Note Bashing or Tweaking

By Alastair Grant


Anybody who sings in a choir will know the rigour of note bashing – again and again you sing a part to accurately hit the right notes. It can become tedious but it is an essential part of driving up the quality and precision of the choir. 

Applying this to delivery of a presentation looks a bit of a stretch but I am convinced that by making a number of tweaks you can make your spoken delivery more effective. By that I mean that you talk more convincingly. The audience is more likely to accept your ideas and will want to listen to you.

The most obvious correlation to singing is the expression in our voices. Most agree that some presenters use their voices so well that we just want to listen to them – never mind what they are saying. An example is David Attenborough‟s commentary on Frozen Planet.

More prosaically was the recent press coverage of Brodie Clark who was held responsible for immigration issues. He came over calm, measured and understated. I don‟t know whose version to believe but he gained in my estimation simply on hearing him. It is true that his Scottish accent is associated with honesty. Call centres often use Scottish employees for the same reason.

You shouldn’t copy Attenborough or affect a Scottish lilt, but here are some tweaks that you can do:

Tweak No.1: Have emotional content.

Get the right balance of emotions in your voice. If you want to energise the audience with a sense of your passion or commitment then your voice needs a raised level of arousal. This means modulating your voice up and down in pitch as much as you can, especially when emphasising the key words of a point. Your increased modulation will make the story more appealing to your audience.

The listeners will catch the excitement in your voice and be revved up to hear more. But your message might be more sombre:

When the Chancellor of the Exchequer explains our economic situation he must show determination and action whilst acknowledging we are facing financial challenges. Here, less modulation is in order but stressing key words helps to convey gravitas.

A good exercise is for you or a friend to listen to your recorded voicemail message. Do you sound bored, rushed or even just plain sad? A positive tone of voice, efficient crisp delivery ending with a falling pitch makes it sound like you mean business.

Tweak No.2: Talk in packets

Many of us – conditioned to talk from PowerPoint slides – become ramblers. We join separate idea streams together with a series of ‘ands’ & ‘umms’ and other verbal conjoiners. The audience finds it hard to work out when a key idea has reached its conclusion.

I sometimes tell my clients they are talking in sausages. That is to say a string of ideas each connected to the next one. It‟s important to cut them up. But it is not at all instinctive to teach ourselves to talk in packets, punctuated by pauses and engaging eye contact, as we drive the point home.

Tweak No.3: Vary word speed

This is easy and has an immediate effect. Talk at your normal crisp articulate rate and then slow down as you get to each key punch line.

For Example:

We have to make some difficult decisions in the next quarter balancing the danger of volatility with the need to meet our peer group benchmark, so we must take some degree of risk

Tweak No. 4: Vary volume

This can be a bit theatrical but the effect is still powerful. You can go louder or – less conventionally – quieter. Project your voice normally but at a key point reduce your volume so that the audience have to listen harder to hear you. You could also slow down. For example: The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.

Note bashing is a hard slog and the same applies to making these presentation tweaks work – but the result is worth it and has long-term benefits.

Our choir’s winter concert is coming up. We have been working hard at rehearsing superb baroque choral music by several composers I have never heard of, but we also sing some Christmas carols to allow audience participation.

I have had plenty of experience as a presentation coach, but as a novice singer I am struggling to sing the bass line of these well-known carols as my brain only knows the unison top line – so it’s back to my electronic keyboard with self-imposed note bashing. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (and Gentlewomen).


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