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Jun 22 2014

How to design your talks to engage an audience without resorting to nudity

When I saw my first business presentation 18 years ago, I was afraid that, in my attempt to apply my performing arts skills to business, I had fallen from grace into a pit of darkness and boredom. Since then, there’s been progress; there are many advocates for storytelling and other fresh approaches to presentations. However, many business people still sit through hours each day of text-heavy slides in dark rooms.

We know enough about connection and audience engagement to organize talks and presentations with that in mind. It’s not terribly difficult, but it is different from just putting a slide deck together. Here’s how to do it:

Start with intention

Create a statement of intention for your presentation, one that encompasses what you plan to accomplish. Intention is an aim that guides your action. For example, if you want to sell your listeners a product, that intention is different from just educating them about that product. though you may want to do both.

Make the intention lofty enough to inspire or motivate YOU and evoke imagination in your listeners. If you aren’t excited about your topic, how do you expect to engage your audience?

Build your content with action items (your aim) in mind, and filter out content that isn’t aligned with your intention. If you must use slides, try a fun alternative such as Prezi, or at least create slides that illustrate ideas rather than vice versa.

Create a structured, narrative flow

An important part of connecting with your audience is to look people in the eye, relate to them, and create interaction. Therefore you have to be able to keep the outline of your talk in your head. The flow I recommend is this, no matter how long the talk:

  • A good opening, three points and a strong close

Design the opening and close  to include evocative language that creates mental pictures (such as the title of this post :-) ); give people road signs to listen for along the way such as “I will show you three ways that we are going to be more successful than ever this quarter.” Use humor and personal stories, and always plan for a call to action in the close.

Use an overall story to keep it all together. In particular, consider the obstacle or problem that you are discussing and be sure it is included. In an article in NY Women in Communications online, Joan Dowling says, “By taking a client through the team’s journey to the “big idea” or product, by sharing the set-backs, wrong turns and successes along the way, a presenter can be far more inspiring and persuasive than by showing a series of heavily bulleted slides and superlatives describing the product.”

Respect time, leave them wanting more

With the use of a statement of intention, you should be able to limit your ideas and leave some for later. I was told once that Barbra Streisand only sang one high note per show so that people would always leave wanting more. Even if you aren’t a celebrity, use the “less is more” approach.

Then decide whether you will use a script or speak extemporaneously. The latter is almost always more engaging. However, it can be more challenging to keep to your time limit if you speak off the cuff.

Therefore, practice is essential. Practice giving your talk including all of your stories, and time yourself. Practice will also help you to get control of vocal filler such as “so” “um” and “aaaand so.”

Further reading:


Four Presentation Lessons from Larry King, by Carmine Gallo in Bloomberg

Five Tips for Powerful Audience Participation, by Jesse Scinto in Fast Company

Tips on Talking, Audience Engagement by Heather Stubbs


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Apr 06 2014

Help for Tired Voices: The 5 Habits of a Healthy Voice

Published by under vocal health,vocal power

It’s 4pm on a Thursday, and it’s been another long week of phone calls, meetings and non-stop talking. There is one more meeting on the calendar your voice is so nearly gone that it actually hurts to speak. It takes a lot of effort to get through the frog in your throat to find the energy to say what you need to say. You do it, but when you get home, you  just have to be alone or go to bed because you still have another day of this. You sigh as you remember that your weekend is probably shot, as that’s the only time you have to recover.  

Sound familiar? If this was a story from a teacher, I’d say that teachers often live this scenario. 10% of teachers have chronic problems with their voices. 52% of all teachers will miss work because of vocal problems such as laryngitis, or worse, due to vocal fatigue. However, these same statistics are likely to be showing up in the business world too. With the average work-day being more than 8 hours , and 70% of those who are employed working on weekends as well as weekdays, shorter lunch breaks, and more and more meetings that rely on voice to voice communication, more and more business people are experiencing the same tired voices as teachers due to non-stop talking. In addition, dysphonia caused by vocal problems (laryngitis, a crackly voice, or one with squeaks and pops) makes it more difficult for others to actually hear, and therefore, understand, what a person with vocal problems is saying.

Do you have vocal fatigue?

Voice professionals have named the resulting condition of vocal overuse “vocal fatigue.” You probably know if your voice is thrashed, but in case you are wondering, here are some symptoms:

• Chronic hoarseness without a cold or infection

• Chronic tickle in your throat when you speak

• Change in median pitch of voice

• Your voice “hurts” at the end of everyday and is hoarse first thing upon waking

• You have to clear your throat often and hydration doesn’t help

Who let the frogs out? R and R for tired voices, the answer to vocal fatigue is rest- vocal rest as well as physical rest. Don’t speak at all for a weekend and you may be ok by Monday, unless there is permanent damage such as nodules (callouses on the vocal folds,) or you have an illness that’s exacerbated the problem. There is also an exercise you can do that is recommended by otolaryngologists, and involves blowing into a straw. (Yes, a straw!)

More than half of people who have to use their voices as teachers do will train their voices to tolerate such usage by gradually increasing usage, thus creating more endurance. However, the others will experience ongoing vocal problems, whether chronic or occasional. Some will eventually have to have surgery or even change careers due to damage done by vocal fatigue.




5 Habits of a Healthy Voice to Practice Now

It is possible, however, to cultivate habits that strengthen your vocal folds and make it less likely that you will experience vocal fatigue. Here are five new habits you can start developing right now to create better vocal health, even if your voice is often stretched to the limit.

1. Drink lots of water. Water is essential to a healthy larynx.  The larynx is a low-priority organ so it gets hydrated after the heart, brain, lungs and skin have taken their share. If you use your voice a lot as a speaker, singer or professional, you need more water in your diet than the average person. Keep some at your desk and sip all day.

2. Rest your voice every two hours or more. Leave room in your calendar for a 15-20 minute break after every two meetings or conversations. No talking. Better yet, rest and do nothing. It takes ¾ of your body energy to make a vocal sound so a little refresh every couple of hours is highly recommended. During that time, meditate or do some office yoga. If your voice still gets tired, when you feel the fatigue start to come on, write notes to people instead of talking.

3. Avoid iced drinks. Room temperature or warm liquids will aid in healing and feel soothing to a tired larynx. You may also enjoy warm tea with honey and lemon, or you may find other non-dairy warm drinks to be soothing.Tee Salbei - tea sage 01

4. Speak at the right pitch. When your voice gets tired the pitch often drops because the vocal folds swell up. It may be easier to let yourself speak at this lower pitch, but it’s not good for your voice. To find the right pitch, say “mmm-hmm,” like an enthusiastic “yes.” The pitch area you use for that is the right place to be speaking. It may feel high, especially when your voice is tired, but try it. Use a pitch pipe or musical instrument to keep yourself at the right pitch level, practice this and make it a new habit in order to avoid vocal fatigue.

5. Use mask resonance. Mask resonance is the buzz that is created when the sound resonates in the front of your face. It’s the healthiest place for a voice to resonate and also the most attractive to others. Cultivate the habit of speaking with this buzz in order to strengthen your voice and prevent further problems. To find it, once again you can use the “mmm-hmm” to feel the buzz. Or click here for an audio clip that will take you through the steps to find and use it.

Finally, if you do experience vocal fatigue that is bad enough to hurt and cause you to lose your voice, stop talking and rest. And see an otolaryngologist if it doesn’t heal after a few days or if it’s a recurring problem.

Special Note:

World Voice Day is celebrated on April 16th every year. Find out about events in your area for access to great resources for vocal health.

Further reading:

Compilation of posts on “how to create a strong voice” on Kate’s Voice

Just say no, How your meeting habit is harming you ,on Forbes

Does The Teacher’s Voice affect children’s language processing and test performance?







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