Choosing the right speaking style can be critical.
I learned this lesson the hard way. I was giving a workshop with a colleague, and I’d been warned in advance it was a tough crowd—half the room dropped out at the last second, and the other half was not enthused to be there. As I began to speak to the group I noticed people looked annoyed about attending the event, like they’d rather be working at their desk. So I thought maybe they needed more enthusiasm, more energy. The more I gave them the less I gained in return.
It wasn’t until my co-presenter took the floor that they began to warm up. He spoke gently, with subtle, softer motions than I used. The people showed greater interest and asked thoughtful, engaging questions.
When I look back at that experience, it’s clear to me now that I simply missed the mark. I was trying to speak in a way I thought was effective, not what actually worked for the people sitting in front of me. Now, with a few more years of experience under my belt, I know that one of the most powerful skills any speaker can hone is knowing what speaking style to employ—and with whom.
The way you usually speak is only one part of your range. There are other aspects of your voice and personality you can engage when needed.
1. The motivator: standing ovations should always come last during a speech.
One of the most successful motivational speakers is Tony Robbins.
He encapsulates all the qualities of the motivator style of speaking: fast-paced, intense, strong voice, and choppy gestures. It’s about speed and energy and tone—Tony does them all and does them well. It’s why he can speak to a room full of 10,000 people and keep them engaged for 10 hours with no bathroom breaks.
More than that, he can inspire them after an event to do things they once thought impossible—like walking across hot coals.
I’ve seen it first-hand. I was at one of Tony’s conferences and even though I was far from the stage, sitting in the middle of a crowd of 10,000, I felt compelled to take my shoes off and walk those coals. The loud, pumping music and massive screens with Tony’s face on them may have helped, but the other speakers who shared the stage with him didn’t have the same impact. As they spoke the audience’s attention drifted.
It was Tony’s motivator style that enthused our interest.
Now, you don’t want to be all motivator all the time. Remember: picking your style to match your audience is key. You also don’t need to pretend to be a giant American or anything other than yourself. You simply engage the motivational aspect of your vocal range. So, while working through your next presentation, pick your motivational moment and practice dropping in and out of that style. Consider when you’d most want to compel your audience to do a certain action and add energy to your voice and gestures, picking up the pace and intensity. Be authentically motivated about your idea and remember nobody will be more enthusiastic about your words than you appear, so do them justice with.
2. The commander: speak with intention and respect.
Sometimes you’ll need to deliver a message with gravitas, in which case your delivery must match the weight of your words.
At Body Talk, we frequently coach leaders. They want to know how to command a room while garnering respect but still keeping attention. This is where the commander style comes in.
Barack Obama, for example, made the switch from motivational to the commander style of speaking. He gradually transitioned from his rapid-fire and energized style early in his 2008 Presidential campaign, to using pauses and speaking in a controlled, lower tone during his inauguration speech.
That’s a very high-stakes switch to make, and if he had made the wrong choice, he would have lost the respect of millions of people across the globe.
You should apply the commander style when speaking about issues of grave importance, a potentially sensitive nature when addressing a room of executives, or board members. You can do this by slowing down your voice, lowering your pitch and making smooth, controlled gestures. Palms-down hands can be very effective here.
Remember: you don’t have to keep the same style for the entirety of your speech. While it may need to be the dominant feeling of your presentation, you can also switch out to motivator or another style to keep the pace and style varied enough to keep your audience engaged.
3. The entertainer: loosen up a little.
Sometimes you need to break away from the serious, high-status delivery and have some fun.
The entertainer style is characterized by more animated facial expressions and loose gestures, higher pitch, and a willingness to move around the space more freely. It is, essentially, feeling comfortable enough to lighten up and be the more playful aspect of yourself.
All too often people think that in order to do this they need to tell jokes. It’s okay if you’re not a comedian—loosening up isn’t always going to come from a well-timed punchline. Instead, think about how you hold yourself or talk with friends when you’re having a good time. You can employ that same body language and speaking style at the beginning of your talk when you’re visiting and mingling with audience members.
You can even try applying it to emphasize more serious moments—perhaps to indicate the craziness of a bad situation. It helps your audience to laugh at the absurdity of the situation and feel less disheartened.
But it also provides a contrast in tone. Your audience will be sure of when you’re serious because they will also know when you’re joking. If you are serious all of the time your important messages will have less impact, because everything will sound the same.
4. Facilitator: get the audience up and moving during your speech.
Remember the audience my colleague won over during our workshop together?
It was his facilitator style that won the day. The facilitator is less about talking and more about listening. So much time and preparation are given to delivering your message that sometimes we forget communication is a two-way street. Facilitator mode creates the opportunity for people to collaborate with you, in a communal sharing of ideas. It includes using softer tones and gestures, speaking more slowly and having warmth in your voice and facial expressions.
It’s a great way to get an otherwise tough room engaged with you and to open up tough discussions to ensure people feel heard.
The most important thing to remember is that the way you usually speak day to day is simply a habit. It is not your full range. You have so much more of yourself to offer people, so make sure you expand your options, free up your voice and be ready to shift how you speak to best serve the people around you and your message.