It’s Not Magic, It’s Technique
Remember when you were a really little kid and your great-uncle Bill pulled a quarter from behind your ear, and you were awestruck and a little creeped out and wondered, “HOW DID HE DO THAT?” Later, you discovered it wasn’t actually magic. It was just a technique that you could, and perhaps did, learn yourself.
That’s all “magic” is. Whether cheap parlor tricks or insanely amazing routines, magic is just technology or technique that you don’t currently have or understand. And because you don’t have it, that technique inspires wonder and admiration.
Great public speaking inspires wonder and admiration in the same way and for the same reason. A good speaker draws you in, holds your attention, gives you something to think about, gets you in the gut… and seems to do it without even trying! Like magic! But it’s not magic, it’s technique. And it’s technique that you are perfectly capable of learning and mastering.
Excellent presentation skills consist of many techniques, but here are three to master first:
Vary your voice patterns
Make sure that your voice pattern matches the content of your message. When you’re establishing credibility and want to be taken seriously, curl your voice down at the ends of your statements. This is the voice pattern you’ll use throughout most of your presentation. If you’re telling a story, your voice needs more variety and lilt. And when you’re asking questions and seeking input, curl your voice up at the ends of statements.
You already do all of these voice patterns. The key is to make sure you use them at the right time. If you always curl your voice up, even when you’re making a definitive statement, you sound like you lack confidence or don’t know what you’re talking about. If you always speak in a flat voice, you come across like you have no personality. When your voice pattern matches your content, your verbal and your nonverbal communication align and your credibility as a speaker skyrockets. Magic!
Use your real, normal voice. But use it purposefully. You need to sound like a real person. Like YOU. Often, as soon as people get in front of a group, they lose themselves. Out comes the fake “speechy” voice that you think makes you sound important. It doesn’t. It just makes you sound fake. Use your real, normal voice patterns in a way that is congruent with your message.
Pause to emphasize important points
Silence is a great nonverbal marker. We notice silence. Quiet is rare in our modern world, with all its buzzes and dings and constant media and notifications. For this reason, pausing adds weight to important statements.
When you have an important point to make, pause just before stating it. This nonverbally alerts the listener that something important is coming up. A pause says, “Listen up!” It increases anticipation.
You can also pause after making an important point. This gives your audience a chance to consider what you said and remember it. Nonverbally, a pause after an important statement says, “Did you catch that?”
Again, you need to sound like a real person. Don’t add pauses willy nilly all over the place. If you add dramatic pauses after every single sentence, your audience will get confused, and then bored, and then irritated, and eventually you’ll have a mutiny on your hands. Speak at a moderate rate until you get to an important point. Then, magically add emphasis to your point with a pause.
Use gestures to keep attention
The problem with pausing is that silence is scary. What if my audience loses interest? What if someone interrupts me? What if the silence is awkward??
Yeah, like I said, pauses are awkward and lame if you randomly … insert silence for … no reason and expect … people to … listen … Aack! Don’t do that. The first step to good pauses is to save them for important points.
Then, nonverbally hold attention with hand gestures. No, don’t wave madly or flash your middle finger. That may get attention, but not the type you want. To make your audience hang on every word, be still. As you speak, allow your hands to move and gesture naturally. When you pause, freeze your hand. Hold the audience’s attention by arresting your hand in midair. That suspended hand is a nonverbal promise that there’s more to come. And it’s worth waiting for.
These three techniques—vary your voice pattern, pause, and gesture—will transform an amateur “talk” into an exceptional presentation. Like any good “magic act,” it requires practice to do the technique seamlessly. But with intention and practice you’ll improve your public speaking skills and increase your presence and credibility.
The next time you watch a great speaker, notice how he or she does these three things. And any time you find yourself mesmerized by a great performer—an outstanding athlete, an incredible musician, a fantastic speaker—remember, it’s not magic… it’s technique. Practice these techniques and watch your own presentation skills dramatically improve.
Just like magic.