Secret #8 – Keep your energy high.
Easily said and easily done. There are many breathing and visualisation exercises you can do, some excellent and some useless. I am not going to address these, I’m going to suggest something simpler and actually more powerful, and it’s this.
Keep your volume high. If you speak loudly enough, it has several highly useful effects. Firstly, it is the major part of the authority in your voice. It is nigh on impossible to sound knowledgeable and enthusiastic if you talk softly – unless you have massive position power, like Don Corleone, or Stalin. But the chances are that you don’t possess huge position power. Even if you did, it would be rash & arrogant to rely just on this to provide the power and gravitas for your talk.
Secondly, when you speak louder you are better able to engage all of the room. I know it sounds obvious, but it is too easy to assume that you are talking loud enough. Everything is context dependent – culture, size of room, size of audience, acoustics, background noise.
But here are a couple of secrets. Be aware of the soft or hard nature of the environment or room where you are presenting.
Most corporate environments are “hard” – there is often plenty of glass and wood, which reflect sound easily, the carpets are rarely plush and do not absorb sound easily. It is the “soft” environments that can easily muffle a speaker – soft, comfy furniture, thick plush curtains. These soak up the sound like a sponge – as do the audience. People too are like sponges for sound, so the larger the audience ( 20 and above) the more you will need to talk louder and louder still.
3 months ago I was invited to rehearse and coach a new CEO for a crucial talk to 150 of his staff, & we had never met before. He could only give me 90 minutes the evening before he was to give one of the most important talk of his life. This man was taking over the top position of a company with many problems, shaky morale, fears of job security and more. Not only did he need to address these issues but also make his mark and establish his credibility as the new CEO.
We did the rehearsal in the large empty conference room which could seat about 300. The audience chairs were arranged in 4-5 rows, slightly semicircle and from memory about 35-40 chairs. He stood on the podium and started to talk, and even with no one else apart from the two of us in the room, I could not hear him. I asked him to start again and double the volume. Still not much better. I asked him to double it again. And again. And again. 4 times – and only then was he just loud enough to reach the back and to convey the authority and enthusiasm he needed. He just couldn’t believe it. But he did what was needed. I called him the next day to ask how things went. Not only did it go very well, he had 15-20 people come up to him and shake his hand and thank him for his honesty, clarity and the human touch. He also received som e 25 emails saying similar things. I think you’ll agree that sort of response is pretty rare – & we’d only spent about 90 minutes together. I since went on to work with him & his confidence, gravitas and professionalism have increased three fold.
I have done the same thing countless times with clients. It’s a very common misconception that just to raise the loudness of your voice by 50% is enough for a bigger room. It isn’t. Every environment will have it’s own volume requirement – make sure you judge your volume accordingly.
When your volume is high enough, it ensures that your energy is high too – they go together. And an energetic talk is infinitely more engaging than a low energy one.