How To Use Your Voice Effectively

Effective use of voice

Speak up!

The Voice Effect

You’ve probably walked up to a shop counter and the assistant has said, “Can I help you?” But it was said in such a downbeat way that they gave the impression of having little interest in helping.

Or you may have been somewhere, perhaps slightly lost, and someone says, “Can I help you?” in an aggressive tone. It clearly translates as ‘you shouldn’t be here’.

Contrast those experiences with one where someone comes up to you with a smile on their face and in a warm, friendly tone, asks, “Can I help you?” You know you are welcome and they really do want to help.

Isn’t it amazing that we can use the same four small words and yet mean different things?

When you speak to an audience, how you use your voice will have a significant impact on the effectiveness of your speech or presentation. It’s important to be aware that a normal conversational voice won’t be effective when speaking to a larger group. In effect, you need to switch to your ‘presentation voice’. Let’s explore further.

Putting on a Performance

When you stand up to deliver a speech or presentation, it is important to recognise the need for your presentation voice. In other words, putting on a performance. After all, you want your presentations to be persuasive don’t you?

By putting on a performance we don’t mean acting. You should still be you. It’s about using your voice effectively to help you get your message over to the audience.

Unless it is a very small group that you are addressing – five or six people max – a conversational style voice won’t work. The dynamics of speaking to an audience are quite different from chatting informally to a small group.

Fairly obviously, the larger the audience, the further away some people will be. The other key difference between informal and formal is the way we interact with the participants.

Informal conversations are unstructured. Usually, everyone chips in at some point. You can ask questions to clarify what is being said. You can see faces close up and get a sense of how others feel about the conversation. And you don’t need to project your voice unless there is a very noisy background.

When speaking to a roomful of people, everything changes.

You still need to be yourself, you’re not acting out a part. But this needs to be the ‘you’ that is in performance mode. To achieve that, it’s important to pay attention to the various elements that make up the way you speak. For simplicity, they can be grouped: Volume & Projection; Tone & Pitch; Pace & Pause.

Voice Volume and Projection

Speaking Volume – loud or quiet.

Voice Projection – can you be heard at the back of the room?

If you don’t want the back row of the audience to shout ‘speak up’, you may need to increase your voice volume, compared with conversational level.

Depending on audience size and room size and acoustics, you’ll probably need to speak loud enough to sound to yourself as though you are shouting. But it will sound perfectly natural to the listeners. If you are using a microphone, of course, the need to speak loudly will be reduced.

In addition to increasing volume, it’s important to work on your voice projection. This will have a significant bearing on your audibility.

A good starting point is to stand up straight, rather than to bend forwards over your notes. If your neck is bent it will restrict the flow of air powering your voice. You should also make sure to open your mouth fully so that your words come out clearly.

Look at the back wall of the room and focus on speaking to that. Then voice projection will tend to increase naturally. Nevertheless, looking at the wall should be done only briefly, as you still need to make eye contact with the audience.

Voice tone and pitch

Squeak up!

Tone and Pitch

Voice Pitch – deep or squeaky.

Tone of Voice – the mood conveyed, as described in the opening paragraphs of this post.

Let’s start with Pitch. To a large degree this is built in to us, but we can vary it to convey different emotions. For example, a surprised or excited voice will tend to be higher pitched than a serious one.

If your voice is naturally in the higher register, speaking more slowly will help to stop it going even higher.

Voice tone tends to be naturally related to the emotion you are conveying. Which is why it’s important to know the subject well and have a feel for it. Unless you are a very skilled speaker, reading a scripted speech will dull any tonal changes that convey enthusiasm.

A speech delivered in a monotone will make the most interesting subject sound dull and is likely to be sleep inducing.

Speaking Pace and Pause

Pace – a measured delivery or high-speed gabble.

Pause – silence!

In normal conversation, speaking speed isn’t usually a problem. But when delivering a speech, several factors come in to play. Firstly, you’re speaking for much longer than you would in conversation.

And you’re probably presenting a lot of information. The audience needs time to absorb and understand what they are being told.

In addition, distance will dull your words, especially if your word enunciation isn’t that clear. A slower pace will help with clear enunciation and it will aid the audience’s comprehension of your message.

If you are nervous it may cause you to speak faster than you would do normally, so a conscious effort to slow down is required.

The use of pauses is an important element in pacing a speech. Pausing after making an important point will give the listeners time to take it onboard. If you’ve made a humorous comment, pausing will allow the audience time to laugh before you continue.

And pausing will provide time to draw breath. Breathing is always a jolly good idea. And a pause will also allow you to glance at your notes, or even to take a sip of water.

Speaking Variation

You now have the basic components in place.

But they must be assembled carefully to provide variety. This is partly for interest, but mostly to add impact to the words. And to help those words persuade the listeners to your point of view.

When you are about to make a serious or important point, slowing down and lowering your voice volume will draw the audience in. A brief pause before making the point will add further impact. At other times, slightly increasing the pace of delivery and raising the volume will add excitement and demonstrate enthusiasm.

When practising a speech, it’s a good idea to try varying it in different ways to see how it sounds. And if there are parts of the presentation when it is really important to introduce variation, a highlight in your notes can be a useful reminder for effective use of voice.

Remember!

Public speaking is different from conversational speaking.

Effective use of voice is essential to make an impact on the audience. Variations of volume, tone, pitch and pace are required. If you’re new to public speaking, this can feel pretty strange. But remember, you need to put on a performance if your speech is to be effective.

To find out more about how voice is generated, how an elephant spoke Korean and why parrots are like us, have a look at this short video. As an aside, it’s also an example of excessive arm waving.

So now you know how to use your voice effectively. And if you watched the video, how that elephant spoke Korean.

 

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