Memorizing Your Speech . . . Should You or Shouldn’t You?

May 17, 2021 by  

Memorizing your speech . . . should you or shouldn’t you? Here is the surprising truth about when memorization helps you nail a presentation!

What is the difference between a TED Talk and a phone call from a telemarketer?
Among other markers of quality and performance, it is this: The telemarketer usually sounds like he or she is reading from a script.  The TED speech? Well, that talk is scripted out too only the TED speaker doesn’t make it sound that way.
A key element to any successful speech is the focus.

Look into the question of whether you should memorize your speech and presentation  and virtually all of the advice you will find is the same: you shouldn’t do it. But I am not so sure. To be fair, I have said the same thing over the years to my speech coaching clients. Lately, though, I have been revisiting this matter in my mind and re-examining my own assumptions. Blame it, in part, on the fact that I am an actor.
Any actor whether performing on a stage, in a film, recording an audiobook or in a gig making sales calls prides himself or herself on the fact that it mustn’t sound like someone reading. Add to that thought this question: which type of spoken performances are generally the most dramatic, the most memorable, and the most emotionally powerful? Aside from a remarkable political speech or one addressing a historic moment, what we are talking about here is acting.

Do actors memorize their lines?  You know they do!  But their craft requires that they do it engagingly and in a way that doesn’t sound canned. So, to end this chain of logic: The problem with memorizing a speech isn’t the act of memorization. It is simply a bad performance in conveying the written material that makes it all obvious. There, as Hamlet said, is the rub.  In addition, if you get nervous, you will likely forget what you memorized and that certainly won’t be good.  Better to really know what you want to say.

As In All Public Speaking, the Key Is Performance
Again, think of actors: The whole point of a dramatic performance is to know the part line-by-line but to make it sound spontaneous and real. It is called “the illusion of the first time.” You, too, as a speaker should be giving your audience the same impression. Listeners the people who share your interest or dedication to the topic need to hear your thinking as you develop your argument, as your personality connects to what you are saying. As British director John Barton wrote, referring to acting performances, you should invent the phrase as you say it.

Obviously reading a script either literally doing so with a manuscript, or performing that action in your head isn’t going to lend your delivery that element of spontaneity and honesty. So should you just give yourself bullet points and trust that you will be able to phrase everything eloquently at the right moment?

Isn’t at least one solution to this challenge that you can memorize exactly what you want to say, and then work on making it sound natural and fresh? Believe me, you don’t have to be an actor to do this. If you learn how to develop exceptional presentation skills, you can make it happen.

So . . . Should You or Shouldn’t You?
One reason my thinking has been evolving on this issue is the fact that I have recently become a keynote speaker. When the speakers’ bureau I now work with asked me to kick off their new speakers series, I faced the issue I am discussing here. Motivational speakers don’t speak from notes. To deliver an impactful address, in precisely the amount of time a meeting or conference calls for, they need to shape their talk, know it cold, and be able to reproduce it time and time again. To do that, they memorize, as I now do my keynote speeches.

How about you? As in all things concerned with public speaking, the answer to the “memorize or not” question is contingent and situational. That is, the key considerations are the type of presentation you are giving, and whether you and your audience would be best served by a fully memorized and dynamically delivered speech. If necessity is the mother of your personal inventiveness and leads you to add this dimension to your speaking repertoire, don’t necessarily be cowed by the conventional advice.

In the end, the reason I usually do not recommend memorizing is because when one is nervous, as one often is when doing a presentation, you will likely forget what you memorized. That is why it is actually better to know your material backwards and forwards, inside out and in your sleep. PowerPoint or a similar tool is just that, a tool and serves two basic purposes, it reinforces your key points and reminds you, the speaker of the key points you want to elaborate upon. However, everything you are going to share with your audience about those keywords or short phrases should NOT be on your slides. Your audience can read your slide faster than you can speak it so better to have very few words on your slides. Besides, most people are not verbal learners, they are visual or hands-on learners. So the more interactive you can make your session and the more use of pictures or graphics, the more likely your audience will remember more of what you have told them.

Do remember to have fun, because you set the tone for the room and if you are nervous and anxious you will make your audience feel that way. However, if you are relaxed, calm and passionate about your material you have better chance of successfully engaging your audience and making sure they have fun as well.

The Voice of Authority: How to Sound Like a Leader

May 11, 2021 by  

Do you have the voice of authority and leadership when you speak? Here’s how to sound like a leader who projects power and presence!

Speaking with a figurative “leader’s voice” is one thing. Imbuing your actual voice with the sound of leadership is another matter entirely.
We often hear about the voice of a leader in terms of vision. But much depends upon your ability to actually speak in a way that compels attentiveness, trust, and respect. I’m talking about the sound of your voice and the power and presence you project.
It is possible to be weak-voiced and lead a company or organization. But in ways large and small, people will perceive you differently and be more willing to follow you when you invest the sound of your voice with the attributes of leadership.

The Dangers of Underperforming Vocally
Recently I worked with a client for whom vocal performance had become an overriding concern. She held a senior position in her company and held frequent meetings with her global team. It had become apparent to her and her boss, however, that her speaking style was undermining confidence in her leadership.
As a business coach specializing in Voice and Speech Improvement, I know this isn’t gender-specific. Both women and men may have problems achieving vocal dynamism. My current client had a “small” voice: it was underpowered and too light for someone in authority. Indeed, when I first taped her leading a simulated business meeting, she exclaimed, “I sound like a little girl!”
When I first started working as a speech coach almost thirty years ago, a consultant called me who was having problems with potential clients. They would question his level of experience in initial phone calls. “How long have you been doing this?” they would ask, and “How old are you?” When he walked into my office, I found myself facing a man in his 50s with white hair.
So there is no doubt that your voice impacts perceptions of you. Below are three ways you can attain the voice of authority if it isn’t carrying its own weight in your professional success.

1. Support Your Breath for Speaking Power
If your voice isn’t giving the impression of power, it is not entirely your fault. We live in an age where we simply don’t need to project our voices the way we once did. Few of us work outside anymore, where our voices needed to carry across distances.
It is all too easy now. Standing next to co-workers, holding a cell phone two inches from our mouths, or sitting two feet away from our webcams, we have turned into pale versions of the robust talkers we used to be. Yet our voices still need to convey our vitality as speakers.
The place to start is with supported breath that can effortlessly project the fullness of your sound. Learn how to breathe diaphragmatically. It is breath that creates the vocal energy you need to reach every part of your performance space and to sound like you mean business. You literally need energy to energize listeners, and to make essential words heard. Remember: the most important words in English usually come at the end of the phrase. Invest yourself with enough breath so you have the power to “punch” the idea or image embodied in those words.

2. Balance Your Sound to Achieve Authority
One reason my recent client, and many others I have coached, had a voice that sounded too young is that she spoke with too much “head voice.” A key distinction you should know about is the dichotomy between head voice and chest voice. If used exclusively, the former can come across as thin and lightweight; and the latter like an old stuffed chair left in the basement.
Yet each of these voices has advantages and disadvantages. A strong head voice can sound young, bright, intelligent and lively though its sound doesn’t carry well and possesses no authority. The chest-voice speaker, on the other hand, has ample supplies of that last characteristic, though he or she seems to lack spontaneity and has a “fuddy-duddy” sound.
As you might imagine, you shouldn’t speak entirely with either of these voices. You need a balance between head and chest voice. That is what I worked on with my recent client. The aim was to show her intelligence and flexibility, linked to experience and authority. She needed a more forceful voice that commanded attention.
Tape yourself, and listen to whether you are at one end of the spectrum or the other. Then work toward a happy medium.

3. Color Your Voice for Maximum Expressiveness
Finally, when you have enough breath support to power and sustain your voice, and you are speaking with a mature and balanced sound, you can go for the gold. It is time to develop a vocal style that uses the full-colour palette of emotions.
That is a metaphor I often use: colours. Too “pink” a voice, for instance, with work may begin to reveal more “burgundy” tones, reflecting maturity and fullness. Speaking in “greys” is possible, though that means there is an entire array of colouration not being used. A sad-sounding voice contains too many shades of “brown,” and so on.
Audiences need to hear the emotions behind your convictions! When you speak you are leading, and you need to tap into the subtleties and nuances that reflect your intelligence. Then, of course, there is the sheer power of the voice that supports a call to action.

To get there, practice passages from fiction and poetry, which offer the greatest range of emotions to be expressed vocally. Listen to audiobooks read by voice actors, the performers par excellence in this field. The above techniques will help lend you the voice of authority. Learn to use them and feel comfortable with them, as you inspire and influence those who look to you as a leader.