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As part of my graduate program, I am required to give presentations to a group of attendees and a program panel about various topics including but not limited to research, involvement, and case studies.

The audience pays attention but rarely ask questions. A survey was released about my effectiveness as a lecturer and nearly 65% of attendees stated my voice was "too authoritative." A common problem was my voice being authoritative and causing the audience to be too timid to ask serious questions related to the topic. Talking in an "enthusiastic" tone (in my own opinion) yielded no results. My voice is very deep and, in order to project well, I tend to speak loudly (no microphones).

What are some tactics to get the attendees engaged and not appear "too authoritative?"

EDIT:

Let me add some details that I find relevant that I missed adding. The survey is handed out as attendees walk in. Between each lecturer there is a 10 minute "intermission" to allow attendees to exit or enter. The attendees are required to hand in surveys as they leave. The uni hosting the lecture combines common themes among the surveys. It is unknown how similarities are determined except to the staff reviewing the surveys. The results are then emailed to the lecturer with good and bad things about the lecture. I am then required to email to my supervisor.

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    Was "too authoritative" one end of a spectrum with "too enthusiastic"? Did they define it in the survey questionnaire? – aeismail Jan 31 '18 at 23:18
  • The survey question was "How would you rate the effectiveness of lecturer X". Some examples listed were "Not engaged","Too timid","Not engaging". Most of the responses listed me as too intimidating in reference to my voice. I'm received well among the panel but not necessarily the attendees. – DanSchneiderNA Jan 31 '18 at 23:24
  • You may try to tell a few jokes to relax the atmosphere. – foliated234 Jan 31 '18 at 23:25
  • Are jokes appropriate for conferences? The lectures I have personally attended never tell jokes. The conference is a technical conference. My supervisor suggested I vary the tones of my voice during the presentation. This i'm not sure would be effective for a voice that comes across as "too strong." – DanSchneiderNA Feb 1 '18 at 0:24
  • Jokes can be appropriate if you're at risk of coming off as too strong. You can also try to allow more sensitive audience members to pigeon-hole you into a non-threatening persona by playing up the bit, e.g. you could probably sell non-threatening nerdy guy pretty well. Kinda fun to adopt alternate personas for public appearances anyway. =P – Nat Feb 1 '18 at 0:41
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The solution will depend on what the survey respondents meant by "too authoritative". For example, it might mean any of the following:

  • your talk is pitched at too high a level, so people feel dumb when they don't understand, and are too intimidated to ask questions
  • your style is argumentative
  • one or two people did ask questions, which you didn't answer clearly
  • your style is pompous
  • you sound overconfident
  • you state your opinions as fact
  • ...and so on

I assume the survey was confidential, so you can't go back to people and ask them what they meant. So I suggest you ask a few colleagues who are good speakers what they think you need to improve on.

My voice is very deep and, in order to project well, I tend to speak loudly (no microphones).

A deep (low-pitched, bass-y) voice projects farther than a high voice. You may simply be speaking too loudly for the room.

  • +1 on adding other aspects that tend to make speakers be perceived trying to intimidate. – Carol Feb 1 '18 at 19:22
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    I think the most important part of your answer was this part: So I suggest you ask a few colleagues who are good speakers what they think you need to improve on. (you may want to emphasize it to improve the answer) These brief reviews aren't very helpful except to identify a potential problem - ask someone you trust to give you honest feedback on your speaking approach. – Bryan Krause Feb 1 '18 at 20:06
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Based on experience, I would say that it is making sure that the statements do not excessively utilize a large amount of jargon that is relevant to a specific discipline. The reason that jargon comes across as authoritative is because it usually is within the domain of a specific group of people (and of course, not all people have access to the terminology either due to lack of knowledge i.e. a broad understanding of the discipline.)

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    Welcome to Academia SE. Can you please edit your answer to elaborate how using jargon relates to an authoritative voice? – Wrzlprmft Feb 1 '18 at 6:48

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