Put on some Bach, Beethoven or Chopin. And listen to the music. What do you hear? You hear variation. The music races madly ahead. Then it stops. It goes softer, then louder. Then at a normal volume once again.
And variation isn’t just restricted to classical music. It’s pretty much everywhere you look. In cartoons, movies, speeches, art—you’ll find variation everywhere. And there’s an important reason why variation should be a critical component in your presentation.
It’s because a lack of variation is terribly boring
If all you do is blah, blah, blah from start to end without variation, you’re doing exactly what average speakers do. Like lifeless ghouls they advance from one slide to the other, never changing their tone, volume or rhythm. And even if their content is pretty interesting, the presentation tends to lack packaging. And variation is the magical packaging on which great presentations thrive.
So how do you create this variation anyway?
You do so with a change of rhythm, pace and volume. At least twice or thrice in your presentation, you need drop your voice down completely, to a whisper. And boof, the attention levels in the room spike madly as the audience leans forward to hear what you have to say.
And yet a whisper is only one method of creating voice
As you’ve probably figured out, you also can raise your voice to create drama. You could possibly speed up your pace. Or slow down. Or say something important, then say nothing at all for a few seconds.
So yes, variation rules, but how much variation do you need?
Not a lot actually. You can deliver most of your presentation—say about 80% to 85%—at your normal pace and volume. If you simply create variation at several junctures in the presentation, you’ll create enough change to keep the audience always alert.
But how do you know when to speed up or slow down?
Speeding up suddenly creates a flutter of excitement. So if you’ve got something exciting to say, speed it up. If you want to emphasise some fact, slow your speech down.
If you’ve got something really important to say, let your voice plummet to a whisper. And the members of the audience will listen intently, just as if you were telling them some state secret.
It’s hard to give you exact advice on when to go louder or softer, but if you choose to increase your volume, you need to do it very briefly. A loud volume is hard on our hearing for more than a few seconds.
If you persist in ‘shouting’, it’s more than likely that the sound engineer at the back of the room will reduce your levels. While there’s no reason why you shouldn’t raise your voice, just do it briefly. Then having made your point, move back to your normal volume level.
The same applies to the whisper
If you keep whispering endlessly, you’ve reduced a dramatic variation to a farce. A variation is powerful because it’s infrequent. And when it suddenly makes an entrance, it demands instant attention.
What’s interesting is that variations don’t work in isolation
In fact they work a lot better when teamed up with body movements. So when you suddenly go silent, it’s not just your mouth that snaps shut. Your body freezes as well.
When you get all excited and speak faster, your hand gestures, your face, your legs, they’re all excitedly moving as well. And this intense energy hurls itself into the audience, and they get excited or quiet too.
Which is why it’s important to use the stage well
Sure you can sit on a chair and wave your hands madly, but the effect is not quite the same. Which is why the most revered presenters on the planet aren’t stuck behind a lectern, but are out there moving purposefully across the stage like it were their personal fiefdom.
And they pace their presentation. Like some modern day Beethoven they hold their audience in a spell. And they never forget to bring in that subtle variation from time to time. Because they know it’s the tone, rhythm and pace that makes a presentation come alive.
And stay alive.
This was an excerpt from the Black Belt Presentation Series.