Your voice is a bigger and more important part of your presentation than you may think. With your voice, you can mutter, whisper, or shout. You can roar, suggest, and demand. You can state, announce, assert, declare, and affirm.
From the sound of your voice, your listeners will make judgments about your attitude toward them and the ideas you’re presenting. They’ll judge your sincerity and credibility in part by your voice. And in turn that will affect how they respond to you and your message. It follows that to be a good presenter; you must take care of your voice and learn to use it effectively. The proper use of your voice can emphasize and strengthen every message you deliver.
If the pitch, volume, rhythm, and timbre of your voice never fluctuate, you’ll be speaking in a monotone. And you’ll risk losing your audience as a result. A monotone suggests to your listeners that you have little invested in them or in your message. It suggests you don’t really care much whether or how your listeners respond.
A monotone provides too few points of emphasis, the kind that helps your audience comprehend your message. But you can supply those points of emphasis by making your voice more expressive. An expressive voice pauses and quickens changes pace, lowers and raises both volume and pitch. It carries emotion ranging from certainty to doubt, surprise to assurance or delight to disgust.
Work expression into your voice by varying the elements of sound: volume, pitch, rhythm, and timbre. Try that now by reading this next sentence aloud:
“I didn’t tell her you were here.”
Depending on how you vary the vocal elements, you can give this sentence any of several meanings. Begin by saying the sentence aloud, emphasizing the first word with added volume. Continue repeating the sentence, each time emphasizing a different word:
“I didn’t tell her you were here.” (Somebody else told her.)
“I didn’t tell her you were here.” (I emphatically did not.)
“I didn’t tell her you were here.” (I implied it.)
“I didn’t tell her you were here.” (I told someone else.)
“I didn’t tell her you were here.” (I told her someone else was here.)
“I didn’t tell her you were here.” (I told her you’re still here.)
“I didn’t tell her you were here.” (I told her you were somewhere else.)
Identical words. Different meanings. That’s the power of voice.
Here are some more tips on harnessing your vocal power:
1. Adjust the volume
Use changes in volume to prevent your voice from slipping into monotonous sameness and to alert your audience to the nuances of your message. Always speak loudly enough so everyone in your audience can hear you. Speak a little more loudly if the audience is large, even if you’re using a microphone. Lower the volume for an aside. Raise the volume gradually as you build toward a point. Change your volume when you’re changing an idea or an approach. Use your full voice with a microphone.
2. Refine the pitch
Pitch is the frequency of the sound waves you produce. It is about hitting high or low notes with your voice. Become aware of pitch and learn to refine it, phrase-by-phrase. Questions, for example, should end on a higher note. Conversely, affirmative statements should end in a level or slightly lower pitch. The ending of statements on a high pitch can create doubt in your listeners. Vary your pitch throughout your presentation to establish and reinforce your message.
3. Alter the rhythm and tempo
Rhythm is the pattern of the sounds you produce. Tempo is the pace of your voice. Use rhythm to carry meaning. Slow the pace to emphasize certain ideas. Quicken the pace to show excitement or humour. Pause to underscore major points or to give listeners time to absorb a complex idea. Pause also when you’re about to transition to another idea.
4. Control the timbre.
Timbre is the emotional quality of your voice. It’s the attitude behind a word or a phrase. Listeners perceive a speaker’s attitude and use their perception to build comprehension. Use timbre to enhance your meaning or express the emotion or attitude you want to create. Choose words and phrases that support that attitude. Vary your emotional expression to support and signify meaning. Your voice is one of the many tools with which you communicate. Practice managing your voice. Become adept at using it to clarify your message and to carry its significance to your listeners.