If you’ve ever eavesdropped on a conversation in a country where you did not speak the language, you might have been surprised to find yourself following along and picking up the feeling of the conversation even though you didn’t understand any of the words or literal meaning. This is an entire field of research, and it’s called paralinguistics. It refers to vocal communication that is separate from the words that are spoken.
Think about this for a minute. You can say, “Sure, I’ll go with you to the store” in many different ways. You can say it with a lot of enthusiasm, with sarcasm, or with boredom. The way you say the sentence conveys as much meaning—or more—as the words themselves.
Here are some things to keep in mind about paralinguistics:
Great presenters modulate – If you spend some time listening to great speakers give presentations, you will hear that they modulate their voice. They vary the pitch and the volume of their voice, based on the meaning. If you talk at the same pitch and volume all of the time, your presentation will sound boring and you will appear to lack emotion or passion for your topic. Match your paralinguistics to your message. If you are excited or passionate about an idea, convey that passion with your paralinguistics.
Great presenters can be heard – It’s important to speak loudly enough. If you are too soft-spoken, you will convey timidity or nervousness.
Great presenters articulate – Make sure that you are pronouncing all of your words. Watch out especially for the endings of words and the endings of sentences; these are the places that presenters tend to cut off. Articulating well conveys confidence and authority.
Great presenters pause — One of the biggest differences between a poor or mediocre presenter and a great presenter is the use of pauses. If you get nervous, you will tend to talk faster and faster with few pauses. Experienced presenters pause a lot during their presentations. They pause before and after they make an important statement. They pause when they go from one topic to another. Your silence can be as important as your words.
Practice — Have someone record the audio of your presentation, or record yourself while you are practicing. Listen for the various paralinguistics, and see what you should and could adjust.
Voice coach — Consider working with a voice coach to evaluate and improve your paralinguistics. You want someone who specializes in coaching for paralinguistics in presentations.
What do you think? Have you ever tried working on your paralinguistics to improve your presentations?