October 28, 2011

Speed up and stop enunciating...?



Image by juliaf
For the first time ever, I told a client to stop enunciating so much. And, for maybe the first time, I told a client to speed up instead of slow down.

It's a rare occurrence that a speaker is actually over-enunciating and talking too slowly, but it happens.

In this case, my client is shooting a video for his website. He's taking two minutes to grab the attention of site visitors, ending with a call to action for them to contact him for more information. In this two minutes, he needs to be snappy, friendly and intriguing, or site visitors won't stick around for the rest of what he has to offer. For that matter, they won't even finish watching the video if it doesn't engage them.

Overly precise enunciation and a slow speaking pace makes him look stiff, boring and robotic. He doesn't come across as conversational, and he doesn't come across as someone you'd want to get to know better. (Part of the problem is that he's speaking from a script, which is hard enough to do well without filming it on video.)

The exercise I recommended for our session that day was to let go, to lighten things up and loosen things up by speeding things up. I asked him to go over his presentation quickly, without stopping to correct mistakes or flubbed words. Leave the ums alone and stop thinking so much. Let the words flow as though he's in a conversation with a person and he's really excited to tell them about his business. He said, "I get it -- it's like I'm talking to someone in the same room, eating lunch together, having pasta." Exactly!

When he let himself speak freely, without worrying so much about perfection, he had so much more life in his voice, so much more energy and excitement. This is what his site visitors need to see, not some professorial lecture that feels like a downer.

Video can be hard to pull off for inexperienced speakers, because it's awkward to emote in front of a camera with no live audience, no feedback from facial expressions or body language to help you feel connected. Speaking to a camera is downright uncomfortable for a lot us, and smiling and showing emotion feels fake. One client suggested taping a picture of someone's face next to her webcam to give her more of a sense of speaking to a person, and if that works for her, great!

Speaking too properly (and this includes avoiding contractions and using the word "a" like the letter "A") can be just as distracting to an audience as speaking too sloppily. There's a balance you need to have between enunciation that is clear and a speaking style that's conversational and friendly. For a good example of this balance, listen to a radio DJ or TV news anchor. They speak clearly and enunciate well, but -- most of the time -- don't sound overly stilted. (I'm still trying to find a recording of the radio announcer I heard on KUSP radio a few months back who sounded like he was doing elocution exercises.)

Even when recording a video, keep in mind you are still speaking to an audience. You may not be able to see them, but they're there. Imagine these faces when you're speaking to the camera. Smile, and use your face and body just as you would if you were sitting at the same table as the person you're speaking to. Have a conversation and don't worry so much about perfect enunciation. Your message will be heard and felt.

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