When you give a presentation your first goal should be to capture and hold the attention of your audience. Everyone must be able to hear and easily follow what you are saying. Fortunately you have one very valuable and versatile tool at your disposal to make this happen – and that’s your voice. In this post I will explain how to use your voice to best effect and have the impact you want on your audience.
First of all it’s important to recognise that giving a presentation is not the same as having a conversation with an individual or a small group at a meeting. When speaking in public you need to put a lot more effort into how you use your voice.
How to improve your speaking voice – the 4 essentials
No doubt you’ve sat through a presentation where it was difficult to hear the speaker or they spoke in a monotonous voice. Perhaps you persevered and tried hard to concentrate on the message. The truth is that the majority of audience members will drift off, give in to boredom and find alternative activities such as doodling on their notepads or fiddling with their smartphones. To keep your audience engaged you must use your voice well.
Be aware of the volume of your voice. Generally that means speaking out and projecting your voice more than you would in a normal conversation. It depends of course on the size of the room and numbers in the audience. Don’t speak too loudly or it will sound as if you are lecturing your audience. Don’t speak too softly either or they will simply lose interest. Whilst the most important thing is to be heard at all times, you should also try to vary your volume e.g. raise your voice to draw attention to a point; lower it to lend a bit of intrigue to what you are saying.
As well as making yourself audible, it is of course essential that you speak clearly. That means articulating words properly and taking care not to mumble or to ‘swallow’ word endings. The best way to achieve clarity is to move your lips and open your mouth wide enough for the sound to escape!
- Tone and emphasis
The content of your presentation may be of high quality, but you’ve got to make it sound interesting too. This means using your voice to convey enthusiasm, conviction, empathy etc. The tone you adopt should be consistent with the content of your message e.g. avoid sounding too cheerful if you’re announcing some bad news to your workforce!
Bear in mind that it’s possible to change the meaning of a sentence depending on the particular words you emphasise. So it’s important to decide on what words you should emphasise, perhaps by highlighting them in your notes and by practising out loud.
Avoid dropping your voice at the end of sentences as you are likely to send your audience to sleep – a technique used by hypnotists! Instead, try to put a little bit more emphasis into the final word of a sentence, without exaggerating too much.
- Pace and Pauses
There’s a tendency for people to speak too fast when they are presenting. This may come about because of nerves and an eagerness to get the presentation over and done with. As a general rule, when presenting you should speak more slowly than in ordinary conversation. Aim for about 150 words per minute to allow your audience enough time to take in what you are saying.
No doubt you will have noticed how comedians use a deliberate pause before delivering a punch line. This is a technique you can use also in formal presentations for deliberate effect and to allow your audience time to absorb a key point.
Voice and relaxation exercises
Your voice is capable of making a wide range of sounds, although typically we use only a limited amount of our voice capacity when presenting. Some of the inhibition comes from feeling nervous about speaking in public. If you have to deliver many high level presentations, then you may like to consider using the services of a voice coach.
Here are some simple exercises you can try by yourself to help warm up your voice before delivering a presentation.
- Get your vocal chords working by humming a tune.
- Pretend you are chewing a sticky toffee.
- Practise breathing deeply to fuel your voice.
- Think of some tongue-twisters and say them out loud, taking care to articulate every word.
Improving your vocal quality will enhance your presentations and make you come across as more confident and credible. Your body language and the visual impression you make matters a great deal too.
Click here to read one of my previous posts on How to make a great first impression.