Is your webinar a snooze-fest? Maybe you’re stuck with a boring subject: standard deviation of monsoon rainfall in East Jabib. Too bad you can’t use racy subjects like those on Game of Thrones — intrigue, mayhem, betrayal… ah, the good-old days. Lurid topics may be out of bounds, but it’s not all about topics; certain presentation techniques can spice things up. You’ll need know-how and a bit of practice. So let’s get started.
If you watch Game of Thrones (doesn’t everyone?) you may have noticed what a good job they do with something called pacing.
Here’s what I mean.
Let’s say a character is sharing a quiet, intimate moment with his wife or lady friend (or someone else’s wife or lady friend). It’s sweet and romantic, soft and sexy. Suddenly the scene changes, and the same character is in trouble. The mob is angry. Soon he’s on the chopping block with a sword over his head.
That’s pacing — the art of emotional zigzag.
Pacing your presentation
Let’s clear up one thing: head-chopping is a bad idea in presentations. But it’s not the shocking, bloody action that’s exciting (you get tired of raspberry jam made to look like a mortal wound) it’s the emotional contrast that’s compelling: fascinating characters zigzagging through a range of emotions.
How can you create emotional contrast in your presentation? With your voice.
Communication expert Nancy Duarte identifies 7 emotions you can evoke with your tone of voice. Let’s relate each to a Game of Thrones character.
- Assertive: a no-nonsense tone of voice when you’re focused on something significant and have strong opinions. Think of Khaleesi — c’mon, who would argue with the Mother of Dragons?
- Cautious: for warning people of the down side. This tone is best when understated. Each “Thrones” power player has a sidekick who keeps him or her out of trouble. Think of Jorah, Khaleesi’s trusted advisor.
- Critical: a fierce tone that pulls no punches. Imagine how Arya Stark would react to girls who would rather embroider than fight. She’d grab her sword “The Needle” and show them a little needlework of her own.
- Humorous: not necessarily joking, but a light, irreverent tone that can coax a smile even from the fiercest adversary. “Half man” Tyrion Lannister’s sharp wit puts him at eye-level with those twice his size.
- Motivational: one of the most likeable motivators is (was) Lord Stark from early episodes. He motivated others while inspiring loyalty. I’m still upset about how things turned out for him. Grrrrh!
- Sympathetic: not to be confused with pity, this tone conveys empathy with another’s plight. Think of gentle Sansa Stark, a character with deep personal emotions expressed with delicacy and feeling.
- Neutral: a casual tone for delivering technical facts straightforwardly. Lord Varys, the enigmatic eunuch (ouch!) speaks his truth dispassionately, making his tough messages strangely compelling.
Cultivating tone of voice
Tone of voice is achieved with pitch, volume, pacing, and enunciation. With practice, you can produce an array of emotions by playing with those variables. Start by observing master communicators and copying their techniques.
Emmy Award winner Peter Dinklage (Tyrion) is so good with his voice that you forget his diminutive stature. And you’ll find other examples all around, not just on Game of Thrones. If there’s a daughter in your life, she probably uses her voice masterfully to get her way.
Developing your skill
Don’t wait for a live presentation to experiment with tone of voice; you’ll feel like an idiot! Instead, practice in private.
Analyze your presentation and figure out where a certain tone would work. To address a problem, for example, practice using the most sympathetic tone you can muster. Don’t be afraid to exaggerate; it’s only for practice.
Then find a contrasting section where a motivational tone would be appropriate: your call to action, for example. Get fired up and practice delivering it with zeal. Pound your fist on the desk. Glare at your imagined audience. Just for practice.
Later, when you reach those sections in the live presentation, what you practiced will bubble to the surface as familiar feelings. You’ll feel natural as you use your voice to tap into those emotions. The audience will perceive the shift and enjoy a dramatic change in how they feel…
… and they’ll pay attention.
A word of caution
Carried to extremes, any tone of voice can be annoying. Joffrey, the boy king, constantly tries to be assertive and fails miserably, turning himself into an object of ridicule — Justin Beiber with a mean streak.
So let moderation be your guide. If you feel an assertive tone is called for, skip the kingly tone. Think of increasing your assertiveness by just five percent — a smidgen. If it works, try a little more. But don’t go too far; it can trigger audience resistance and lead to a rebellion in the kingdom.
So don’t lose your head :-O
One final tip
Pacing is the skill that makes your presentation compelling — the shift in tone from emotion to emotion. So mix it up. If you’ve been speaking assertively, switch to a cautious tone. If you’ve been speaking sympathetically, switch to a motivational tone.
If you’ve been zigging, switch to zagging.
Good presentations are a blend of information, persuasion, and entertainment. Your emotion-packed words will resonate better if you don’t take them too seriously.
So loosen up and have a little fun. After all, “winter is coming.”