There are four kinds of speakers in the business world:
- The incoherent, who meander, use tons of jargon, and talk of things interesting mostly to themselves.
- The coherent, who can verbally communicate facts and opinions but seldom say anything memorable.
- The articulate, who speak succinctly and clearly but whose words are seldom persuasive.
- The eloquent, who use language and body language to win the hearts and minds of their listeners.
Eloquent people sound smart, regardless of how intelligent they are. The opposite is true as well. Smart people who are incoherent (like some engineers I've known) often come off as if they're of limited intelligence.
Fortunately, eloquence is a skill that can be taught, practiced, and mastered. Here are nine easily mastered techniques to quickly make yourself more eloquent and smarter sounding.
1. Stand or sit with spine straight but relaxed.
Eloquence is more than just how you use language. It's also how you use your body language. The position of your back is the foundation of your body language and therefore the root of your eloquence.
Slumping communicates a lack of confidence in yourself and your words. The other extreme, a ramrod straight back, says "fight or flight." A straight but relaxed spine puts you in a mental and physical state from which words flow smoothly and easily.
2. Keep your chin up.
The position of your head is just as important as the position of your spine, a fact reflected in many common expressions. To "hold your head high," for example, is to show pride and determination. To be "downcast" means you're already beaten down.
An upright head is essential for eloquence for physiological reasons as well. A tense neck (inevitable if your head is facing down) tends to strangle your words, preventing you from speaking clearly.
3. Focus on your listeners.
Eloquence is meaningful only if people are listening to you, and they won't listen if you're thinking about something else or if your eyes are wandering all over the room. Eloquence without attention is mere speechifying.
Two special cases: Avoid glancing sideways; it makes you seem dishonest (shifty-eyed). If you must check your notes, use your eyes to look downward without nodding your head.
4. Speak loudly enough to be heard.
For maximum eloquence, speak loudly enough so people farthest from you can hear but not so loudly that it's uncomfortable for those in front.
If you're unsure of your volume, ask somebody in the back if they can hear you clearly. If they answer yes, say "How about this?" in a voice slightly less loud. If they answer no, crank your voice up a notch.
However, never raise your voice to a yell. Yelling makes you sound insane rather than eloquent. If you find yourself in that position, either ask for a microphone or request that people move closer.
5. Buttress words with appropriate gestures.
Use your hands to emphasize key points. The easy way to learn this skill is to watch how celebrities and popular public speakers use gestures as they speak. Note how their hand movements seem to "emerge" from their words.
If you're not actively using a gesture, keep your hands still. Fiddling with your glasses, rattling your papers, scratching yourself, and so forth will distract the audience from your message and "cancel out" your eloquence.
6. Strategically position your body.
Add power to your words by moving your body appropriately. For example, if you're speaking to a group from a stage, you might move from one spot to another to signal that you're introducing a new idea.
Similarly, when sitting at the conference table, incline forward slightly when you want to emphasize a point. Reorient your sitting position when you move from one subject or concept to another.
7. Use vivid words that everyone understands.
Cliches (especially biz-blab) are the opposite of eloquence. Use unexpected but common words or phrases that illustrate points in a memorable manner. Example: "common as houseflies" rather than "dime a dozen."
Also avoid words that your audience might not understand. Using fancy words makes you sound snobby, not smart. If you absolutely must introduce a term unfamiliar to the audience, define it in plain language.
8. Speak at different speeds.
Speaking at a single speed quickly turns whatever you're saying into a monotonous drone. Instead, slow down and speed up depending upon the importance of what you're communicating at the time.
If you're summarizing or going over background, speak more quickly than when you're providing new information. When you're describing introducing an important concept, slow down to give listeners time to absorb it.
9. Use pauses to create emphasis.
Silence isn't just golden; it's also the crowning glory of eloquence. For example, a slight pause before you're about to say something important create suspense. It leads your audience to "hang on your every word."
Similarly, a pause after you've said something important emphasizes its importance and gives listeners a moment to reflect on its importance. A perfect example of the eloquence that comes with pausing is Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.