Vocal variety is conference room caffeine

In this ongoing series of engineering presentation tips, you’ll often see me blasting away at bad PowerPoint practices. Today, let’s focus on another key aspect of quality information delivery: you. Yeah, you know- the one up front with the lips flapping.

Many of the evils I’m trying to remove from your slides can also be softened through great vocal delivery. Unfortunately, most engineering presenters lack this skill entirely. Believe me, though, you can learn this!

Most people know that good speakers have eliminated every trace of “uh” and “um” from their delivery. That’s really the first rule all training programs force upon you. I’d suggest not starting there, however. It is too difficult in the beginning… and it distracts you from your message… which causes the anxiety level to rise… which causes more “uhs” and “uhms.”

Instead, I suggest first working on the big 3 of Volume, Pitch, and Speed. Don’t wait for your next presentation to practice, either. Start with your next phone call or lunch discussion. For each element, I want you to practice extreme fluctuation. Master them one by one, and then begin to mix them.

Note: when I say “extreme”, I mean what you think of as “extreme” times 10. You will be surprised at how far you can push the dynamics before a listener actually senses craziness. If you want to be a great speaker, you have to force yourself way outside your comfort zone.

I’m not suggesting that you pretend to be something you’re not, though!

I was once training a young engineer on conference room communication skills. He was a super bright guy, but naturally quiet and reserved. Most people would be shocked that he had a passion for riding Ducati sport bikes. When he got lost in a story about screaming through some back road on a crotch rocket, his dynamics for volume, pitch, and speed were radically larger than his normal speaking voice. But here’s the key… it was still the same guy! I suggested to him that this version of his voice might even be the most authentic version!

I’ll do a podcast demonstrating these skills in the next couple weeks. In the meantime, listen closely to Dan Carlin, a true master of the art. In these two episodes of his acclaimed Hardcore History podcast, Dan speaks for over two hours on ancient history. I guarantee you that the exact same words delivered by most engineering presenters would put audiences to sleep in under 10 minutes. Pay attention to how Dan expertly varies volume, pitch, and speed to bring the words to life.

Wrath of the Khans – Part I

Wrath of the Khans – Part II

Come on, what do you have to lose?
Practice at least one of these elements today!