When was the last time you sent a text to someone that was misinterpreted? I’m sure I’m not the only one who has ended up in a difficult situation due to written words being read in a way they weren’t intended. I think that’s why emoji’s have become so widely used – they help express our emotion and the intention behind the words. Voice notes are even better, but a video says it all…

As many of you will know, the actual words we say only count for 7% of our face to face communication – according to Albert Merrabian’s Communication model – especially when it comes to expressing emotion. 38% is attributed to tone of voice, and the other 55%, body language. Despite this being the case, we often spend 93% of our time preparing what we are going to say in a presentation, and only about 7% (if that) working on how we’re going to say it!

The part I’m focusing on today is the 38% – tonality.

Speaking in monotone is an incredibly common occurrence in presentations. Suddenly, when put in front of an audience, a lot of people seem to default to speaking on one level, seemingly forgetting how to be expressive with their tone of voice. Perhaps this seems safe? Being expressive can feel vulnerable, so a classic defence method is to appear void of emotion. Or perhaps it’s because, once rehearsed and practised a few times, the meaning and connection is lost and the words become lifeless. But what is the result? The audience switches off, often within seconds! All the words sound the same and we start hearing a drone akin to white noise… perfect sleeping conditions!

So how can we combat this, and instead make more of an impact with the words we use? How can we inject meaning and increase tonality so that the words come alive – and thus, the audience. The technique outlined below will mean that monotone – i.e, boring – will cease to be an issue.

It’s something I used to with every line of a script: I’d circle the most important word in each sentence. This may sound tedious – and often it was – but when I didn’t do it, I would notice the difference; the text was in danger of becoming flat, and the meaning could be lost in a sea of words.

It’s a bit like when we read a book – important words are often written in italics for emphasis. This is, more often than not, found in dialogue, because when people are talking in real life, they emphasise the important words to make a point. We can do the same thing with a presentation, even if we’ve rehearsed it 100 times.

If you’ve ever had a workshop or a 1:1 with me, I may have asked you to do this with your text  -circle the most important words that you want to stand out. It’s amazing what a difference it makes to your expression. Sentences immediately become a lot more interesting. You’re metaphorically hitting your audience in the face with the word to keep them listening.

For people to whom this comes naturally and seems instinctive, it’s worth playing with placing the emphasis on different words to see how the meaning of a sentence is changed or enhanced. With the emphasis in the right places, your audience is far more likely to a) keep listening, and b) understand what you’re saying.

So here’s the challenge – with the next presentation you write, try circling the most important word in each sentence, and make sure you mirror this with your voice. (If you want to take it to the next level, you could even add in gesture!) This really simple technique is going to help with communication no end, and your presentations will come out of the danger zone of being boring!



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