In an age when you apparently need a distinctly regional or ethnic accent to get a job as a continuity announcer, Prime Ministers drop their aitches and even Royals are not averse to a touch of ‘Estuary’, the concept of enunciation may seem all very 1950s. My experience as a Presentation Skills coach, however, suggests that business people who ignore or struggle with their diction may end up out of pocket!
You always need to aim for absolute clarity when giving a presentation – there is simply no facility to turn back the page or rewind the tape if you mis-hear or fail to comprehend a point! So presenters need plain language, short sentences and a rather more forthright approach than you might adopt in a one-to-one conversation.
You also need to ‘spit out’ any words that are prone to confusion. Anything with an ‘s’ or a ‘f’, for instance, can easily be misheard; if your name is Cross of Croft you are probably aware of this. When it comes the numbers, the problem becomes all the more acute: 15 sounds 50 and vice versa; 17 sounds like 70 and so on. That’s why you often hear experienced number crunchers say the number and then spell it out out eg: “...revenue is up 15% this quarter – that’s one-five”.
Enunciation needs to be put back on the agenda for two main reasons. First, we all talk in a more casual way these days, so we all have the potential to be mis-heard. Second, in an increasingly data-driven world we are talking numbers more than ever before; and the numbers we are talking are bigger than ever. I was recently helping a client prepare for a big presentation and he referred to a ‘20 million dollar opportunity’ in what I considered to be a rather off-hand manner. “Hang on a minute”, I said, “if you have a 20 million dollar opportunity, then you need to ‘spit that out’ loud and proud and then pause for a moment to let the notion sink in with the audience”. “Oh no”, he said, “it’s a 20 billion dollar opportunity”.
“In that case”, I replied, “all that I said applies – but multiply it by a thousand”.