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Public Speaking Know How
Public Speaking Know How
Megaphones, Microphones and Bullhorns: Using the VOICE to enhance your delivery
Have you ever used a bullhorn? Blowing the horn to get the crowds’ attention and hearing your voice through the high-powered PA system is empowering. Just as a bullhorn is powerful, so is your voice. Using your voice effectively will not only ‘sound the trumpet’ and get their attention, but keep their attention with amplified speakers and adjustable volume.
As a public speaker, your goal is to keep the audience interested. If your content is good, the pendulum shifts to the delivery. The idea is to recreate the effect of a bullhorn without causing irreversible hearing damage.
To start, practice a more conversational style over a wooden, rehearsed ‘one-note’ delivery. Being a conversational speaker builds trust and likeability. An audience doesn’t want to be yelled at or preached to...they want to be engaged...to be part of the conversation. There's probably never been a more conversational presidential public speaker than George W. Bush. Regardless of your politics, he's the guy you want to sit on the front porch with and enjoy a glass of sweet tea.
If you take a look at the 'bullhorn video' you'll witness the engagement from the audience...the cheers, the 'hoorahs', and the applause. It's a time when the country was broken and needed encouragement. As a public speaker, you may not hear the cheers of a crowd but you may witness a powerful non-verbal dialogue. If you’re connecting with the audience as a speaker, you’ll see eye contact, head nodding, forward movement, an audience at full attention. It’s a satisfying feeling to get that much commitment from your audience.
As a public speaker, one of the keys to establishing the trust and likeability connection is to be conversational. The voice is a remarkable tool for speakers to refine, retool, and perfect. In order to develop a more conversational tone, you have to practice. Writing good content and practicing the presentation go hand-in-hand.
To produce a conversational tone, a speaker has physical access to volume, pitch, pause, rate, pronunciation and articulation of words that assist in generating the desired quality of voice.
When investigating the venue for your speaking engagement, it’s important to determine the size of the room. If there’s no microphone, you’ll need to estimate how your voice will travel from the front of the room to the back. If the room’s large, you’ll need a microphone.
If a microphone is needed, always check the equipment before going ‘live’. Oftentimes, there are adjustments that need to be made. It’s not always the quality of the sound system, but the placement of the microphone.
As a cheerleader in high school, I remember the thrill of being 'cheer captain' for a week. Captain translated into choreographing the routines, deciding the order of the entire ‘show’, and manning the microphone. Having the entire student body focus all attention on me while introducing cheers, chants, events, and ball players was quite the thrill. (I’d mentioned being afraid on stage, I believe this was an adrenaline rush).
After the pep rally, the HS Choral Director, Loretta Whitaker approached me and said, “There’s something wrong with your voice.” I told her nothing was wrong. I wasn’t sick and felt good. She said, ‘I thought something was wrong because you sounded like Minnie Mouse.” She said I was holding the microphone too close causing a ‘squeaky’ distortion. I was deflated.
If the venue is outside, you might want a microphone or bullhorn. In one of the Life Stories written for WKY Community Living, Ruth Gunther was mentioned. She was the Drill Corp coach for the dance team. She literally carried a bullhorn around with her on a regular basis. Gunther was more of a drill sergeant than a coach but her no nonsense ‘get it right’ attitude was effective.
Pitch deals with the rise and fall of one’s voice. Think about sentence structure when checking pitch. If you’re making a statement, the pitch goes down. If you’re asking a question, the pitch goes up.
In the movie ‘Perfect Pitch’, acapella singers focused on staying in harmony. Without an instrumental accompaniment, every out-of-tune note was a ‘screech’ fest. As a speaker, try focusing on an ‘Easy Listening’ voice. It’s the voice that’s mellow and hits all the right notes. For some, it comes natural. For others, it takes practice.
Pauses can be very effective when used properly in public speaking. If there’s a period or a coma in your written speech, take a breath or a short pause when speaking out loud. If you’re asking a rhetorical question, insert a longer pause. Again, this is about rehearsal time and figuring out what seems natural.
Pauses give the speaker time to soak in the moment and the audience time to absorb the words. There’s got to be time to breath and feel the energy in the room. The only way to do this is to slow down and pause. 99% of the time, a speaker never takes too many pauses (unless they lose their place while speaking)
Practicing the pause will help eliminate vocal utterances like ‘uhs’, ‘ums’, and ‘ers’. For some, these distracting verbal stalls are due to lack of rehearsal time. For others, it’s the uncomfortable silence or the pause. A more intelligent and prepared speaker will use the silence or pause as opposed to the audible pauses. Taking the planned pause controls the pace of the speech. You’re able to create a rhythm. The more you practice, the more you’ll find it relaxing.
The rate of a speaker's voice depends on several factors. Geography may play a role on how fast or slow one speaks. Southerners tend to talk slower and have a bit of a draw while Northerners speak staccato and are more uptight.
The audiences’ level of education may determine how fast or slow a speaker presents their message. When Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech, his rate of speech was slower. The audience was less educated, requiring MLK to slow the pace. The estimated number of words per minute was 92. In contrast, President John F. Kennedy recorded a number of speeches at 180 words per minute. That’s some fast talkin’.
Speakers that use timing for theatrics may use speed to their advantage. As the drama heats up, so does the speed. If the speech is nearing the end, the pace may begin to slow as if a spotlight descended on stage and slowly faded until dim.
If you’re nervous, the rate of speech will automatically accelerate. It’s best to practice your speech numerous times and clock the time. If the words per minute are too fast, try to slow it down or add more content. Typically, speakers talk between 100 and 150 words per minute.
Pronunciation of words is only a distraction if there’s a word that causes a tongue-tie. The only way a speaker will know if a word is hard to pronounce is by saying it out loud. If you can’t pronounce a word, find another word.
Articulating words may only require some physical adjustment. Articulation is the physical act of using your tongue, jaw, teeth, lips and palate. If you mumble, you’ll need to practice opening your mouth, ‘saying your words’, as your mother might say. If you don’t have a speech impediment or a hearing problem, there’s no reason not to articulate your words.
Just as singers warm up their voices by singing the scales, so must a speaker practice the proper way to enunciate words. Enunciation is how clearly a person says a word and how clearly the sound is made. Anyone who can articulate can learn to enunciate.
Creating a more conversational tone while speaking increases audience’ attention, likeability, trust, and overall enjoyment. The connection is one of warmth and sincerity. The audience isn’t easily fooled, sincerity plays a huge role in building the kind of relationship needed to retain an audience. Sound your bullhorn and amplify your voice. It’s good to be ‘cheer captain’.
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Liz Latta, Editor/WKCTC Instructor with over 15 years teaching experience. Master's Degree in Organizational Communications from Murray State University