Tag Archives: speaking

How to speak so others want to listen

Blue hills

Don’t look at me in that tone of voice, it smells a funny colour.

It’s a popular saying from way back, and it carries a lot more meaning than at first appears.  “That tone of voice” implies a critical note, and one that causes offence.  Equally, you can convey much more than the words you use, through the way you speak.  In the words of the song, “It ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you say it.”

The way you use your voice can make you persuasive and plausible, or it can lose you business.  It can inspire people to follow you or it can distance them from you.  Unfortunately, too many people cause upsets without realising it, just through their tone of voice.

Does it matter?  Only if you want people to like you.

Can you do anything about your voice?  Almost certainly.  It depends on two things: your mental attitude and certain physical changes.  I’ll come to those in a moment, but first let’s consider some typical situations in which the tone of voice has played a major role.

I was running a training session in which I introduced the idea of the Elevator Speech.  It’s something I do very frequently, and I usually do it the same way.  I start by asking all the delegates present “What do you do?” and inevitably they give me their job titles.  I then jokingly say, “That’s so BORING!” and they all laugh.  Not this last time, though.

There must have been something on my mind as I said it, and it upset the people there.  Later they said I had been rude.  Whatever had been on my mind, it changed my tone of voice.  Everything else was exactly as it has always been – or so I thought.  But that slight, almost imperceptible change in my tone, made it sound as though I was being rude instead of funny.

Now consider the way you sound on the phone.

A customer calls and asks a question.  You are a bit busy, but you want to be helpful, so you give what you consider to be an efficient answer, to the point and without wasting the caller’s time.  You think you’ve done a good job.  The caller, on the other hand, may go away thinking you have been rather offhand, possibly even rude.

If you have a tape recorder, use it to understand the effect of your tone of voice.  Record yourself speaking on the phone to different people – a supplier, a customer, a friend, a family member.  Record yourself asking for help, and record yourself giving information.  Is there a difference?

The principal difference in attitude is this: when you are asking for help, you are the supplicant, the other person is the dominant.  When you are giving information, the roles are reversed.  The sales person is the supplicant, the client is the dominant.  As supplicant we use a more appealing tone of voice.

Not everyone in a dominant role will use a less attractive voice, but the temptation is there.  Check out your own voice and see if you detect a difference.

So what can you do to make your own voice sound more attractive? Here are a few simple techniques:

  1. Keep a mirror on your desk to check if you are smiling when speaking – until it becomes a natural thing to do.
  2. Practise speaking lower than usual, especially if your voice is high pitched.
  3. Get feedback from trusted friends on the sound of your voice.  Change what they don’t like.
  4. Sit up straight. Posture affects the voice.
  5. Drink lots of water, especially if you do a lot of talking on the phone.
  6. Practise proper breathing from the diaphragm.
  7. Put a note on your desk that reads: “Hello old friend!” to remind you to speak to everyone as you would to an old friend you haven’t seen for ages.

Be friendly, show everyone respect and develop a mellifluous sounding voice.  It’s an unbeatable combination.

For help with your own voice, go to http://www.phillipkhan-panni.com.

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Even Brian Tracy can get it wrong!

Shooting foot small

Brian Tracy is a highly regarded ‘guru’ in the field of self development – a self-styled Best-Selling Author and Success Expert. He’s someone I have long respected for the wisdom he writes and says. But today I received a promotional email from him that put a severe dent in that esteem. This is what he wrote:

“According to Albert Mehrabian of UCLA, there are 3 elements in any direct, face-to-face communication. They are the elements of words, tone of voice, and body language.

The Elements of Words

 Words only account for 7 % of any message.”

When I first heard that claim, I thought, “What rubbish!” Then a friend of mine, the late Philip Smee, delivered a speech on the subject, in which he revealed that even Albert Mehrabian would have said the same.

It is now well established that Dr Mehrabian never made such a claim, and spends his time denying it. His test results have been repeatedly quoted out of context. So when Brian Tracy repeats the error, I am concerned about the quality of his research and of his understanding of the communication process.

Earlier in the same email, Mr Tracy wrote, “Nearly 85% of what you accomplish in your career and in your personal life will be determined by how well you can get your message across …”

And also, “Nearly 99% of all of the difficulties between human beings, and within organizations are caused by breakdowns in the communication process.”

As I am in the business of improving the communication skills of my clients, I want to use those stats. I want to quote Brian Tracy as the authority for them and for the notion that effective communication skills are vital for business leaders.

Like him, I believe that good communication skills will help you achieve clarity in what you think, say and do, and help you become known as a respected communicator wherever you go.

I want to quote him. But, as he has joined the legions who mis-quote Albert Mehrabian, should I do that?

I once walked out of a seminar in which that same Mehrabian mis-quote was made, on the grounds that the speaker couldn’t teach me anything if he was prepared to trot out that old chestnut. Because I have held Brian Tracy in such high esteem for so many years, I hesitate to dismiss him out of hand.

But I think he’s shot himself in the foot.


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Deliver what it says on your tin

I was looking for inspiration.  I have been running public speaking programmes for many years and wondered if I was missing a trick. Perhaps I could still learn from others in the business. So I turned to a book written by a highly-acclaimed ‘expert’, only to be disappointed.

My expectations were high, and I was ready to be impressed. But 100 pages into the book I still have not found a single insight worth adding to what I already know. Worse, the author (who is English) has done what I find more common among Americans – he talks ‘about’ the topic rather than the topic itself.

He talks about certain typical situations in which the communication fails, but he doesn’t explain the dynamics, and takes forever to provide the solution. Moreover, when the answer arrives, it’s pretty ordinary.

That’s the word! Ordinary. This famous expert’s flagship work is just plain ordinary.

I turned to another book, this one written by an American. The title was attractive, saying exactly what I was looking for. The author has won awards for speechwriting.

Then I came across this: “Try some Self-Depreciating Humour”.

It should, of course, have been “self-deprecating”, and it was not a typo. The fault lay with the author. It’s quite a common error among Americans.

I closed the book. And as I did so, I recalled the time I spoke at the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers, and told of the rivalry between two orators in ancient Greece: Demosthenes and Aeschines.

An American speaker approached me later and said he sometimes told that same story himself, but related it to Demosthenes and Cicero. I gently pointed out that they were born nearly 300 years apart, so they could hardly have been rivals. If I were ever in his audience, I would have a problem with his credibility.

If you are going to stick your head above the parapet, as author or speaker, you’ve got to get it right, you’ve got to check your facts, you’ve got to deliver what it says on your tin. How quickly we can lose a following, just by failing to meet expectations

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Ed Milliband: could do better

The Opposition Leader’s speech to the Trades Union Congress was certain to fail. It revealed him as a work in progress, rather than a well rounded leader. The evidence is in the text as well as in his delivery.

It was a typical example of a speech put together without a proper understanding of its likely effect on the listener. I was prompted to write this critique by the extract that was played on the 10 o’clock news, in which he sounded like a middle manager with limited experience of public speaking. The only thing missing was “And I mean that most sincerely!”

The main weakness in his text was the disjointed rhythm which, on occasion, forced the listener to switch off in order to make sense of what he had just said. Here’s one example:

It’s how you unions and employers worked together to keep people working even during the most difficult moments of the recession. Putting jobs above pay rises. Working fewer hours in order to protect employment. Flexibility yes. Exploitation no. And nowhere is that more true than when it comes to zero hours contracts.

Ignoring, for the moment, the cumbersome language (as in the final sentence), consider the leap you have to make from “jobs above pay rises … working fewer hours …” to take in the comparison he draws in the next four words. In one step he has gone from praising the co-operation between unions and employers to rejecting exploitation. What exploitation? By whom? In what context?

He frequently interrupts himself. He does it in interviews, and he did it in this speech.  His opening paragraph was designed to surprise his audience by revealing that a former Tory PM was in tune with today’s Labour Party. But the way he addressed his own punch line was this: “Yes, I am talking, believe it or not, about …” That ‘believe it or not’ totally ruined it, both because it interrupted the flow and because it cast doubt on the story’s credibility.

Here’s another example: “Now I recognise, as do you …” Try saying it. And think about his intention. Clearly he wanted to say “we both know”, but he chose a clumsy and even cheesy form of words. He could have reversed the sentence with something like this: “Both workers and employers need flexibility. I know that, you know that.”

In another paragraph he had this:

The million young people looking for work. It is not their recovery. The long term unemployed, higher than at any time for a generation. It is not their recovery. The 1.4 million people, more than ever before, desperate for full time work …”

‘Scuse me, didn’t you just say a million people were looking for work? How did that suddenly become 1.4 million?

If you are going to throw numbers around, make sure you distinguish one from another. And get the grammar right. “The long term unemployed, whose numbers are at their highest for a whole generation” makes more sense.

His (almost) final paragraph had a weak attempt at an ascending tricolon: “High stakes for your members. High stakes for working people. High stakes for our country. We’re in the fourth year of this government.”

Eh? Where’s the punch line about high stakes? Why the sudden switch to another subject, from high stakes to government? It needed something like, “And high stakes mean high risk. High risk for you, for me, for all of us. Do you want to take that risk?”

Ed Milliband needs a new speech writer if he is going to stand a chance in the run-up to the next election. He himself needs help in understanding the difference between the text that’s written to be said and the text that’s written to be read — even before work on developing some gravitas.


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Why make a speech?


Recently I attended the local Toastmasters Area and Evaluation contests. It was a revelation.

Almost all the speeches delivered that day were without purpose. Or, to be more precise, they had little relevance to, or value for, the assembled audience.

This is not intended as a criticism of the speakers, all of whom are at various levels of the learning process. They cannot know unless they are told what a speech is for.

Their speeches were either self-centred or simply narratives.  In the evaluation contest, for example, a speech was delivered by an invited speaker who told a charming tale of her time in Japan. She told it well, and it was interesting, but it was not a speech.

In simple terms, the purpose of a speech should be to bring about Change — in the thinking, attitude or behaviour of the audience. What passes for speeches most often could better be described as an entertainment, a confession, or a declaration. If the audience thinks, “Why do I need to hear this?” or “How is this relevant to me?” it fails as a speech.

When I am training people in public speaking, I sometimes don a surgical mask and tell them how people in Tokyo may be seen in public places wearing similar masks — not to protect themselves from that city’s infamous smog, but because they have head colds or other infectious ailments. They wear the masks to protect others from their germs.

So my question is this: is your speech for your own benefit, or for the sake of others? That’s a good starting place for any speech.  Or presentation.

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15 Top Tips for Public Speaking

It seems to me that the main reason why people get anxious about speaking in public is that they are not sure what is expected of them. If you have a speech or presentation to deliver, here are 15 tips to help dispel that anxiety by making sure you are well prepared.

These tips will help you feel confident that you know your stuff, and also that you know why and how it will be relevant to your audience.

Tip 1: Imagine you are speaking just to me and answer this question: What do you want me to know?

Tip 2: Tell me why should I care about what you want me to know.

Tip 3: Why do I need to hear it from YOU? What’s your special connection with the message?

Tip 4: Would you pay to hear YOU speak? If not, why not?

Tip 5: Record your voice and ask yourself and some close friends if your voice is attractive. If not, make changes.

Tip 6: What’s your reason for speaking? Money? Influence? Ego? Passion? When you are clear about it you’ll be more focused.

Tip 7: When you have credible answers to tips 1-6, write your Core Message (the ‘carry away’) in a single sentence. That’s the message you should drive home when you speak.

Tip 8: Develop your message in 3 streams of argument or thought, e.g. Problem / Consequence / Solution.

Tip 9: Decide on your call to action. What do you want people to do when you have finished speaking?

Tip 10: Create an opening ‘Hook’ — something unexpected or dramatic that grabs attention right at the start.

Tip 11: Write out and learn your opening and closing paragraphs. Just use prompts for the rest, to sound more natural.

Tip 12: Decide on the ‘point of arrival’ or climax of your speech or presentation and build up the energy to that point. Your second ‘climax’ should be at the end.

Tip 13: Practise in front of a mirror or camcorder. Watch your gestures and body language.

Tip 14: When you are confident of your text, answer (aloud) the questions in Tips 1-3.

Tip 15: Unless you are in a speech contest, don’t try to give a world class performance. Just be sincere and passionate.

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Connect with your audience

It was the Final of the annual Anglo-Irish public speaking contest. A long-standing Toastmaster with a good record in these contests took to the stage, and the largely Irish audience pulsed expectantly.

It was a brilliant text, full of clever linguistic jokes, puns and even verbal pictures. But one minute into the speech, the audience’s expectations had been replaced by a sympathetic tolerance, as they disconnected from the speaker and waited politely for him to finish.

What went wrong?

Two things: first, it was a written text, not a spoken one. The text that’s written to be read is not the same as the text that’s written to be said.

Secondly, it was a recitation from memory. The speaker spoke AT the audience, not TO them. They sensed it and reacted accordingly.

The language was too clever to be received and understood on the run, at 150 words a minute. Some of the vocabulary was unfamiliar, the sentences were long, and the meaning of some sentences was obscured by subordinate clauses. It’s like telling a story, and breaking off in the middle to give some background material that adds nothing to the story, but gets in the way.

The speaker had written the text, and on the stage he was focused on recalling all 900 words (or thereabouts) in the right order. You could see it in his eyes. That’s one of the biggest dangers of delivering a speech from memory.

The next speaker started by throwing fortune cookies into the audience, which engaged their attention immediately. He then related his message to the message in his own fortune cookie, speaking to the audience in terms that they readily understood and could relate to. So of course he won.

To help you avoid a misconnection with your next speech or presentation, when you are preparing your material just imagine a member of your audience asking you these three questions:

1. What exactly do you want me to understand and remember?
2. Why should I care about that?
3. Why do I need to hear that from you (and not someone else)?

When you are delivering your speech, imagine that same person sitting somewhere near the front, waiting for you to answer those 3 questions.


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