“…you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison for your mind. “-Morpheus, The Matrix

The other day, I sat in on a Dale Carnegie class conducted by fellow trainer. She was standing in for the regular trainer and was conducting Session 5 of the course. For those of you who have not taken the program, Session 5 is the session where participants learn to actively take control of their attitudes, use more physical activity in their demonstrations, and inject more emotion in their public speaking.

As I sat there watching these participants go through the process, I had a a striking visual analogy. It was so powerful that I felt the physical force of the impact.

The visual? A 1500 Watt Power Amplifier!

Power Amplifier and Dynamic Range

Now I’m not talking about those wimpy little car amplifiers. Here, I’m talking about one of those big boxes that has two analog VU meters on the front,  and a big knob that “goes up to 11.”

Back in the day, we used these monsters to fill our college dorm with the music of Pink Floyd and Peter Gabriel. No MP3s, no music-playing smartphones, no PCs with multiple sound card interfaces and a software graphics equalizer. Mobility was not our concern. We typically connected these units of sonic destruction to a receiver, a turntable and two very large speakers. Think of Michael J. Fox in the opening scene of Back to the Future. It was all about power, baby! The more you had, the better you felt.

Here’s the deal. When we were evaluating high-end stereos, one specification we scrutinized was the dynamic range of the system. Dynamic range is a measurement of the equipment’s ability to accurately reproduce quiet passages of sound as well as loud passages.

Dynamic range wasn’t a big consideration when we played rock music because there was typically only one level: loud. But it became an important concern when we played classical music where the volume and frequency ranges are a lot wider. If your power amplifier didn’t have a wide dynamic range, some of those quiet passages would turn into silence. At the other end, if the music was to loud for the amplifier, then the amp would stop reproducing the sound and chop off what it couldn’t reach, a process known as clipping the signal.

Applying the Power Amplifier Analogy to Public Speaking

As I sat in that class watching these participants, it occurred to me that each one of them was just like that big  amplifier.

I saw participants start the session with bland expressions, monotone voices, and boxed body movements. They expanded themselves to expressive faces, dynamic voices, and wild body movements in their public speaking exercises.

I saw their faces go from being expressionless and unmoving to being dynamic and expressive. They smiled, frowned, furrowed their brow, squinted their eyes… you name it, their faces did it.

I heard their voices go from being flat, monotone, and unemotional to moving across a wide spectrum. They shouted, whispered, screamed, talked like Micky Mouse and Barry White! They used everything their voice had to give in their presentations.

I watched as they began with their bodies in one, fixed position to moving their bodies to fill the room. Participants kneeled, jumped, stooped, waved their hands over their head, and bounced from one side of the room to the other. They let their bodies explore a wider range of motion.

Surprisingly, none of them ever reached their maximum volume level in their public speaking projects where they “clipped their signal”.

Reaching your Full Dynamic Range in Public Speaking

The dynamic range of human expression and emotion stretches wide and deep. Yet, so few of us take advantage of that full range. Instead, we fall into comfortable habits, trying not to rock the boat for fear of upsetting the status quo. We try to maintain a controlled demeanor in our work environments. In fact, we only become more expressive when coached, encouraged, or compelled to do so. Yet, when we use everything we have to communicate our message, our audience listens to what we have to say. And they have a good time in the process.

If we want to live life to its fullest and maximize our public speaking talents, we need to stretch beyond our current perceived limitations and use everything at our disposal.  That includes having someone on our side to give us feedback. Someone who can give us some coaching and help us take advantage of all available resources.

When you think about it, that’s what life is supposed to be like. Life is meant to be lived with passion and vigor. And we can’t do that confining our movements, restricting our communication abilities, and living in a box.

Live your life to the full dynamic extremes, not flatlining down the mediocre middle of the road.