Few days ago I was attending a major conference, over a thousand delegates at MiCo in Milan. I took notice of my behaviour, and the one of people around me, it triggered a thought on the use of voice in public speaking and the lullaby effect.

Using the tail

Matter of fact, nowadays during a presentation a hefty part of the audience is using an electronic device: smart-phone, tablet or PC. At the same conference it was stated also by Gianmario Verona, University of Bocconi’s Rector, who said “…I cannot see you because the lights are blinding me, but I am quite sure many of you have your eyes on a screen…”. This isn’t necessarily bad, the public may not be distracted, simply they could be on Twitter or Instagram (Facebook or LinkedIn) sharing slides, ideas or thoughts from the presentation they are following. Whatever the case it is easy to get carried sideways and read another post, a comment or any other content it may be on the device. Point in case it is what happened to me. I shared an interesting slide, I checked one of the statements on Wikipedia… and slowly drifting into secondary listening.

I read my screen and with the tail ear I listened to the speaker, bringing back my focus on stage only when something peculiar catches my attention. Or so I believe I am doing, as I am going to tell you. What could have moved my eyes from the screen and concentrate back on the presenter? A video, a new slide, particularly if this has a change in luminosity since it easily enters the tail eye. In short any discontinuity, and here the presenter has a terrific weapon at her disposal to keep the audience engaged. It’s her voice.

One of the talks was very monotonous, at the end of it I came to realise I never raised my eyes from my tablet, but more significantly I lost almost all the content of the presentation. They were very productive 15 minutes, at least for getting rid of my inbox, but I have no clue of what was said. Surely not the aim of the presenter.

Using the voice

Thinking about it I find fascinating that in this hyper technological digital era one of the key factors is still the use of the voice, one of my 10 tips for public speaking. What should you do when is your time to present? Use your voice at its best, varying it. Don’t keep a constant tone, volume and rhythm. Try to use evocative words that can grab audience attention and make them raise their eyes from the screens. Without some vitality it can turn into a lullaby that will put the public to sleep or send them back to their devices.

Voice is a pillar of non verbal communication, don’t underestimate its power.

My advice

Should you study opera, take a leaf out of Adele’s book or learn to breath with the diaphragm as professional singers do? Surely it won’t hurt, but I don’t believe it necessary. Just focus on actively using your voice, as punctuation in your speech: commas, newlines, exclamation marks and question marks, three dots, don’t forget anything.

The last trick is to sound natural and true to yourself. It’s easy to accomplish, let your enthusiasm guide you when you speak before a group, your passion will colour your voice!