How To Use Your Voice Effectively
Voice Tips For Performance Speaking
The Voice Effect
“Can I help you?” Four small words.
What do they mean?
Mumbled in a downbeat tone they mean I’m not really interested in helping.
Said in an aggressive tone and they translate as ‘you shouldn’t be here’.
Delivered in a friendly tone, possibly accompanied by a smile, and we know you really do want to help.
The tone used changes the meaning of what we say. And when speaking to an audience, there are other factors to consider as well.
To be effective, our ‘presentation voice’ should to be different from the one we use in everyday conversation.
Yep, we need to learn a ‘foreign language’!
Put on a Performance
It’s about using our voices effectively.
When we stand up to deliver a speech or presentation, it is important to recognise the need to put on a performance. After all, we want our presentations to be persuasive don’t we?
Let’s look at how to use our voice effectively when we’re ‘on stage’.
Unless it is a very small group that we 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. They can ask questions to clarify what is being said. We can see faces close up and get a sense of how people feel about the conversation. And we don’t need to project our voice unless there is a very noisy background.
When speaking to a roomful of people, everything changes.
We still need to be ourselves, we’re not acting out a part. But this needs to be the ‘us’ that is in performance mode. To achieve this, it’s important to pay attention to the various elements that make up the way we 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 we be heard at the back of the room?
If we don’t want the back row of the audience to shout ‘speak up’, we need to increase voice volume, compared with conversational level.
Depending on audience size and room size and acoustics, we’ll probably need to speak loud enough to sound to ourselves as though we are shouting. But it will sound perfectly natural to the listeners. If using a microphone, of course, the need to speak loudly will be reduced.
In addition to increasing volume, it’s important to work on voice projection.
A good starting point is to stand up straight, rather than to bend forwards over our notes. Look at the back wall of the room and imagine speaking to that. Then voice projection will tend to increase naturally. Nevertheless, looking at the wall should be done only briefly, as we still need to make eye contact with the audience.
Tone and Pitch
Voice Pitch – deep or squeaky.
Tone of Voice – the mood conveyed, as described in the opening paragraph 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 our 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 we are conveying. Which is why it’s important to know the subject well and have a feel for it. Unless we 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, we’re speaking for much longer than we would in conversation.
We are presenting a lot of information. The audience needs time to absorb and understand what they are being told.
In addition, distance will dull our words, especially if our word enunciation isn’t that clear. A slower pace will help with clear enunciation and it will aid the audience’s comprehension of our message.
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 we’ve made a humorous comment, pausing will allow the audience time to laugh before we continue.
And pausing will provide time to draw breath. Breathing is always a jolly good idea.
Pausing will also allow us to glance at our notes, or even to take a sip of water.
We 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. To help the words persuade the listeners to our point of view.
When we are about to make a serious or important point, slowing down and lowering 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 our notes can be a useful reminder for effective use of voice.
What Was It We Said?
Ah, yes. Public speaking is different from conversational speaking. Effective use of voice is essential to make an impact on the audience.
Variations of Voice Volume and Projection, Tone and Pitch, Pace and Pause are required.
If we’re new to public speaking, this can feel pretty strange. But let’s remember we need to put on a performance if our 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. It’s also an example of excessive arm waving, as discussed in our post on making Persuasive Presentations.
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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