In our quest to master the art of persuasion, we have to face down the most vile enemy of all things convincing: sounding like a a scripted robot. Many view speeches and presentations as an opportunity to regurgitate whatever is on the sheet of paper in front of them. This isn’t persuasion. This isn’t value.
Before we start, a few caveats are in order. Reading from a script (or perhaps even teleprompter) isn’t always a bad thing. YouTube video producers sometimes rely on scripts to ensure maximum conciseness and clarity in their speeches. This should be considered fine, provided the delivery isn’t mechanical or feels like it is being read out. When presenting to others in person, however, reading from a script is a killjoy.
How to be Human
1) Eye contact
People want to connect with you. Persuasion isn’t about merely conveying information, but letting people feel the information. As a general rule of speech, maintaining eye contact with your listener is a fundamental aspect. Eye contact establishes a link with your audience; it makes it feel like you are actually conversing with them. When talking to multiple people, eye contact shouldn’t be concentrated on only one individual. Instead it should be spread out so that no one feels left out, as much as possible.
2) Use notes wisely
Notes are meant to facilitate your thoughts, not dictate them. Some individuals face trouble maintaining eye contact with an audience due to their reliance on notes. To gain the confidence needed to deliver substance, or to be reminded of what needs to be said they near-exclusively keep their eyes on their notes. This isn’t a smart tactic as it detracts from the human aspect of your speech.
Instead, use notes to prompt your speech. List key notes, not entire scripts. It’s close to impossible to scan through a full script to prompt yourself while maintaining eye contact with others. Key points, with perhaps a few reminders under them, will help you keep track of where you are without the need to scavenge your way through your notes. Simply glance down every now and then to gather your thoughts and get back on track, and let the key points in your notes guide you.
3) Modulate the voice
Monotony kills attention. Some speakers, often those who read from scripts, tend to use the same tone and pace the entire way through their speech. It’s akin to reading a block of text –no one digests it easily. It makes any message impersonal and seemingly lazy.
Instead, vary your tone and pace. Different parts of a message require different approaches. Slow down and speed up to suit the dynamics of your speech, but never flood your audience with the same drone-y voice for too long. No use talking if no one listens.