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Executive communications expert Dianna Booher gives tips to avoid monotonous presentations

Without a doubt, the most prevalent problem among business presenters is the monotone. When they speak for only 5-15 minutes, the audience survives, but longer than that and they escape via cell phones, tablet, or hallways. So what to do if you suspect you may be the presenter causing this distress?

Three tips to slay this monotone monster:

Improve Your Posture

Voice quality involves breathing properly. You can’t breathe properly if you don’t stand properly. Without standing properly, you can’t inhale to full lung capacity. Without taking enough air into your lungs, you can’t breathe out enough air to talk with the intensity needed to sound strong and energetic. So stand up straight, expand your lungs, and take in enough air so you can speak with energy and force behind your words. Make sure the surroundings (of your caved-in body) don’t force you into a low-energy monotone.

Become the Highlighter, If Not the Headliner

Have you ever had someone say to you, “I heard what you said. But I didn’t get your point”? If so, chances are that this is what they meant: “Everything you said was expressed with equal emphasis. I didn’t understand your real overriding concern (or issue).”

To make sure others understand where your emphasis falls, something has to pop out of the pack of words.

Consider the highlighter principle to increase your vocal presence. Imagine using a yellow highlighter (or pink, green, or orange maybe) to mark key ideas in a favorite book, article, or instruction manual so that they stand out for later review.

When speaking, your voice inflection acts as that highlighter for the listener. You punch (inflect, emphasize) those words harder with volume and intensity; you pause before and after them longer so that they stand out from the rest of the sentence. Because your listeners have neither a script nor a highlighter to follow along as you speak, your vocal variation has to mark key ideas for attention and recall.

Most people highlight well in casual conversations––about the movie they saw last weekend, their favorite sports team, or the current project that has them puzzled. That is, they raise or lower their volume. They speed up and slow down. They emphasize key words. Consider the following comment and how the meaning changes with each variation, depending on which word is highlighted or emphasized:

“The CLIENT didn’t say Robert was upset about the decision.”

“The client DIDN’T say Robert was upset about the decision.”

“The client didn’t SAY Robert was upset about the decision.”

“The client didn’t say ROBERT was upset about the decision.”

“The client didn’t say Robert was UPSET about the decision.”

“The client didn’t say Robert was upset about the DECISION.”

Highlighting—my term for vocal variety—conveys your meaning.

Recharge Your Vocal Energy with Movement

Your speaking pattern follows your physical movement—not the reverse.

When presenters stand in one spot to address a group, they often lose all sense of natural inflection, pacing, and pausing. Their voice pales to pathetic. Don’t let that happen to you.

Stay conscious of the link between your physical energy and your lips. Make others feel your energy as you drive home a key point. Move. Walk to a different spot in the room to deliver a different point. Use the entire conference room as your platform. When appropriate, gesture with your entire body. Become your own prop when you need one. Use your hands. Animate your face. Get the blood flowing.

Movement takes energy. The more energy you exert as you move, the more energetic and natural your voice will sound.

Modulate, modulate, modulate. A monotone voice projects a monochrome personality—one dimensional: low energy, mousey, uninteresting, timid.

Your voice can be a powerful tool to control a conversation, command a crowd, communicate a culture, and ultimately create a career. Don’t let the monotone monster defeat you.

Dianna Booher, an expert in executive communications, is the author of 46 books, published in 26 countries and 20 languages.  Her latest books include Creating Personal Presence: Look, Talk, Think, and Act Like a Leader and Communicate with Confidence, Revised Edition. As CEO of Booher Consultants and as a high-caliber keynote speaker, Dianna and her staff travel worldwide to deliver focused speeches and training programs to address specific communication challenges and increase effectiveness in oral, written, interpersonal, and organizational communication.

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4 thoughts on “Presentation Skills: Master the Monotone Monster”

  1. Thank you Diana, I am working on a presentation for a speech and these are very helpful tips. I definitely do not want to be the person who puts the crowd to sleep.

  2. Excellent Tips Dianna. Definitely will be trying these out. I remember being told that inside salespeople who stood rather than sat while talking on the phone with customers had better results. That makes sense now with your comment about walking/moving and speaking. Going to have to get a wireless headset for webinars I can see.

  3. Good, Karla. Falling asleep with the help of a speech is certainly healthier than using drugs. But no one–and certainly not you–would want to be the sleep aide!

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