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Command an Audience Like an FBI Hostage Negotiator

Show confidence by speaking slowly, lowering your register, and adding pauses.

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BY Ken Sterling - 25 Sep 2018

Command an Audience Like an FBI Hostage Negotiator

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Recently met with Chris Voss--the badass, FBI hostage negotiator, bestselling author of Never Split The Difference, and stellar keynote speaker. He gave a 3-hour workshop to members at Technology Marketing Toolkit at the end of July that was mind blowing--including a role play with audience members as hostage negotiators (in which you can't wire transfer money, go to the airport, and swap hostages, oh, and you have two minutes before the captors start getting deadly).

Just talking to this dude, with his quiet, husky voice scares the bejesus out of me--yet also makes me feel safe and calm. Listening to him speak, I realized there are wrong ways to talk to your audience (e.g., too fast, too monotone, etc.), and then there's the Chris Voss way.

Voss doesn't just tell you how to talk, he lives the talk on stage. So if you want to command your audience like a pro, borrow a few techniques from Voss's playbook.

Speak slowly

I'm not sure why some speakers talk so fast. Maybe they think there is an award for delivering the most words in the shortest amount of time. If those speakers only knew most audiences can only recall a small percentage of what they say days later, they might take some time to catch their breath. (Breathe already.)

Speaking slowly, on the other hand, has many benefits. It commands the audience's attention. It gives you time to express fully formed thoughts, rather than resorting to conversational filler or endless "umhs" and "ahhs." Lastly, it makes people listen to what you have to say because your message must be important if you are speaking so slowly.

Use a lower register

Some speakers come out on stage like cheerleaders, full of enthusiasm, speaking at a high pitch. There's nothing wrong with using a higher register if you're trying to motivate your audience. But if you really want to grip them and show you are an authority on your topic, you'll lower the register of your voice.

In Voss's book, he calls this type of talk the FM DJ voice, which he uses to show hostages and terrorists he is in control of the situation. It's a soothing voice, unthreatening, but firm that signals to the audience you're confident about your message.

Add pauses

People are afraid of silences. Even when we are one on one with a friend, the urge to fill the silence with speech is often irresistible. When you're on stage with hundreds, maybe thousands, of people watching and waiting on you, the silence can be unbearable.

However, while filling up those spaces with empty talk may lower your anxiety, it doesn't increase your authority. When you add pauses, it gives time for your audience to take in a point, or to increase their excitement to hear the next great idea.

So the next time you are presenting, appear confident and in control by speaking slowly, lowering your register, and adding pauses. You'll find your audience will wait on your every word and will consider you in control of the proceedings.


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