your audience?

I’m Lovin’ It!

Talking about what you love is a great way to practice vocal variety. If you have a choice of what your will speak about, choose something that genuinely interests or excites you. You will find yourself adding vocal variety without having to think about it because you want your listeners to be excited about it, too.

Give it a try! Pick a favorite topic and practice telling a friend about it. Notice how often you change your tone or speed or use more interesting words to describe the subject.

Let me know how it goes by joining the conversation in the comment section below!

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Try Visual Storytelling When Presenting

Visual communication is closely tied to the art of storytelling. It’s definitely an area worth becoming proficient in, because focused imagery makes your message more compelling and memorable.

Photo Credit: http://cdn2.hubspot.net/hubfs/556655/Images/nonprofit_storytelling_blog.jpg

Too many images, or ones that are cluttered and not directly related to your message will detract from your speech.

Today I want to take a look at how to use images in a way that will have the most impact on your audience.

What are you trying to say?

What are your main points? What do you want your audience members to walk away remembering?

Sit down and take a few minutes to think about this. Then write down no more than three things you want them to remember after you are gone. Highlight the key words in your text and begin thinking about visuals that reinforce them.


It is important that your visuals feel authentic. Look for opportunities to use photos or video clips of actual clients rather than stock photos or outdated clip art.

Your audience members want to know how your brand or idea applies to them today.

Or look for stunning photos that capture the ideas behind your brand. Is your product future-oriented?

Consider using a photo of something or someone in motion, moving away from the viewer. There are many ways to represent a brand or idea.

What will have the most impact on the viewer?

Body Language

Even in visual storytelling your body language, presence, and personality are a critical part of telling a story as part of a speech. We have talked about body language here before.

Remember to take advantage of the tools you always have on hand. Gesturing, making eye contact, and moving around as you talk add a great deal to your presentation.

It’s another great way to engage an audience and make an impact on them.

Size Matters

Big and bold is the way to go in most cases. Large, simple image or clips will best grab the viewer’s attention.

Plan ahead by thinking about where your audience will be sitting in relation to the screen they will see. Can they see over each other’s heads?

Consider where best to place your visuals for maximum impact. Plan your movements so that you won’t be in your own way when you share the photos or videos.


Use images that are culturally relevant to your audience. Diversity is important today and your choice of visuals should reflect that. Society is changing and inclusiveness is more important than ever before, especially if your business has an online presence.

It’s Your Turn

Give some thought to visual storytelling for your next presentation. Jot down some ideas and look for images or video clips that represent your brand or idea.

Maybe it’s time to make a short video with one of your clients who can talk about what you have done for them. Let me know what you do and how it works for you.

And if you have any ideas t share, I would love to hear about it!

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Exciting Your Audience

Last month I was at a presentation where the audience members were bored, antsy, and waiting for the speech to end. Some were trying to be polite and attentive, but many had already mentally checked out and were texting and surfing on their phones.

The speaker knew she had lost their attention and struggled to regain it. Unfortunately, she was unable to do so.

We all want to start strong and finish strong when speaking, but, after your opening, how do get your audience excited and hold their attention to the end? I have some public speaking tips that will help you do just that.

Starting Strong

We’ve talked about great openings before but it’s worth a second mention. Use an opening that grabs your audience’s attention. Pick a startling fact, statistic, or other comment that will command attention. Try pausing after your first few words to let that information sink in before moving on.

Put Barriers Behind You

Literally. If there is a physical barrier between you and your audience, such as a podium, get comfortable moving away from it during your speech. The motion of movement renews audience attention and gets people to refocus on you, partly by wondering how you’ll do without notes or a stand in front of you! This is a great time to bring emotion to the forefront, as well.

It’s a great tool for building suspense and holding attention. You can do this with a story, as we have discussed here & here.

Remember Why They’re There

As you plan your speech, think about why the audience members are there. What motivates them? What do you want them to take away from your talk? What reasons might they have for disagreeing with you? For agreeing with you? Construct your presentation with these things in mind.

Take Action!

Let your audience know early in your speech what you want them to leave knowing and prepared to do. Then give them a challenge to follow through on! Do you want them to contact a representative? Sign up to be a volunteer? Whatever it is, make it easy to do by providing the appropriate information for completing the task.

A flyer is helpful for this and gives them something concrete to take with them.

Interrupt Yourself

Interrupting can be a very effective tool when used correctly. You can say something like,

Before I move on, I want to stop and see what you think. Do you have questions or ideas about how to make new contacts to increase sales?

This brings everyone back to center and gives them an opportunity to participate in your presentation. Allowing others to talk and share their ideas also demonstrates your own self-confidence, which is exciting to an audience.

Wrapping Up

So, you now have some great speaking tips on exciting your audience. Have you tried any of these ideas? Do you have thoughts of your own on the subject? I would love to hear from you!

Even better, try some of these tips out during your next speech and let me know how it goes!

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Talking Off the Cuff

An off-the-cuff speech is really just a few remarks made in answer to a question. It’s a mini-speech, if you will.

Nevertheless, it is a form of public speaking and sends many people into a mental panic. It can give you that “deer in the headlights” feeling.

Believe it or not, there are ways to handle it without panicking.

The Power of Threes

You can harness the power of threes in a couple of different ways.

ONE: Think about your reply as having three parts: a beginning, a middle, and an end. Depending on your situation, your beginning might just be thanking the person who invited you to speak.

John, thanks for the question/chance to speak/etc.

The middle can be a few sentences that answer the question put to you. For example:

It has been my experience that colleges who evaluate their students’ performance and make meaningful changes have a higher number of students who graduate. Last year the faculty agreed to add the same statement about the course outcomes to their syllabi and discuss them in class the first day so that student would have a better chance at remember the goals for the course

You can wrap it up by thanking the person who asked you to speak or adding by a concluding sentence.

TWO: Focus on your remarks as a mini speech that has three points. Just have we have discussed in talking about a full-length speech, off-the-cuff remarks can be composed of three points. You can thank the person who asked for your opinion or you can begin by launching right into the first point.

Thanks, John. Our department has used three methods to collect data from potential clients with varying rates of success. Cold calling, email, and networking.

THREE: Now that you have verbally outlined you points, you can briefly talk about each one before wrapping it up.

 It’s Not All About You

And that’s a good thing! Why were you called on to speak? Most likely it was because you have knowledge or expertise that others need.

Your opinion is valued, which means the battle is already won! There is no need to prove to your colleagues or peers that you are an important part of the team.

Rather than focusing on yourself and your fear, focus on your audience and on answering the question that was asked. You may have a few seconds while walking up front to a podium or while you are thanking the group or person for asking you to say a few words.

Use that time to quickly consider their perspective and what knowledge they are lacking, then use one of the three-point strategies as you speak.

Practice, Practice, and Practice Again

Take every opportunity you can to practice off-the-cuff speaking. If you are member of Toastmasters, be sure to participate in Table Topics whenever you can.

As with anything else, repetition results in greater skill and increased confidence.

Join the conversation for more great information in my weekly emails and let me know about any tips you have to share!

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Moving Around The Stage

Welcome back! In this post I’m going to take a look at how you can use the very ground you stand on to strengthen your speaking skills and engage your audience. Whether you are on a stage or on the same level as your audience, the floor beneath your feet can be used to your advantage.

Know your space

If you aren’t already familiar with the space where you’ll be speaking, try to visit it before the day you will be there.

Take note of the size of your area and the audience’s space. Is there a podium? Will you be elevated on a stage?

Is there a microphone at the podium, will you be wearing one, or will there not be any amplification?

Blocking your moves

Theater and movie directors often “block” the area where they want the actors to walk and stand at different points in the production. You have an opportunity to do the same. Think about the points you want to emphasize and the transitions you want to make in your speech.

A good first step is to decide on a “home base” on the stage that you will move from and return to as you talk. Plan to move forward from the base to emphasize important points.

You can also acknowledge everyone in the audience by moving to different parts of the stage and making eye as you go.

Moving around as you talk helps people stay focused on you as well. A leaning forward just a bit as you step forward and gesture into the audience is a another great way to make use of the space.


Move Intentionally

While some people pace back and forth across the stage out of nervousness, others stand quite still and rarely move, as if they were rooted to the spot. Try not to pace from one end to the other. Instead, make deliberate moves across the stage that underscore your message.

Some people even choose to spend a brief amount of time standing in the audience as a way to make an important point.

Better than Power Point

You are your own best visual aid. Power Point slides and other visuals are great and have their place, but there is a tendency to hide behind them.

You – your movements, eye contact, gestures, and ability to engage the audience are your very best visual aids.

You can help keep your audience focused on you and your message when you take control of the stage and your movements.

What next?

Try marking out a space at home or in your office and practice moving and gesturing when you’re practicing a speech.

Once you have done it a few times, it will begin to feel very natural and you won’t even have to think about it. I would love to hear from you! How did it go?

Send me a note and sign up for my newsletter for more great tips on improving your speaking skills.

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Improve Your Conversation Game

Conversation should be a two-way street. We often assume it is, but how many of us really listen with the intention of learn something? Instead, we frequently think about what we want to say next when we should be listening. When we do that, we aren’t really listening.

Radio host Celeste Headlee talks about how to listen and why it’s important.

Small talk is an important function of everyday life, both in our business and personal lives. Some people are uncomfortable conversing with people – especially strangers – while others see it as a waste of time. As with many aspects of public speaking and conversation in general, understanding the person you want to talk with is a great place to begin.

Ask questions

Look at conversation as a chance to learn something you didn’t know before. If you are at a meeting or a party, go out of your way to say hello to people you don’t know instead of sticking with ones you do. Depending on the setting and the intention of the gathering, ask about their work interest and what brought them into the field. Asking questions opens up the floor for more conversation and gives you an opportunity to learn more about the other person.

Show genuine interest

Making conversation is easier and more fun if you really want to know more about a person. Ask follow-up questions and share common experiences you have had. Try and focus on what the other person is saying rather than what you plan to say next. People can usually tell whether a person truly cares about what they have to say or whether they are just waiting their turn to talk.

Don’t dominate the conversation

Pay attention to how much you are talking. Conversation means that each person is speaking for about half of the time and listening for the other half. If your conversation partner is having trouble getting a word in, pull back and allow her some room to talk. Remember that you are in a dialogue, not giving a speech. Conversely, don’t be shy about speaking up. Conversation runs both ways!

Be aware of the setting

Being aware of the purpose of the gathering will help you determine what kinds of topics and questions are appropriate. If you are at a business gathering, use caution in the kinds of questions you ask. Don’t overshare, especially when discussing your personal life with people you don’t know. Hearing too much about problems in your family can make people very uncomfortable and cause them to avoid you in the future.

Stay abreast of the news

Reading widely on current events, especially within your industry or personal interests, will help you think of discussion tops. It also encourages other people to tell you about their own interests and it gives you something to share when you meet new people in any setting.

Be Yourself

Most importantly, don’t try to be someone you’re not. People want to get to know you, not someone you’re trying to be. Relax and view small talk as something to look forward to by wanting to learn more about the people you meet.

Try incorporating one of these tips next time you are in an unfamiliar setting with people you don’t know.

Let me know how it goes and, if you have any conversation tips to add, I would love to hear from you so leave a comment or question below.

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Skip These 5 Things During Your Speech

Welcome back! I spend a lot of time talking with you about what to do as a public speaker. We’ve covered many of these, such as the best way to begin a speech, end a speech, motivate your audience, use visuals, and much more.

Today I want to flip that on its head by taking a look at some don’ts. Spending some time thinking about and practicing the “don’t” half of “dos and don’ts” can help you break any bad habits you might have. Let’s jump right in.

Don’t apologize.

When you take the stage or podium, your audience is rooting for you. They want to be engaged and entertained. They want to know more about you and what you have to say. Don’t kill that momentum right out of the gate by telling them that you aren’t a good speaker!

Don’t try to be perfect.

As the saying goes, perfect is the enemy of good. Don’t waste time rehearsing over and over and over with the goal of delivering a flawless speech. It’s more important to know your subject well enough to be able to talk comfortably about it. Michael Nuendorff talks about the importance of not trying to be perfect.

Don’t read your presentation.

Your audience is there to hear you and what you have to say, not read. If they were there for a reading, you could have easily sent them an email or handed out a flyer. They want to hear what you think about the subject. Your presence includes more than your voice. It’s your engagement with them through your gestures, stage presence, facial expressions, and everything else you bring with you that they want to experience.

Don’t race through your presentation.

If you are especially nervous, take a couple of deep breaths and release them on the way to the front of the room. When you face the audience, smile and relax before you begin speaking. We spoke previously about how to use a pause effectively and one of the ways was at the beginning of your presentation. Having some water nearby if it’s possible can help you take a moment to slow down once or twice during your talk. It is all too easy to turn a 20-minute presentation into a 10-minute one and leave the audience in the dust, wondering what you just said. Practice slowing down and making eye contact with individual people as you speak.

Don’t try to be someone you aren’t.

Just be yourself. If you’re not a truly funny person, don’t try to be a comedian during your speech. There is nothing worse than a joke badly told. Being your own honest self is the most effective path to audience engagement.

In a nutshell…

  • – Be yourself
  • – The audience is rooting for you
  • – Hit the brakes if you’re talking too fast
  • – You aren’t perfect (Don’t pressure yourself to be!)
  • – Consider your audience; why are they there and what do they need from you?

Do you have any “don’ts” to add? Let me know what you thought about today’s topic!

Please leave a comment below or let me know any questions you have. Give these hints a try and let me know what you think!


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Use Passionate Storytelling

Why You Should Tell Stories: Storytelling is an ancient form of passing on experience and wisdom. It’s also an effective tool in presentations and speeches. Stories create buy- in, making your audience want to know what happens next. But why are they so effective? Let’s take a look at three reasons storytelling works so well in professional settings in the video by Cultures AT Work below.

You’ll see that a well-told story invites your audience into an intimate setting, even in the largest of auditoriums.

How to Make Your Story Resonate:  Not just any old story will do. There are ways to improve your storytelling that will have a greater impact on your audience. Start by making it personal.

Make it Personal: The best stories come from your own personal experience. If you have lived through something yourself, you are the best person to talk about it. We know that they affect brain chemistry, too! The brain of a person listening to a story mirrors that of the teller’s and creates a powerful connection. It’s also easier to talk about something you have been through and learned from yourself. Stories about challenging personal experiences will create empathy in your listeners and make them want to root for you. Allow your emotions to show. Just as you should avoid reading an entire speech from your notes, you should avoid sounding like you are reading entries from a dictionary when you talk about your experience.

Identify the Parts: A good story has a beginning, middle and end. These three parts are often used as hooks on which to hang the parts of your story. Without them, your story can turn into a novel, where you ramble on and risk losing your audience along the way. Think about the last time you attended a wedding or other gathering where stores were shared. Was the story brief and compelling with a kernel of wisdom or humor included? Or did the speaker ramble on for several minutes, making everyone wonder what the point was? Having the parts of your story in mind as you speak will serve as a mental outline to help you get from beginning to end while keeping your audience engaged.

Rehearse and Record: The ubiquitous nature of cell phones with high-quality cameras makes it easier than ever to do some self-coaching. Prepare your remarks and your story and then record yourself making your presentation. Seeing yourself as your audience does makes is much easier to adjust your performance. Remember, storytelling is a performance and you are the actor! Take notes on what you want to improve and make changes, recording and reviewing until you like what you see.

Polish Your Storytelling Skills: Work on creating a great story for your next presentation by considering something that happened to you that connects to your next talk. Identify the beginning, middle, and end, and think about how it impacted your life. Practice integrating the story into your speech and record yourself making the presentation. How did it go? Let me know what you thought and how you made changes to your story based on what you saw.

For more on storytelling be sure to read the post Storytelling: Win Over Any Audience.  Also join the conversation below to tell me what you thought.

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The Importance of Body Language

The importance of body language can’t be overstated when considering how you present yourself to an audience. We know that about half of a communicated message comes from non-verbal cues.

Good body language seamlessly supports and underscores your verbal message and does not distract the audience from your presentation. Poor body language is noticed. It attracts attention and makes it hard for your audience to focus on what you have to say.

How can you avoid this? Think of your body as a tool to support you when you speak.

Eye Contact: Don’t read from your speech.

Your eyes are an important part of your body language. It’s important not to read directly from your notes. Doing so shows lack of confidence and an inability to connect with your audience. It will leave them feeling ignored and wondering why they are spending valuable time there.

Making eye contact with others, whether it’s one-on-one or in a group setting, is key to creating a positive impression and making your audience want to hear more.

Eye Contact: Fake it till you make it.

Your audience feels engaged when you look directly at them, but this doesn’t always have to mean direct eye contact. A good place to look is the forehead, especially when talking to larger groups of people. Scan the audience as you talk, referring to your notes occasionally as needed, and look at the upper part of people’s heads, moving down to the eyes as your confidence increases.

Your goal is to look at individual people in the audience, one at a time, as you move from point to point. Take a look at the video How To Make Eye Contact With Audience, where TJ Walker explains how President Bill Clinton does this.

Take a stand: Power Posing

A study in the journal Psychological Science showed that one-minute power poses cause changes in the brain of both women and men that result in an increase in self-confidence.

Step into an empty room or restroom and try posing like a superhero or a victorious runner with your arms stretched up over your head for 60 seconds before you take the stage.

In the video, 30 Seconds On Power Poses, Amy Cuddy shares the benefits of practicing this technique.

Take a stand: Don’t hide behind it.

If you have a podium, practice moving around behind it a bit rather than using it as a wall between you and your audience. If the microphone is attached to it, use forward and upward gestures to break the barrier. If you have the use of a larger space such as a stage or floor, use it! Move forward toward the audience when you want to emphasize a point. This will also force you to rely less on your notes.

Give it and try & let me know how it went!

Now it’s your turn. Review the exercise above and try out power posing, making better eye contact, or using the podium or stage you have the next time you speak and tell me what you thought. You can even put two or three of these exercises together for a real boost in audience engagement.

If you have enjoyed this post please let us know in the comments section below and be sure to share it with your friends!

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Perfect Practice – The New Rules For Giving A Speech

Practice does not make perfect anymore according to the new methods being embraced by today’s most effective communicators.

Instead, the new rules are more casual and direct such as you practice to perfect your talk. For example, you need to practice in front of a trusted audience to get good feedback and make adjustments according to their reactions.

“It takes one hour of preparation for each minute of presentation time.” Wayne Burgraff

Practice out Loud the Way You Will Give Your Speech Live

Although this won’t make you perfect, it does produce a lot of benefits. Reading your speech out loud may expose flaws that you may have missed in your editing. This will also allow you to gauge your excitement level for your topic, are you excited about or bored?

Also, you will be able to gauge your timing and boost your confidence by rehearsing your material.

There is no “right way’ to Give a Speech

The hard and fast rules of public speaking are changing and the days of boring lectures are over. In fact, speeches and presentations will become more interactive in the coming years.

Find your authentic style, what works for you, and doesn’t work for you and tweak it accordingly. Practice different ideas in front of your trusted test audience and get their honest opinion.

Find Your Own Voice

When preparing for your speech, pay attention to the tone of your voice and practice how you want your voice to sound in your speech. Your voice is an important element to how your listeners will judge your attitude, credibility, and sincerity. You can vary your pitch, rhythm and volume for emphasis and work expression in.

You need to do that throughout your speech or your voice will become monotone which will give your audience the impression that you don’t care about the message you are delivering.

Use Honest Even Harsh Feedback

To really gauge how you are doing, always solicit feedback even if you know it is going to be bad. You should make people aware that you really want honest feedback.

It could sting for a second but the best way for us to learn is from our mistakes. You may be repeatedly making a mistake that you are totally unaware of and since people don’t like to offer criticism no has ever told you. If you are doing a fabulous job and keeping everyone interested, your peers will be happy to tell you.

This is the wonderful thing about practicing in front of trusted individuals is that  you don’t have to worry about the pressure of a large audience and you can be practice being yourself.

Do not Practice in Front of the Mirror

Forget what everyone has always told you, practicing in front of the mirror does not work. This can sabotage your speech in a negative way if you are becoming self-conscious by focusing on flaws. The negative feelings can leave you less than enthusiastic to deliver your speech. Also, you will try to remain in full view of the mirror and this will limit your movements.

When preparing for your next speech remember to forget about a lot of the outdated rules you have learned and practice with the idea that practice does not make perfect but you practice to perfect your talk.

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