A new client recently shared this self-judgment:
I’m not energetic, dynamic, funny, or entertaining. I speak in a monotone.
When I asked how she practices her public presentations, she said,
I walk around my office reading my bullet points, and then I do it from memory.
I took this to mean,
I read my bullet points in a rote, low-energy way, and when I know them pretty well, I deliver them from memory in a rote, low-energy way.
My new client was, in effect, practicing to sound boring.
In Public Speaking Tip 31: Want People to Listen? Add Some Drama, I talk about how much easier it is for an audience to pay attention to speeches that include some drama.
But what if you’re not a “naturally” dramatic or exciting presenter?
You can still up the excitement in a talk, speech, or off-the-cuff statement if you practice to sound exciting.
What Does “Sound Exciting” Mean to You?
Drama can mean different things to different people, so let’s start by deciding what it means to you.
Because I used to be a jazz singer, I often look to great singers for inspiration. The first 17-seconds of this clip of opera diva Joyce DiDonato (who’s also featured in Tip 31) captures the essence of drama for me. DiDonato goes from 0 to 60 on the emotional intensity scale in one short line of music:
And for a different type of excitement, watch the first minute of this video from jazz virtuoso Aubrey Logan’s “You Can’t Touch This!” (yes, the M.C. Hammer tune):
In these clips, the two singers are doing opposite things — DiDonato plays down her extraordinary vocal technique and grabs us with fiery emotion, while Logan mutes the emotion and grabs us with her extraordinary vocal technique — but, for me, each of them creates over-the-top excitement.
The point is that there are lots of different ways to be dramatic. So choose your own model of “exciting,” and keep it in mind as you do the following exercise.
Practice to Sound Exciting by Taking It Over the Top
ACTION ITEM: First, pick a statement or some song lyrics that inspire you. (If it inspires you, it probably has lots of dramatic potential.) Here are some examples to show that you can pretty much pick whatever you like:
- “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” (W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming)
- “Would you lie? (No!) Make me cry? (No!) Do something behind my back and then try to cover it up? Well, neither would I, Baby!” (Mary J. Blige, Be Without You)
- “These violent delights have violent ends.” (Bernard, in Westworld)
- “Whisper tickles! Whisker tickles! Tickled by your hair! Oh no — not my armpits! Please don’t tickle there!” (The Tickle Book, by Heidi Kilgras)
ACTION ITEM: Write down or print the statement you chose, and then follow these practicing steps…
- Stand in front of a mirror and read your statement out loud in a normal tone of voice.
- Read the statement again, and this time, try to be dramatic. (If you feel really silly, you’ll know that you’re doing this exercise right.)
- Now read it again with even more drama. Raise your voice. Make some gestures. Emphasize important words. Let yourself get angry or happy or curious or bewildered. Be extravagantly over the top as you try to bring out the meaning of your statement.
- Now do it again, going even more over the top.
- And when you think you can’t get any more dramatic, try to take it up one last notch and get crazy stupid dramatic. You should feel like a total caricature of a public speaker who’s trying too hard to be exciting.
Now sit down, relax and take a deep breath. You did it!
Next time you do this exercise, do it with some words that you’re actually planning to say in public.
And don’t worry, this is just for practice! When you deliver your talk, meeting remarks, or speech, you’re not going to do any of this. But some of it will have seeped into your delivery, because that’s what practicing is all about.
Some Additional Practice Tips to Sound Exciting
1. Conversation is more exciting than stiff, jargony speech.
- As you practice being dramatic, listen for instances where you’re using dull language, complicated sentences, or passive constructions (“the program will enhance your skills” rather than “you are going to be a lot more skilled by the time you’re done with this program!!!!”).
- Then immediately rephrase what you just said, out loud and dramatically.
2. Practice in short sessions, often. Making one dramatic statement a day will get you farther than practicing for an hour once a month. (This post has more on the subject.)
3. You can practice to sound exciting while you’re putting a talk together. As you write down your draft bullet points or script for an upcoming presentation, say each idea out loud, with dramatic energy. Then print your notes and practice delivering them out loud, standing up. (Here’s a post on why and when to put down your editing pen.)
4. The way your notes look can help you sound more exciting, or hold you back. So when you format your notes, please follow the guidelines in this post, and then practice using the techniques you’ve just learned.
Anyone can sound more exciting by practicing for a few short minutes a day.
It’s fun, it’s effective, and it’ll keep your listeners coming back for more!