speech directed toward someone who is absent or toward a thing that is personified is called
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The human voice: Its the instrument we all play. Its the most powerful sound in the world, probably. Its the only one that can start a war or say “I love you.” And yet many people have the experience that when they speak, people dont listen to them. And why is that? How can we speak powerfully to make change in the world? What Id like to suggest, there are a number of habits that we need to move away from. Ive assembled for your pleasure here seven deadly sins of speaking. Im not pretending this is an exhaustive list, but these seven, I think, are pretty large habits that we can all fall into. First, gossip. Speaking ill of somebody whos not present. Not a nice habit, and we know perfectly well the person gossiping, five minutes later, will be gossiping about us. Second, judging. We know people who are like this in conversation, and its very hard to listen to somebody if you know that youre being judged and found wanting at the same time. Third, negativity. You can fall into this. My mother, in the last years of her life, became very negative, and its hard to listen. I remember one day, I said to her, “Its October 1 today,” and she said, “I know, isnt it dreadful?” (Laughter) Its hard to listen when somebodys that negative. (Laughter) And another form of negativity, complaining. Well, this is the national art of the U.K. Its our national sport. We complain about the weather, sport, about politics, about everything, but actually, complaining is viral misery. Its not spreading sunshine and lightness in the world. Excuses. Weve all met this guy. Maybe weve all been this guy. Some people have a blamethrower. They just pass it on to everybody else and dont take responsibility for their actions, and again, hard to listen to somebody who is being like that. Penultimate, the sixth of the seven, embroidery, exaggeration. It demeans our language, actually, sometimes. For example, if I see something that really is awesome, what do I call it? (Laughter) And then, of course, this exaggeration becomes lying, and we dont want to listen to people we know are lying to us. And finally, dogmatism. The confusion of facts with opinions. When those two things get conflated, youre listening into the wind. You know, somebody is bombarding you with their opinions as if they were true. Its difficult to listen to that. So here they are, seven deadly sins of speaking. These are things I think we need to avoid. But is there a positive way to think about this? Yes, there is. Id like to suggest that there are four really powerful cornerstones, foundations, that we can stand on if we want our speech to be powerful and to make change in the world. Fortunately, these things spell a word. The word is “hail,” and it has a great definition as well. Im not talking about the stuff that falls from the sky and hits you on the head. Im talking about this definition, to greet or acclaim enthusiastically, which is how I think our words will be received if we stand on these four things. So what do they stand for? See if you can guess. The H, honesty, of course, being true in
what you say, being straight and clear. The A is authenticity, just being yourself. A friend of mine described it as standing in your own truth, which I think is a lovely way to put it. The I is integrity, being your word, actually doing what you say, and being somebody people can trust. And the L is love. I dont mean romantic love, but I do mean wishing people well, for two reasons. First of all, I think absolute honesty may not be what we want. I mean, my goodness, you look ugly this morning. Perhaps thats not necessary. Tempered with love, of course, honesty is a great thing. But also, if youre really wishing somebody well, its very hard to judge them at the same time. Im not even sure you can do those two things simultaneously. So hail. Also, now thats what you say, and its like the old song, it is what you say, its also the way that you say it. You have an amazing toolbox. This instrument is incredible, and yet this is a toolbox that very few people have ever opened. Id like to have a little rummage in there with you now and just pull a few tools out that you might like to take away and play with, which will increase the power of your speaking. Register, for example. Now, falsetto register may not be very useful most of the time, but theres a register in between. Im not going to get very technical about this for any of you who are voice coaches. You can locate your voice, however. So if I talk up here in my nose, you can hear the difference. If I go down here in my throat, which is where most of us speak from most of the time. But if you want weight, you need to go down here to the chest. You hear the difference? We vote for politicians with lower voices, its true, because we associate depth with power and with authority. Thats register. Then we have timbre. Its the way your voice feels. Again, the research shows that we prefer voices which are rich, smooth, warm, like hot chocolate. Well if thats not you, thats not the end of the world, because you can train. Go and get a voice coach. And there are amazing things you can do with breathing, with posture, and with exercises to improve the timbre of your voice. Then prosody. I love prosody. This is the sing-song, the meta-language that we use in order to impart meaning. Its root one for meaning in conversation. People who speak all on one note are really quite hard to listen to if they dont have any prosody at all. Thats where the word “monotonic” comes from, or monotonous, monotone. Also, we have repetitive prosody now coming in, where every sentence ends as if it were a question when its actually not a question, its a statement? (Laughter) And if you repeat that one, its actually restricting your ability to communicate through prosody, which I think is a shame, so lets try and break that habit. Pace. I can get very excited by saying something really quickly, or I can slow right down to emphasize, and at the end of that, of course, is our old
silence. Theres nothing wrong with a bit of silence in a talk, is there? We dont have to fill it with ums and ahs. It can be very powerful. Of course, pitch often goes along with pace to indicate arousal, but you can do it just with pitch. Where did you leave my keys? (Higher pitch) Where did you leave my keys? So, slightly different meaning in those two deliveries. And finally, volume. (Loud) I can get really excited by using volume. Sorry about that, if I startled anybody. Or, I can have you really pay attention by getting very quiet. Some people broadcast the whole time. Try not to do that. Thats called sodcasting, (Laughter) Imposing your sound on people around you carelessly and inconsiderately. Not nice. Of course, where this all comes into play most of all is when youve got something really important to do. It might be standing on a stage like this and giving a talk to people. It might be proposing marriage, asking for a raise, a wedding speech. Whatever it is, if its really important, you owe it to yourself to look at this toolbox and the engine that its going to work on, and no engine works well without being warmed up. Warm up your voice. Actually, let me show you how to do that. Would you all like to stand up for a moment? Im going to show you the six vocal warm-up exercises that I do before every talk I ever do. Any time youre going to talk to anybody important, do these. First, arms up, deep breath in, and sigh out, ahhhhh, like that. One more time. Ahhhh, very good. Now were going to warm up our lips, and were going to go Ba, Ba, Ba, Ba, Ba, Ba, Ba, Ba. Very good. And now, brrrrrrrrrr, just like when you were a kid. Brrrr. Now your lips should be coming alive. Were going to do the tongue next with exaggerated la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la. Beautiful. Youre getting really good at this. And then, roll an R. Rrrrrrr. Thats like champagne for the tongue. Finally, and if I can only do one, the pros call this the siren. Its really good. It starts with “we” and goes to “aw.” The “we” is high, the “aw” is low. So you go, weeeaawww, weeeaawww. Fantastic. Give yourselves a round of applause. Take a seat, thank you. (Applause) Next time you speak, do those in advance. Now let me just put this in context to close. This is a serious point here. This is where we are now, right? We speak not very well to people who simply arent listening in an environment thats all about noise and bad acoustics. I have talked about that on this stage in different phases. What would the world be like if we were speaking powerfully to people who were listening consciously in environments which were actually fit for purpose? Or to make that a bit larger, what would the world be like if we were creating sound consciously and consuming sound consciously and designing all our environments consciously for sound? That would be a world that does sound beautiful, and one where understanding would be the norm, and that is an idea worth spreading. Thank you. (Applause)
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