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Presentation Skills: Voice

There's a Message in Your Voice

While speech is how you use words, voice is how you create sound. To your listeners, your voice is a part of who you are and what you believe. Follow these tips on using your voice effectively when you're giving a presentation.

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, demand. You can state, announce, assert, declare, affirm.

Use your voice for maximum impact.
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. (See our article, Take Care Of Your Voice, also in this issue.) The proper use of your voice can emphasize and strengthen every message you deliver.

Vary the elements of sound for emphasis.
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.

"They'll judge your sincerity and credibility in part by your voice."

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 ... 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 stupid."

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 stupid." (Somebody else told her.)
"I didn't tell her you were stupid." (I emphatically did not.)
"I didn't tell her you were stupid." (I implied it.)
"I didn't tell her you were stupid." (I told someone else.)
"I didn't tell her you were stupid." (I told her someone else was stupid.)
"I didn't tell her you were stupid." (I told her you're still stupid.)
"I didn't tell her you were stupid." (I told her something else about you.)

Identical words. Different meanings. That's the power of voice.

Here are some more tips on harnessing your vocal power:

"Lower the volume for an aside. Raise the volume gradually as you build toward a point."

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. (See our article, When You're Using A Microphone ..., in this issue.)

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. (See our article,
When You're Using A Microphone ..., also in this issue.)

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.

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 humor.

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.

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.

This Issue

To make sure your voice is really supporting your message, get some help from the experts. You can attend a presentation skills seminar that includes voice work or work privately with one of our consultants to match your voice to your message. For more information, follow the links or give us a call at 800-874-8278 or outside the US, +1 201 894 8200.

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