Using Audio to Enhance Your Presentations

When we think about adding things to enhance our presentations, we usually think of visuals like pictures and graphs. But what if there was something else we could use? Julian Treasure is one of the foremost experts on sound and listening, and he thinks that conscious attention to sound could be the key to greater understanding. In all of his TED talks, Treasure uses audio clips masterfully, as we might expect. I particularly like the clips in his talk called “5 Ways to Listen Better.” Treasure’s research and work is opening our ears, to the power of audio in presentation. Watch and listen to it now.

How Does Sound Affect Us?

In order to understand why we might want to consider incorporating audio into our presentations, we need to understand the relationship humans have with sound. Treasure says that sound affects us in 4 profound ways. First, it impacts us at a physiological level. For example, when a balloon pops, our breathing might pause as we gasp and our heartrate probably gets faster. Secondly, it affects us psychologically. Think of the soundtrack of a horror movie and how it evokes feelings of danger or suspense. Third, it affects us cognitively, either enhancing or limiting our ability to think. Statistics show that 78% of people who work in an open concept office are regularly bothered by the noise of the office and find it more difficult to concentrate. Finally, it influences our behavior. Think about the power of a song to move you to dance when you favorite song comes on.

With the knowledge of how sound is intimately tied to our body, emotions, mind, and behavior, why aren’t more speakers using sound in their presentations?

Why Don't We Use It?

I think most speakers just don’t think about sound as a way to help their audience understand the message better. Perhaps noise is so prevalent in our world, that it simply becomes part of the background of our lives. We don’t often think consciously about it. The National Geographic notes, “When people describe places, sound is often forgotten. But sound is often a major part of what makes a place special—what gives it a ‘sense of place’." The same goes for presentations. We simply forget about sound. We think a graph can help, but to present a statistic with a “negative” or “positive” sound in order to reinforce the meaning of that statistic probably just doesn’t cross our minds.

In order to start using audio in our presentations, we have to start by recognizing its potential. What sounds might help create a sense of atmosphere or emotion? What sounds could turn your presentation from a speech to an experience? What sounds could help the audience better understand your message? When you begin to ask questions like these, you open up possibilities to creating meaning through sound—and not just the sound of your voice speaking. Treasure asks us to consider,

“What would the world be like if we were creating sound consciously, consuming sound consciously, and designing all our environments consciously for sound? That would be a world that does sound beautiful, and one where understanding would be the norm.”

Take time to watch how Treasure uses sound in the clip linked above, or at TED’s website. And then begin to think about how you can follow his innovative example and make your presentations more effective through the use of audio.

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