The overabundance of web presentations since the pandemic has caused a step change in the way that we deliver and view Screen-to-Screen presentations. Aside from the necessary evolution towards shorter and more explicit, demonstrative presentations compared to longer, implicit, and deductive style presentations, the role of non-verbal communication is changing as well.

The rise of ZOOM, TEAMS, MEET, ADOBE, WEBEX and other platforms has also led to the demise of the importance of body language. During screen-to-screen meetings, where maybe 8 to 10 people are looking at almost postage-stamp size images of their colleagues, body language clues have virtually (pun intended) disappeared.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the impact of body language in Face-to-Face communication had been identified, controlled, and mastered by most experienced presenters. Body language contributed to a whopping 55% of message impact, with paralanguage (volume, rhythm, intonation, pitch, speed) coming in at 38%, and the words we use a poor 7% – even if the work of Albert Mehrabian has been misinterpreted, the figures can be disputed, it is clear that the body language impact that exists Face-to-Face certainly doesn’t exist Screen-to-Screen.

In the Screen-to-Screen world, this needs to be revisited, especially because the presenter is often seated instead of standing up. In our experience, paralanguage can now count for up to 50% of the impact in web communication as body movement is often restricted to almost nothing for a sitting presenter; gestures are at a minimum, eye contact depends on web cam positioning, and lip reading often becomes a needed skill! And this is only true when we see the presenter! Many times, audiences turn off the speaker’s video and just simply listen to what is being said while interpreting slides and even multi-tasking with emails or other distractions. The visual clues that audiences traditionally use to interpret a speaker’s effect are missing.

To make up for this “loss” in terms of communication impact, we need to make the most of the impact of our voice; our screen voice – both in terms of “what we say” and, “how we say it”.

In the Face-to-Face presentation world, it is commonly accepted that half of “what is said” will be forgotten in 24 hours, and 90% within 2 weeks. Over time almost all the actual content can become lost in our memory banks. Repetition and direct application of messages can increase the retention rate, yet if they are not used, they can easily be forgotten.

However, audience members will always remember 100% of the emotional state they were in during a presentation. Our long-term emotional memory stores “how it was said”. Information alone does not suffice to ensure the successful transmission and retention of messages.

Emotional engagement will help carry the content to the recipient’s brain for memorization. For speakers to ensure that messages are remembered, it is essential that they understand which emotions are strategically needed to positively mark the audience’s memory. The presenter’s prestige is at stake. Positive emotions like trust, empathy, warmth, humor, and engagement all contribute to transmitting a good reputation; negative emotions such as arrogance, boredom, monotony, apathy, or conflict can trigger the transmission of a bad reputation.

Reputations are built on which emotions are received. Today’s managers must lead with an empathic “pull” approach compared to a dictatorial “push” style if they want their teams to be engaged, believe, and follow their decisions. This fundamental principle of Leadership by Empathy is a nonnegligible key to success for managers in today’s world.

Thus, emotions are interpreted not only by the choice of words, “what is said” but also by the voice factors of volume, rhythm, intonation, pitch, speed, “how it is said”. Even a sitting presenter can vary the emotional appeals needed in a web presentation! This may feel unnatural for many web-presenters, but it is crucial to identify your own voice style and to develop the voice techniques to transmit strategically planned emotions in your communication when addressing live audiences and even more importantly with virtual audiences

So, what is Screen Voice, how is it linked to emotions and, above all,
how can it contribute to filling the gap caused by reduced body language? Screen Voice addresses the emotions by focusing on both
the content and the paralanguage.

The key to making the most of your voice is to focus on variation; variation in the words you use (syllables, complexity, imagery), variation in how you put your words together (the formulation of your sentences and phrases) and variation in your “paralanguage” (volume, rhythm, intonation, pitch, speed).

By “mixing & matching” these variations you can change the “color” of your voice and the intention you want to get across.

There are 4 primary “positive” voice colors, Yellow, Green, Blue and Red used respectively for conveying inclusion, empathy, expertise, and urgency. There are also two “negative” colors to be avoided; Grey (uninvolved, unconcerned and antipathic) and Black (accusing, criticizing and angry).

Here is a quick overview of the Screen Voice colors. You can download their full ID in 4 separate info-sheets at the end of the article

Adapting to the new norm

In conclusion, persuasion has always been about: firstly, transmitting information to the minds of others, and secondly, ensuring that the information remains as long as possible in their memory. The Screen-to-Screen world we are living in today demands a modification in the way that we transmit and receive these messages. Our evolution has engrained in our minds that the way a message is received is more important than the actual message itself, especially when speakers are standing in a physical world, presenting information with real human contact. Today, COVID-19 has forced us to rethink how we communicate to groups, and instead of standing amongst a live audience, leaders and presenters are forced to communicate today while sitting down, in front of a computer screen to a virtual audience. As a result, the accepted body language cues we expect to receive to grasp meanings are insufficient, or even totally absent.

Nevertheless, our brain will continue to search to give meaning through the emotions it perceives from a speaker. Emotional appeals such as urgency, inclusiveness, understanding, and authoritativeness all help us give meaning to what is being said. These emotional appeals are determined from not only the words or phrases that are said, but also, and more importantly, how they are said via the volume, rhythm, intonation, pitch, and speed of a speaker’s voice. In the web-presenter’s world, these elements of paralanguage are what we call Screen Voice.

So, what is the best Screen Voice to use? Well, it depends on who you are trying to persuade. Everyone has a dominant Screen Voice, and they will naturally adhere to arguments and styles that resonate with their dominant voice. If your audience has the same Screen Voice as you, you’ve got it made. However, this is rarely the case, and identifying other styles and adapting to them should be an integral part of your communication today.

The key to persuasion lies in your ability to vary your voice to emphasize your different intentions during the presentation or meeting on screen.
Your Entertaining Inclusive Yellow Voice can be used in the opening to be welcoming and to give a sense of dynamism and inclusion, your Expertise Knowledgeable Blue Voice will be used during your arguments to be credible and to generate confidence, use your Understanding Empathic Green Voice every now and then to show understanding and support and finally, some Pragmatic Urgent Red Voice to convey urgency, conviction and the need to act!

Successful web-presenters today will identify their predominant style, learn to develop the other styles and apply them when strategically necessary, and thus master the art of Screen Voice.

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