How To Use Your Voice Effectively

If you use your voice effectively it can have a significant effect on the success of your speech or presentation.

Shall we explore?

The cat sat on the mat - effective use of voice deomostration

Cat Demonstrates Effective Use of Voice!

The Voice Effect

The cat sat on the mat.

So what?

Try ‘The cat sat on the mat.’ Ah, not just any old cat.

Or ‘The cat sat on the mat.’ It’s definitely not in the armchair.

OK, let’s leave the cat to relax.

But now you are slightly lost and someone says, “Can I help you?”. However, it’s in an aggressive tone and suggests ‘you shouldn’t be here’.

Contrast that with a warm, friendly tone. “Can I help you?”  now means just that, 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 can have a significant effect on your ability to deliver your key message.

Use Your Voice Effectively

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 use your voice effectively 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 ability to absorb 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.

And 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 to use your voice effectively.

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.

Use Your Voice Effectively

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 our voice is generated, have a look at this short video. It’s also a good demonstration of how a knowledgeable speaker can detract from their presentation by speaking too quickly and waving their arms around excessively.

Our Seven Step Speaking Course blog post provides a brief guide to the seven key steps to a successful speech/presentation.

This article was last updated on 22nd August 2023


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