In college, I had the great fortune to take a course in public speaking. With experience in theatre, I felt it would be quite easy. I had spoken, sang, and danced before large crowds countless times and with great ease. On the occasion of my first speech, I delivered it quite poorly. I raced through the content and my body language showed my nervousness, as I kept moving about, like I was trying to avoid a particularly nasty throw of a dodgeball from my classmate in the back. While my content may have been well-constructed, my delivery was sub-par. Why? I spent all my time preparing the content, and none of my time preparing the delivery.
Laura Sicola gives a fantastic fifteen minute talk about this very topic. Her focus is how to sound like a leader – a focus I am sure was of keen interest to the attendees at TEDxPenn, many of whom are sure to be professors, student leaders, and aspiring leaders. She speaks of the importance of delivery and its proper execution giving credibility to the speaker. Tonality and emphasis play a large part in her solution: by modifying the tonality and emphasis, speakers can help the listeners pick up on the key content more easily.
She gives an example: how you introduce yourself by saying your name:
So if I want to know that I’m introducing myself and helping the listener to really understand my name – and by understanding then they can hopefully remember it and thereby remember me – I want to start by letting my voice go up on your first name, as if to say, “I’m not finished yet.” Then at the top, have a little break – a little pause that will allow for a sound break to indicate a word boundary. Then on our last name, we want to go down – let the pitch fall – as if to say, “Now I’m done,” like you’re putting a vocal period at the end. … You’ll be amazed at the difference strategic tonality can make even in something this small.
It’s worth trying this kind of “strategic tonality” in your next meeting, or the next time you introduce yourself to someone new. What you say certainly does matter, but how you say it can matter just as much.