Worktank’s executive producers address the importance of inflection, cadence and word choice when delivering a talk or presentation. How you say it is just as important as what you say.
Master of Speech
It’s a bold callout, but when delivering mission-critical information in a large global team meeting, you can risk isolating or losing your audience altogether if you fail to properly use these three elements in your public speaking:
- Inflection – the pitch in your voice (soft/loud) especially at the beginning and end of a statement for emphasis
- Cadence – modulating the inflection of your voice to convey the overall mood (active/passive/formal/informal)
- Word choice – connotations and associations you convey in your presentations
How to Properly Use Inflection
Your audience can best understand the importance of a message through inflection. As you approach a key point in your talk, focus on increasing or even lowering the volume of your voice as an auditory underline to a bold statement. Also, lift your chin as your volume rises. This visual cue tells your audience that it’s time to pay attention.
Try rehearsing the words, “We did okay this quarter,” with your chin down and close to your chest. You’ll notice it sounds pessimistic and, worse, conveys a lack of confidence. Now, repeat the same statement, but this time raise your voice as you lift your chin. The same words now take on a positive meaning and express a sense of accomplishment.
Cadence Is Clarity
When speaking to a large group, it’s important to think of your talk as a performance, rather than a conversation. You want to find a rhythm of speech that is comfortable for you, while also speaking more intentionally and slowly than you would in normal dialogue.
When you deliver a talk, be mindful of how you use cadence to capture attention and telegraph the seriousness of the message. When it’s your turn to speak, pause for a beat, lower the pitch of your voice, and talk slowly for emphasis. It’s also important to be as economical with your words as possible to ensure the audience clearly understands your direction and feedback. Remember, when you’re speaking to a large, diverse global audience, cadence is a critical way to land your message more broadly.
Pro Tip: Try this exercise in a mirror or, even better, record yourself and then playback the video. Select the most important sentence in your talk and say it quickly. Pause, then say it even faster. Pause again and repeat the sentence slowly. Finally, say the words as slowly as you can. As you watch yourself, you’ll see that a slower delivery allows you to punch specific words with a higher volume while also working in key pauses.
Whether you’re delivering good or bad news, the audience will have a better grasp of your message when you slow down and emphasize your points, but cadence also has an enormous impact on how your audience feels. If you’re delivering information in a high-stress situation, remember to lower your pitch to express a sense of calm and confidence.
Choose Your Words Wisely
One of our producers once worked with an event host who introduced a highly accomplished guest as “My beautiful colleague.” Thankfully, the poor choice of words was used during a tech rehearsal, and we were able to step in and help the presenter reset with a proper and respectful introduction. Could you imagine if that was live?
Connotation, association and gendering words can be toxic when delivering a keynote, as are deeply specific points-of-reference and cliches. While personal anecdotes are important for engagement, they need to be relatable. Remember, your audience may not connect to a manner of speech tied to a specific region where you grew up or a college that you attended. Similarly, cliches are often only understood by a certain generation, or people from a similar part of the world. For example, a global audience may not be familiar with the phrase, “loosey goosey”.
Another ill-advised example is the term “Chatty Cathy”. This poor choice of words instantly alienates anyone with the name Cathy. In addition, the negative connotation can be degrading to a whole gender, implying women talk too much. A blunder like this marginalizes the room, and pushes your audience away from you, your presentation, and your message.
Instead of using metaphors or examples related to regional sports or even a television show, which only a portion of your audience may relate to, use inclusive statements and broad examples to promote and build connectivity.
More Presentation Tips for Executives & Leaders
If you’re struggling with inflection, cadence or word choice in your presentations, Worktank can help. We offer personalized, one-on-one coaching for presenters with an emphasis on delivery, content messaging and audience engagement.
The Worktank production team has helped hundreds of corporate leaders improve their presentation skills both on and off camera by developing presenter rapport, trust and respect, and offering constructive and direct feedback to ensure every message is clear and lands with real impact.
Read more: How the Best Presenters Win their Audience