As I write this it is contest time and I have sat through several evenings of speakers dreaming of a win in the International speech contest. Each one brings to the stage an individual idea and an individual way of presenting it.
Personally it drives me crazy when I see one speaker present with confidence, great voice and movement a message that was unclear to start with and wandered off on tangents. He’s followed by the man with a strong, well-thought-out message who lacks confidence, whose voice is almost a monotone, and who only gestures occasionally.
Your voice is important. By voice, in this article, I mean NOT the voice that makes sounds as it leaves your mouth. I’m talking about your inner mental voice that determines how you present your idea.
Suppose you were planning to speak on the topic of ‘kindness’. How would you go about it?
You could start by researching quotes about kindness and see if you found one that spoke to you and gave you a specific angle to follow.
You could start with a statement that grabs attention. How about, “I think that kindness is vastly over-rated!” And then go on to humorously prove yourself wrong.
You could define kindness, or speak about different aspects of kindness such as donating, volunteering, fundraising.
You could look at tiny personal kindnesses that go un-noticed.
You could research what other writers and other civilizations have said about kindness, or how it has been viewed over the ages.
You could start with your favourite story about kindness.
You could touch on as many aspects of kindness as come to your mind.
And there are many other starting points that will shape the direction and focus of your speech. Whichever one you choose will give you your voice for this speech.
You could take an intellectual approach and present the historic and literary associations, or you could start with the story of the old guy next door who spotted a loose chain on your son’s bike and fixed it on the spot and for free. The choice you make establishes the tone and voice of your speech.
The tone and voice you select should be consistent throughout your speech. Certainly you can add some humour and emotion into a serious speech – it will add an extra dimension. Similarly you can add a couple of statistics or a serious quote to a light-hearted speech.
But if you find your serious literary and historical speech is littered with slapstick jokes you might want to consider starting over and writing your speech from a different perspective.
The tone and voice of your speech depends on your audience and the effect you want your speech to have on them. Do you want to entertain them with a light-hearted speech, to educate them , to encourage them to think or act differently?
Your approach to your speech is different for each one. Your vocabulary is different for each, so is your sentence length. Your speech structure and will be different and the stories and examples you select will reflect this.
The other major aspect of your voice in a speech is – how personal are you going to be. There’s a whole spectrum for you to choose from. It could be one long personal story revealing your deepest feelings, your weaknesses, your errors. It could be an intellectual presentation of the altruism of people like Bill Gates.
Allowing yourself to be personal and vulnerable can be tremendously effective – just don’t make yourself the hero. You are the person on the receiving end of the kindness, not the one being kind.
Take time to reflect on the purpose of your speech and make sure the voice you give to it is consistent and supports that purpose.