Have you ever sat in an audience, listening to a speaker or storyteller, either feeling patronised – or even – baffled, by the complicated language being used? I know I have; I’m sure many of you, also.
Recently, we attended a performance, where the presenter – telling a story, was obviously from a bureaucratic background. The long, convoluted sentences and bureaucratic language being used, switched the audience off. She also demonstrated a poor sense of delivery. Her rhythm and tone was inappropriate; each sentence beginning in a strong voice that tapered off, in a flurry of words, to almost a whisper.
Those, sitting beyond the first few rows, could not hear what was being said, as the words were delivered, far too quickly and voice projection was poor. Around me, some rows from the front, people began fidgeting, coughing, and generally feeling uncomfortable, as unsatisfied audiences are inclined to do.
To the side of me, two men had nodded off to sleep, sitting upright. One, of the pair, gently snored at regular intervals; until his head tipped over to a certain angle, whereupon he snorted and sat up, awake again. Those of us around him were in (silent) hysterics! Just along from me, a woman constantly scratched at the tag on her shirt that was irritating her skin; a lady in front of me, finally found the lipstick that she’d been rattling around in her bag after and began to apply it.
Even though the audience, wanted to hear what the presenter had to say, it just became too difficult and we gave up. Finally (thankfully), the end came, and we all breathed a collective sigh of relief, as we politely applauded. It was a probably good story — what we heard of it — spoiled by too many inappropriate words and poor delivery.
Big things, are best, and almost – always – said in simple words. Common words have power! It would have been better if the story she told us; was couched in short, crisp sentences, in everyday language. Language we, the audience, were familiar with and easily understood. None of us would have bothered about minor, outward irritations, as we would have all been leaning forward listening: totally connected to the storyteller.
The long sentences, she used, were trying to tell the listeners all; not show what happened. We did not need to know all those minute details.
Much of the material could have been carefully pruned, so the story became more immediate and interesting. That way, the audience would have been on the edge of their seats, eagerly awaiting the details of what happened next.
As the pace was not her normal speaking rate, her delivery was poor: at times she almost ran out of breath. We could see she was stressed, by trying to get all that unnecessary information across, and we too, felt uncomfortable. Had she edited her material, the audience could have stayed with her.
Her vocal variety, consisted of high volume beginnings, which diminished quickly, to almost a whisper, and there was a total absence of pause. There is a rhythm, associated with our everyday speech, which naturally, allows time, for what we are saying, to reach and be absorbed by our listeners.
Great performers and speakers understand rhythm and the use of pause. They are careful to use it to their advantage, allowing their listeners to keep up with them and easily, digest their words. Pause is important. To comedians, it is an essential – and measurable – part of their performance. Their jokes depend on the use of specific timing and pause. Storytellers could well take a leaf out of their book.
Trim your stories.
Start with a clear beginning.
Simplify the language. Cut out any unnecessary material and rehearse on tape.
Send clear pictures so people can visualise what you see.
Practise your breathing and speak in a clear, steady voice, that even those at the back can hear, raising your volume only to highlight a point or add drama. To avoid straining your voice, use a microphone.
Allow time for the audience to absorb and enjoy your words, through the use of pause.
Make your ending obvious, rather than leaving the audience wondering whether you have finished
Tailor your words to keep your audiences connected, listening enthusiastically to your dynamic stories or messages.
© Helen McKay 2009


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