“I was thirteen years old when my parents got divorced,” a seminar participant once revealed during a speech. While he was saying it, he was smiling awkwardly.
The unavoidable happened. During the evaluation process after his speech one of his fellow seminar attendants expressed her doubts about the coherence of content and facial expression when mentioning the divorce. Frankly, would you smile when you speak about your parents’ divorce letting your life fall into a state of agony at the peak of puberty?
According to Merriam-Webster coherence is the quality or state of cohering as a) systematic or logical connection or consistency b) integration of diverse elements, relationships, or values.
Coherence of body, voice, and content directly influences your level of authenticity perceived by the audience. Therefore, the triangle of coherence in public speaking always needs to be in a state of balance.
As a public speaker you face a multi-dimensional matrix of possible combinations (see below). It takes time, practice and feedback to find that state of balance in any speaking situation.
Content: Technical, entertaining, emotional (happy, sad), inspirational, …
Body: Facial expressions, hand and arm gestures, legs and entire body.
Voice: Loud, soft, fast, slow, high pitch, low pitch, pauses.
Despite the time, practice and feedback it takes to become a master of coherence, there are common sense situations you can easily manage from the start.
When you speak about the divorce of your parents your smile will disappear. Instead you will look sad. Your vocal volume goes down. You make pauses, as if you were hesitating to speak. You avoid the sacred eye contact for a second and look at the floor in order to express embarrassment. You speak slowly, throughtful. Now your triangle of coherence is in balance.
When you speak about your experience with a hurricane your vocal volume jumps up. Just like your pitch-rate. You speak rapidly. Your vowels stumble across your consonants. You hands and arms flail around. The hurricane is coming. A terrified gaze, panic in your eyes. Now your triangle of coherence is in balance.
When you speak about the objectives you want to accomplish with your sales team your voice will be loud and determined. You will make dramatic pauses after each motivational statement. You will look them deeply into their eyes with self-confidence and authority. You will clench your fist like Rafael Nadal after making the match point. Now the triangle of coherence is in balance.
You can practice your coherence in public speaking every day and almost everywhere. In front of mirrors. At home, in hotels, in bathrooms. Anywhere.
Whatever you do – please make sure you don’t smile when you talk about the divorce of your parents.