There’s no doubt that people who are at home in front of an audience have a good thing going. They’re not afraid to deliver speeches or presentations to live listeners, and they’re also going to be first in line for opportunities to voice e-courses, speak to camera, and host live videos. However, simply not being afraid is not enough to wow an audience. You want their best compliment to be better than, “good on them for getting through it!”
To give your speaking the qualities that make it memorable and engaging to an audience, you need to have expression in your voice. When I talk about expression, I am referring to the audible humanity you can only communicate through speech. An expressive voice has variation, warmth, and intent. It is the opposite of the tired, bland, stereotypical boring teacher monotone voice that once drove Mr Bueller to take a day off. To banish the drone from your voice, I’m going to share three techniques that transform a spoken presentation. They make novice speakers sound much more confident (even if they don’t feel it), and experienced speakers shine. I rarely see these methods used, even by pros, so even if you start by using just using one, you’ll be ahead of the game.
Underline With Your Voice
Generally speaking, there are two types of speeches: prepared and impromptu. Most of our presentations will have some level of preparation. Even presenters that appear to speak off-the-cuff will have had a minute to decide what they want to say and what they want to achieve. This is key. As with all effective communication, it has a clear purpose – one primary thing it aims to achieve. It could be to inform the audience of something, to persuade them to take action, or to entertain. Whatever the purpose of your speech, you need it to be memorable. More specifically, you want your key message or messages to be memorable.
So regardless of whether your speech is prepared or impromptu, you need to know what you want your audience to take away with them, and that’s where strategic emphasis comes in. If you have a prepared speech, look through your speaking notes and find moments in your presentation that are particularly crucial to serving your purpose, and highlight or underline them. If you’re improvising your speech, mentally make a note of what your primary message is and prepare to apply emphasis when you’re telling your audience the name of your brand, your point of difference, the biggest benefits to your audience, or whatever your key message is.
To emphasise a word or phrase, you can:
Speak a little slower while you’re saying these words
Pronounce these words particularly clearly
Use your chest voice to say these words. This will naturally drop your timbre and lend your words more authority. If you’re not sure about how to find your chest voice, here’s a handy video from a professional voice finder. Though it is talking about singing voice, it is also applicable to speaking voice. She even mentions at 1:23 that your best voice for both talking and singing are closely connected.
This use of emphasis will add expression to your voice and audibly highlight your most important words.
Vary Your Speed
Too much of one thing can get you into trouble, particularly with your speaking. Performing all your presentation at any one speed will soon lull your audience into a stupor. The most commonly overused speed is fast. Very fast. The speaker has left the iron on at home and they absolutely need to finish here ASAP so they can save their home from certain combustion. Sometimes speakers will go the other way and crawl through their presentation. I have seen this technique used when the subject matter of the speech is serious or heavy, and the speaker wants to communicate gravitas. Speakers who use good, steady speed are doing better than the first two types, but if it is all done at a single speed, the words tend to melt into one block and the message is difficult to digest.
The answer, of course, is to use a range of speeds throughout a presentation. Most of your speaking will be at a clear, steady pace, and I would recommend changing your pace approximately during 20% of your presentation. Some examples of using this to add expression to your voice:
Speed up to express excitement about what you’re speaking about
Speed up when you want to express that what you’re speaking about is not very important, so you want to sound dismissive
Slow down when your subject matter is sad or serious
Slow down when you’re revealing something to your audience
The microphone is nothing to fear.
A Momentous Silence
This is possibly the most difficult technique to use, but it is also probably the most impressive. It’s funny that it’s the most difficult, because all it requires is for us to stop talking. A well-placed silence ensures all eyes are on you, all ears are listening, and that whatever is said after the silence will be exceptionally memorable. A crafty silence certainly counts as expression in your voice, as it is just as important to know what to say as what not to say to move your audience.
Remember that less is more with silences. Save them for key moments, or one key moment, during your presentation. To create impact, they need to be longer than two seconds (one Mississippi, two Mississippi), and I find the superb tension they create diminishes after about five seconds. After that point, it feels more like the speaker is taking a break, rather than deliberately keeping the audience in a state of anticipation for their next words. I say silences are difficult because the tension goes both ways. Allowing a silence to bloom can quickly build anxiety within the speaker, and the fastest way to relieve that anxiety is by filling every moment with words. Start with short pauses and build up to powerful silences. The expression in your voice will be evident and you may end up enjoying the influence you can have on your audience just by using your voice well.
Well, you know what I mean.
No Monotone Drone
What you sound like as a professional speaker should ideally not be all that different from you having an interesting conversation with a colleague. Your natural speaking voice should be dominant, and these tips should not get in the way of you sounding like you. Applying these suggestions to add expression to your voice will help you sound like the best version of you, remove monotony, showcase your personable attributes, and make your message more memorable.