So let’s spend a few minutes talking about noise. Yes, yes I realize that when you are giving a speech you are generating noise and you are in control of that. You can speak louder or you can speaker softer, but you are always in charge. What I want to talk to you about today is all of the other noise that may be present when we are giving a speech. We all understand that our speaking environment is never silent; however, it’s the amount of noise and what we can do to control it that speakers need to understand.
Say Hello To Other Sounds
Speakers are already familiar with the power of the human voice—but did you know that all sound affects you, often profoundly? Understanding how this works, and how to pay more attention to what our ears tell us, can transform how we give speeches and can influence the importance of public speaking. Sound is constantly affecting your happiness, effectiveness, and well-being as well as the effectiveness of your speech. In a noisy, fast-paced world, we often unconsciously suppress our awareness of the sound around us, perhaps because not much of it is pleasant. The more conscious and discerning you become in your listening, the more you control the sound you create and the sound you consume.
Noise may be endemic, but we ignore it at our peril because it can have devastating effects on our speech. In schools, poor acoustics damage health: Research indicates that chronic exposure to 65 dB (decibels) significantly increases risk of heart attack, so teachers may well be shortening their lives by working in this much noise year after year. In hospitals, noise levels have been estimated by a Johns Hopkins study to be 8-12 times higher than the World Health Organization’s recommendations. Noise degrades the quality and quantity of sleep, which is our most important route to rapid recovery.
And in corporate offices, noise has been the No. 1 complaint ever since someone decided that open-plan was a one-size-fits-all solution. If you’re trying to concentrate in this environment, that person chatting behind you is taking up most of your auditory bandwidth and squashing your ability to listen to your inner voice. Many of us have felt the frustration that ensues. With an estimated 6 billion square feet of open-plan office in the world, the total loss of productivity is mind-boggling. So noise is damaging our health, productivity, and ability to give effective speeches – but we’re not paying any attention. We urgently need to start designing spaces for giving speeches. Here’s how.
Using Sound To Make Your Speech Even Better
There are four steps to a space that sounds good for a speech, whether it’s your living room, a meeting room, a classroom, an open-plan office, or a concert hall. If you control any of the spaces you speak in, these are the principles you need to understand. Hard surfaces such as metal, stone, glass, and plaster all reflect back most of the sound that hits them. Meeting rooms with stone floors, polished wood tables, and glass walls may look impressive, but with plenty of confusing sound bouncing off all those hard surfaces, it’s no wonder people at the other end on conference calls often can’t understand a word. We need to move from hard to soft. Any room in which speech matters should have reverberation time of well under one second, which can be achieved by installing absorbency. Consider speaking rooms that use acoustic tiles or plaster for the ceiling, and old-fashioned carpet for the floors.
Close your eyes and listen attentively in any room and you will quickly identify noise sources—heaters, air conditioning, IT cooling fans, and the like—and decide if you want to move them or muffle them. The most distracting sounds of all are alarms, ringing phones, and other people’s conversation. If you’re in an office with no widely accepted etiquette for open-plan offices, why not have a meeting prior to your speech and agree on rules for your workplace.
When you need or want to introduce sound, for example using a public address system, make sure the system is of appropriate quality. Low-quality sound creates a low-quality speech. Even if you can’t influence the sound around you, you can take steps to mitigate noise and choose silence. In an ever-noisier world, listen consciously and design your surroundings with your ears. Your health, happiness, and the quality of your speech will all benefit.
What All Of This Means For You
When we give a speech, we generate noise. The noise that we generate we have complete control over and allows us to provide the benefits of public speaking. However, since we deliver our speeches in the real world we need to understand that there are many other noises that our speech may be competing with. We need to understand that these noises exist and we need to develop ways to deal with them.
It turns out that noise can not only impact your speech but it can also affect you. We may not be aware of it, but it is there. We can’t ignore the noise that is all around us. Noise can have a negative impact on us. In order to get the noise in our speaking environment to work for us and not against us we need to take care of four different elements of sound: acoustics, sources, the sound system that we are using, and the content of the noise. If we can take control of the sound that is surrounding us, then we can deliver even better speeches.
Question For You: What’s the best way to understand what sounds you are dealing with?
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Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site www.Toastmasters.org. Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!
What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time
All speakers want to become better speakers. The challenge that we face is that we just don’t know how to go about doing this. We can hire coaches, we can attend classes, there is no shortage of things that we can do. However, it turns out that if we truly want to become better, there one thing that we can do. Take the time to video record ourselves. The camera never lies.