Your Words, Your Voice, Your (Lack of) Credibility

Tony Compton, Managing Director
GettingPresence

#Content isn’t the most important part of your next presentation. It’s how you look, and it’s how you sound. Not how your slides look. Not how your handouts look. Not how your pre-recorded demo sounds. And it’s certainly not the furniture selection for your next six-person sleep-inducing panel discussion.

Yes, content is important. But it’s how you look and sound as a presenter that makes the difference.

It’s the how you sound portion that’s the focus of attention in this post.

When I hear a somebody in a presentation, video, podcast, or interview who employs poor speech habits and a substandard vocabulary, bad impressions are made. Impressions of not being prepared, of not being well versed in content, of being evasive, uncertain, and uncaring. Uncaring to give an audience the best possible effort in being ready for a business appearance.

Say these, and risk your #business credibility:

1. Filler Words

You’ve read about filler words. You’ve also heard them, and about them, for as long as you can remember. The global epidemic of their usage continues, so here’s more ammunition for the professional bombardment asking, begging, and telling people to stop, breathe, and think before uttering another filler word.

Filler words are the “umms, uhhs, I mean, I think, well, look, and you knows” which permeate the vast majority of the spoken part of presentations, webinars, demos, corporate videos, sales pitches, panel discussions, speeches, meetings, interviews, conference calls, and regular old business conversations each of us experiences every day. Filler words are worthless.

How to get rid of them? Before you say anything, breathe deeply and think. Think about what you’re going to say. Then crank up the volume of your voice. Speak with volume, emphasis, and conviction. (I’m not taking about yelling.) When you do these things, your filler words will disappear. Try it. Bob and Eileen Parkinson taught me this years ago. Still works today. It’ll always work – no matter the venue, format, or environment of your next presentation, speech, conference call, or meeting. Practicing this vocal technique will serve you well.

Want to have some fun with this one? Here’s what I do… Count the number of times a presenter uses filler words during a presentation. Silently count on your fingers and toes. Chances are good you’ll run out of appendages within four or five minutes. It may take longer, but I’ve seen and heard filler words accumulate much, much faster.

Even more fun would be to take any recorded business presentation and edit out the legitimate corporate content. Leave the filler words and run them together in one long voice track. Over the course of a 60 minute presentation the net result may be several minutes of filler language that did nothing for the audience. Look at it as several minutes that could’ve been better spent delivering value to an audience.

2. Go and Like

The word is said. Not go – or went.

As in “…and then I go, You should be more careful when you cross the street…”

Or “… and then I went, You should be more careful…”

Or “…then he goes, We should get a bigger boat…”

You didn’t go anywhere. He didn’t go anywhere. You said something.

Same for the word “like” in conversation.

As in “…I was like, You really needed a bigger boat.”

Nobody was like anything. Somebody said something.

You may have to verbalize those lines in your head in your favorite ‘daydreamer’ accent, but you’ll get the drift. Eliminate the annoying misuses of the words go, like, and their derivates.

If you said something, say that you said something.

Or it’ll be, like, whatever

3. Amazing

The award for the most annoying overused word in the English language goes to the word amazing. Dinner was amazing. The performance was amazing. The interior of that refurbished house is amazing. We had an amazing time. It all turned out to be amazing. The word has been overused to the extent that it’s lost all meaning. Pull up your thesaurus and find an alternate.

4. Going Forward

This short phrase is gaining traction, and that’s not a good thing. Remember the next time you are treated to something along the lines of, “Going forward, our new CEO will seek to grow the business.” Or, “Going forward, the new coach will take the team in a new and exciting direction.”

Going forward? As opposed to what? Going backward? Or sideways? Unless a time machine is hanging out in the office, you’re always going to be going forward.

5. Background, History, Review, Overview, Timeline…

Your company’s Founder may have been a nice, no-nonsense business person born in the late 1800’s. And I’m sure times were tough when your company’s first product was launched in 1901. But nobody is attending your presentation to see black and white pictures of your company history, a timeline of the last 100 years, pretty pictures of your corporate campus, or anything that has anything to do with sleep-inducing topics entitled background, review, history, and the rest… If you want to get an audience to tune out and drop out from the jump, include the words Summary and Review with those already listed and you’ll be on your way to nap time.

Here’s one tip for today: Record your next presentation, speech, or webinar, and hear what your audiences hear. Listen to yourself.

I once worked with a VP who was a bright, articulate, and experienced executive. But his continual usage of the phrase “you know” during his presentations severely undercut his credibility. I also worked with another senior executive who liberally used a variety of filler words during an interview. It didn’t help that the interviewer didn’t prepare his communication skills, either. If only these former colleagues could hear what the rest of the world could hear, maybe they would’ve prepared for their vocal skills for their future business presentations. Why they didn’t take their vocal skills seriously remains puzzling.

So record yourself, listen, and analyze. You’ll start to notice where you can improve your vocal skills, credibility, and overall communication abilities. Most people don’t do this. It’s either out of fear, arrogance, or pure laziness that they don’t. Enjoy knowing that when you record and improve your vocabulary and vocal skills, you’re strengthening a significant business advantage for yourself.

Here’s a bonus tip about what not to do, and what not to say. If you’re giving a presentation or speech in a setting where you’re wearing a wireless microphone, remember when you have that microphone on your person. In the aftermath of a presentation, a couple of speakers have forgotten that they’re still wearing a microphone. Some have been known to trash talk other presenters while still wearing a microphone. One story even recalls how a presenter took a live wireless microphone into the men’s bathroom after a presentation. I don’t know if any of that was recorded, but it might’ve been.

Always know where the microphones are, promptly remove any microphone from your person after a presentation, and always treat any microphone as if it’s turned on.

In public speaking, presentations, and event management, there’s no substitute for experience.

Visit: http://www.gettingpresence.com, or email: info@gettingpresence.com

Hey [Voice Assistant]: Find Another Voice to Represent My Business

Tony Compton, Managing Director
GettingPresence

For those of us who remain connected to television programming via cable or satellite, it’s hard not to notice the former CBS-TV network comedy The King of Queens relentlessly being played over and over in syndication. Scroll the on-screen programming menu offered by any cable or satellite provider and you’re sure to find it. The show is on several channels, in the morning, afternoon, and night. It’s on seven days a week.

I never watched the show when it was in its first run on network television. Never. Not once. Nothing against the show, but I just never watched it. But it’s now on television with such frequency that I’ve landed on the show more than once via late-night channel surfing.

A moment from one particular episode caught my attention. One of the show’s characters owns and operates a Queens, New York pizza parlor, and there’s a scene in this restaurant when he’s working behind the counter and in the middle of an in-person conversation. The character talks in a no-accent, Middle America, vocal style. No New York City accent. No Italian accent. No Mid-Atlantic accent. Nothing. Just a straight-forward thirty-something male voice from most Anywhere, USA. But during this episode, that conversation he’s having is suddenly interrupted by the restaurant’s telephone ringing. It’s a wall phone from the 1980’s and somebody’s calling to place an order. But instead of answering the phone in a typical “Hello, How may I help you…” tone of voice, the owner answers in a quickly-fabricated heavy Italian accent. “Hello, Angelo’s Pizza, How may I help you…” (Apply your own interpretive accent to that quote.)

The pizza order is taken, he hangs up the phone, and then goes back to his normal #voice for the balance of the previous in-house conversation. The bit lasts 10-15 seconds, max. It’s an amusing, family-friendly, network tv line from a sitcom, but one that held more of a business lesson learned than the show’s producers, writers, or actors could have known at the time.

Your Voice Assistant Can’t Provide That #CustomerExperience

I’ve read about #Amazon’s Alexa and #Google Home’s ability to locally order pizza from two of the national chains, provided accounts are set-up in advance. (Bugs and shortcomings in the system notwithstanding.) So let’s stay with that example, and imagine if you owned a local pizza place or a chain of regional Italian restaurants. Your target #customer is lying on the couch, watching The King of Queens on late-night TV and gets hungry for pizza. Instead of moving his lazy body to dial for delivery, sit up to use an app, or get up to find his computer, he only has to talk to his voice-assist enabled device sitting on a table on the other side of the room. But instead of delivering a customized audible customer experience, the generic platform voice is the front person for all pizza places within the system. Nothing unique, no Angelo, no Tony, nothing differentiated in the sound of the interaction with the restaurants. Just a computerized voice providing options, and it’s a voice that sounds exactly the same from one pizza joint to the next. At the moment of truth for the vocal and audible customer experience, the interaction is watered down. Homogenized. And that #sales, #marketing, and #customerservice process is going to have to change. One generic voice assistant representing your business – and those of your competitors – can’t last. As nice and sophisticated as your chosen platform’s voice assistant may sound, you don’t necessarily want that male or female voice branding your restaurant – or your chosen line of business.

Three #CX Predictions

1. Across all #platforms, voice-enabled transactions in the next several years are expected to total in the billions of dollars. Given that market forecast, businesses will have to quickly learn how to connect their products and services to this new form of vocal customer interaction, experience, and relationship. They’ll have to do so in a differentiated way or miss out on that future spend. It’s interesting to note that the use of voice-enabled assistants can level the playing field for many smaller or regional businesses (think Pizza Hut and Domino’s vs. Angelo’s New York Pizza), but it’ll be the smaller businesses that are slow to react and invest that could be the most vulnerable.

2. The market should move quickly in a direction that will allow #technology to be developed such that the current platform assistants can connect to corporate-owned, individually-branded voice assistants that will deliver differentiated consumer interactions. This is not a replacement of the current set of computerized voice assistants, rather a connection to one or more voices that specifically represents a particular company, #brand, or business. #Alexa or #Siri could act as a virtual switchboard to route users to any one company’s ability to use voice-assist and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology in creative ways their competitor’s could never imagine.

3. For all of the technology and #AI, actual human voices will continue to play a critical role throughout this voice and branding process. I know this seems as if it takes away from some of the futuristic HAL 2000 thinking, but no supercomputer could provide the actual voice used for Tony’s Pizza in Chicago. Or Angelo’s in Queens. Or Hunter’s chain of Western Wear Shops throughout the State of Texas. I wouldn’t want a supercomputer voice to brand my Chicagoland pizza parlors with an automated voice-assist that sounds like a Joe Pesci from Goodfellas ripoff. And just ask somebody from southern Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama if all southern United States accents sound the same. (They don’t.) Supercomputer voices have a long way to go to reflect the nuances in dialects, and that’s only considering the USA. (BTW, that includes anything uttered by #IBM’s Watson.) For the long foreseeable future, humans will be needed to provide voices for companies seeking to differentiate themselves in the voice-assistance world, and that should make those in the #voiceover industry jump for joy.

Of course the use of differentiated voices for company branding activities is nothing new. Companies have traditionally employed actors with the precise voices they want for everything from radio and television commercials, to Interactive Voice Response systems, to web and streaming media activities, to video games, to, well, computer-generated voice-enabled assistants. But it’s this still-developing link in the voice-assisted customer experience chain that provides the most excitement, and creative possibilities.

Linking AI, to customized voices and crafted sound experiences, through the in-home, in-auto, in-office, or handheld mobile device to represent your business has got to be compelling. Imagine the possibilities, and how your business can own that audible customer experience in ways your competitors could never imagine. I think I’ll stay up late, give some thought to how this economic and technology model can work, and order a pizza.

BTW, Chicago’s pizza is still better than New York’s.

Visit: http://www.gettingpresence.com, or email: info@gettingpresence.com