Whether you’re new to public speaking or an experienced orator, the chances are you have to deal with the same problem on a regular basis: feeling like you’re not being heard. The first thing you should know is that this impression does in no way challenge your skills, your topic or indeed your person. As humans, we need to know we are being listened to. But being listened to and being heard are two very different things. Of course, you can tell someone’s not listening if they’re on their phone, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that their neighbour, who is looking right at you, is grasping everything you’re saying either. So here are five reasons why you’re being listened to, but not being heard.
- You’re not talking about something that truly fascinates you. I chose this as number one because I believe it is the most important. Although I always make people practice speaking passionately about something they disagree with during coaching sessions, the feeling the audience will get is unmistakable: they will always be able to tell whether or not you are truly passionate about your subject. Watching someone struggling with public speaking undergo a complete and utter metamorphosis when talking about a subject that is dear to his heart never ceases to dazzle me. Of course, you will always have to speak about subjects you’re not really interested in now and again, but do at least try and develop an interest with regards to your topic and always do your best to find opportunities to talk about something you’re passionate about.
- You’re not using your voice enough. Yes… I know how it sounds… you’re speaking but not using your voice… What I mean by this is absolutely not that you should run up to the microphone and shout your lungs out, what I mean is that you’re not conveying enough energy, passion, emotion, movement, through your speech. Easy remedies? Think of classical, rock or jazz music, they all have one thing in common: they change pace and intensity. Now think about that repetitive and never-ending music people beat their heads to in nightclubs, without really listening to it. See where I’m going? You need to create waves and currents. Your voice is the instrument.
- You’re overcompensating. This is especially directed towards people who aren’t completely at ease with public speaking yet and who might either be lacking in confidence or practice. In most cases, people who are just getting started in the field of public speaking tend to overcompensate for their lack of confidence. They’ve seen loads of speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr., Obama, Churchill (and the list goes on) and subsequently mimic their confidence, movements and intonations. Although I always encourage people to watch such figures, when you’re starting off you don’t necessarily know how apparent it is that it’s not actually you speaking. My tip for this? Maybe diversify the people you’re watching: take a look at actors, singers, comedians, politicians… But remember to always be yourself for an audience tends to react quite negatively to someone they’ve labelled as inauthentic.
- You’re speaking too fast. Many people will dismiss this as a rookie mistake but you would be amazed at how many professionals still do this. There are several reasons why we tend to speak fast. First of all, people who aren’t very comfortable speaking in front of people will tend to speak fast due to nerves and the subconscious desire for the ordeal to be over as soon as possible. However, people who want to impose themselves in an argument or debate might also speak fast in order not to be interrupted. Either way, this is a terrible idea. Whether you’re in a debate or speaking on your own, you want to take… your… time. Relax, you’ve got all the time in the world. Once you’re speaking, the stage is yours, people are on your schedule.
- You’re speaking too loud!!! This is by far one of the most common mistakes made by beginners and professionals. Being heard doesn’t necessarily mean being heard. Whether you shout or not people will hear you. My tip? Work smart, not hard. This links to number three in the sense that you need to create movements in your speech. There will be moments where it will be a fantastic idea to speak loudly. But so many people overdo it because they think it makes them sound persuasive and confident. Confident? Yes, why not, but definitely not persuasive. If you continuously shout at an audience, they will never know your true voice, nor will they ever notice the different parts and motions at work in what you’re saying. Turning the volume up can be great, but use this wisely, maybe a sentence or two if you think it appropriate and necessary, but that’s all.