Last week, my colleague Julie and I had the pleasure of attending the ‘Speak the Speech’ organised by IAPI and run by Andrea Ainsworth, Voice Director at the Abbey Theatre.

The course is designed to allow participants to explore their voice and develop their unique style of presentation and indeed speech on a general level. Presentation skills are probably one of the most important assets you need in an advertising agency. We’re in the game of selling dreams and ideas, not just our services, it’s much bigger than that. Whether it’s a pitch situation or an internal creative presentation, you have to be able to ‘click’ with your audience and use the precious face time to delight and connect.

Physical behaviours

The surprising discovery for me, and I imagine most of my advertising colleagues in the room, was how the physical behaviours and habits we all have, can negatively impact our presentations, or more specifically our voice. We’ve all learnt and read about body language and its impact on communication. This is a different lesson altogether. Like all physical habits, they’re eliminated firstly through recognition and secondly practice of new, helpful habits.

Physical habits, mostly unnoticed by oneself, are significantly limiting our voices.

On that note, we began the day long course by acknowledging and outlining some of our own unhelpful physical barriers. Tapping of a foot, tapping of the air on almost every word, sharp inhales before speaking, hands stuffed in pockets were just some of the examples pointed out in the class. We all had our barriers, now we knew what they were, we started working through exercises designed to help us release them. These exercises, which I won’t go into in detail on (do the course!), focus mainly on releasing unnecessary, and importantly unhelpful tension. Andrea acknowledge that some tension is good, it’s often that ‘tension’ that drives our passion, excitement or beliefs. However, unhelpful, hindering tension causes us to stumble, trap our voices, stops us breathing properly and ultimately reduces our confidence. That was the body bit done, and that alone made a world of difference to our voices. They were clearly audible but we were only half way there!

The Voice

Next up was the voice itself, and the basics of how our vocal cords actually work. It’s remarkable the limitations we place on our vocal cords on a basic level. Turns out they can do loads! You don’t just have one voice, you have so much unused range, hanging out waiting to be utilised!

Armed with our new physical exercises and anatomy lesson, we moved on to techniques that improve the quality, range, power, clarity and tone of the voice.

Monotone is the devil according to Andrea and her examples were so spot on. We all know that monotone is boring to listen to, no brainer, but we just might not realise that we do it ourselves time to time.

How can we possibly hope to inspire our colleague or clients when we speak with no clear direction or life? We could believe whole-heartedly in what we’re saying but to breathe life into the words, engage and intrigue is quite another task.

Practical Practice

Now it was show time, main stage in the Abbey Theatre, needless to say it was a tad on the daunting side. It was time to put all our work into practice. It was just me, Andrea and a hot bright light in my face. You can feel people watching you below but it’s hard to see them with the light, again, not the most comfortable feeling!

All of the tools Andrea gave us were practical, however, when it came to implementing them into our pieces on stage, completely different story. Connecting to the audience is hard!

Side note - Connection is a word we use all the time in advertising, almost to the point of completely undoing its meaning or importance – It’s so important for presenting.

There are so many things to remember up there; your breathing technique, the space you fill physically, controlling your physical habits, exploring the range of your voice, articulating yourself, ending sentences in a clear manner, using pauses correctly… all whilst trying to engage! And probably the most difficult part – entertain your audience.

Turns out that just like all other learnings in life, practice is the key to success. There were definitely a few key tips (OPEN YOUR MOUTH!) that are easily implemented before walking into a crowded room, but to master all of what we learnt, practice and preparation is key.

Steve Jobs said,

Every new business pitch should do three things: inform, educate and entertain.

Three little words, sounds simple, but Steve Jobs took 48 hours before every pitch, using lots of the techniques we learnt about, to ensure his pitch was the perfect embodiment of the Apple brand. Understanding your own ‘brand’ is a whole other course, but it’s worth bearing in mind the practice he put in, it didn’t come naturally.

The end result

We had to be creative and let our inhibitions go. Up on that stage is a lonely place, but the transformations as I watched each participant put their own useful tools into practice were genuinely incredible. There were actual ‘WOWs’ from the audience as we watched our colleagues transform before our eyes into confident, engaging, enthusiastic speakers who owned the stage. You might feel a little silly stomping around the stage, talking in slow mo, reaching up to the sky, but it works!

One key takeaway that stuck with me, was to remember, you might not feel the improvements or realise the positive impact of pausing etc., but it’s not for you! It’s for the audience and sitting down in that theatre, listening, that made perfect sense. What feels unnatural at first for you, makes the content so much easier to absorb for the audience. So make the effort and practice what sometimes feels unnatural, it’s worth it.

I can’t recommend the course highly enough. This is worthwhile no matter what your role or experience is. Who knew how much our voices could do! I really do feel the improvement and so will you if you decide to ‘Speak the Speech’.

Thank you Andrea & IAPI.

Emily Lyons


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