by the author of Speaking with Strategic Impact: Four Steps to Extraordinary Presence & Persuasion.
The Use of Voice in Your Next D-Day Presentation
Do you have a high-stakes presentation coming up? Make sure you don’t make the same mistake as General Eisenhower.
I experienced my greatest disillusionment as a listener when I visited the American Cemetery & Memorial in Normandy, France. Make no mistake, if you want to get a visceral sense of history regarding the sacrifice and poignancy of a not-too-distant war that hugely impacted our Western way of life, I can recommend no better place to spend a day. I had one huge disappointment, however; and that was with the voice of General Eisenhower.
Everything about this place causes you to have a lump in your throat. When you walk in, there is a famous quote from Eisenhower’s address to the troops launching the D-Day invasion, emblazoned on the wall like the words of an oracle: The eyes of the world are upon you.
At one point, I was presented with the option to listen to the D-Day address as the troops had heard it. I pushed the button. Out came a whiny, clipped rendition of a pre-written statement that sounded like, “Blah, blah, blah, the-eyes-of-the-world-are-upon-you, blah, blah, blah.”
Alas, what had been excerpted for the history books had been delivered as a throwaway line. It was as though Eisenhower had no real sense of the gravity of the moment. (More likely, he certainly did and was perhaps trying hard not to be fully present to it.) Nonetheless, he delivered it like a platitude from a high school basketball coach at halftime, instead of like a Leader of the Free World on the precipice of a do-or-die moment.
What I experienced was an emotional incongruity that just gets in the way for a listener. Granted, I was not his intended audience. But I was amazed at how my experience of those words colored everything I saw and heard thereafter about Eisenhower.
I often ask my training participants to deliver typical business throwaway lines (e.g., “We have to make every meeting count!”) in different ways. Invariably, when delivered quickly, the group’s interpretation is about how the speaker is upset and frazzled. When delivered slowly, all agree it becomes key message material: We. Have. To Make. Every. Meeting. Count.
The deliberate speed and intentional pausing lends a weight or gravity to the words. We hear this shift in speed as emphasis, and emphasis means it’s important. It’s also not unusual for the participants doing my exercise to suddenly start using deliberate eye contact and corresponding gestures when they slow things down. Why? Because they’re creating the spaces where such accenting behaviors have room to happen. All of these together serve to make the message pop.
The moral of the story here is not to always be dramatic and affected. However, I do recommend that you at least know your important messages, and when you get to them—put some air in and around them. The shift in cadence will be experienced by the audience as a signal to look and listen. Mission accomplished.