Presentation Communication Basics – Using Your Voice Effectively
When we are presenting we often forget the communication basics and your voice is one of them. We have been speaking for most of our lives so we don’t have to worry about it too much. Do we? When presenting we can always improve and thinking about the way we use our voice can dramatically increase our chances of giving a great presentation.
This post has some simple techniques that I have taught to thousands of people in my Corporate training.
When determining the meaning of anything we say people give a 37% weighting to the way we use our voice. This is not the actual words we use but the way we use our voice. If you want to find out more about this you can read my post on Communication skills by clicking here.
The human voice includes several characteristics: Tone, Volume, Speed, Pitch, Voice inflection (word emphasis) enunciation and Cadence.
These characteristics can be re learned and controlled with some practice.
Tone – Most of us are unaware of the tone of voice we use when speaking. We all know someone who talks with a tone of irritation, regardless of who they are talking to or on which subject. The tone of voice should convey to people what emotion we feel and what we want them to feel about what we are saying. When presenting you will want to use a range of tones suitable to what you want your audience to feel at any given point.
For example “I am excited to tell you….” will not work if you say the words slowly and in a monotone voice. When practicing your presentation try out variations of how your words sound by recording yourself.
Volume – Whispering never works in presentations but altering the volume at appropriate times will help to keep your presentation more interesting. One rule of thumb I always use is to keep the majority of the presentation volume just above what you are naturally comfortable with. Most of us are used to speaking, one on one or to small groups at close range so our natural learned volume is appropriate for that. When presenting you need to stand out and your audience will not be that close.
Speed – The average speaking rate is around 120 words per minute. When presenting and especially when we are nervous our tendency is to speed up (probably to get it over with quickly) Be very aware of this and if you feel as though you are speeding up, take a breath or a sip of water and continue at a slower pace. Trust me the audience won’t notice a small pause and it is perfectly acceptable to take a sip of water.
Pitch – The pitch of our voice is generally dependent on our gender. Men generally have a lower pitch than women. It is much easier for women to reach a higher pitch than men, not that this is useful in presentations. No one wants to listen to a high pitched screechy voice for an hour or a low dronie one either.
The best piece of advice I can give you on pitch is that a lower pitch is taken more seriously than a higher one. It doesn’t matter what your starting point is on the pitch scale, when you have something important to say in your presentation, lower your pitch slightly. The audience will naturally and unconsciously react to the importance of your message.
Voice inflection – Here is a simple exercise you should try to help you understand the importance of voice inflection. This is how the emphasis on words changes the meaning of your message. Take this sentence and emphasise different parts: WHY are you late for the meeting? Why ARE you late for the Meeting? Why are YOU late for the Meeting? Why are you LATE for the Meeting? Why are you late for the MEETING?
Enunciation – This is basically speaking clearly and not cutting off the ends of words. Be careful with accents here too if your audience has a different one to you. Having a Southern English accent was a lot of fun when training in Scotland. Not. You can emphasise key concepts with your voice: punch out any important ideas that you want the audience to remember by saying it clearly and precisely.
Cadence or Contrast – Use your voice to create contrast throughout your presentation: high and low, loud and soft, excited or reserved. Do not speak in one monotone voice throughout, you will send your audience to sleep
Mannerisms – We all have mannerisms that we are unaware of, like repeating the same phrase over or using filler words like ummm or er. You can ask friends if they have noticed any annoying vocal mannerisms or you can record yourself and listen back. You will notice them.
You can also develop them at any time. I once, despite lots of presenting, developed a habit of starting sentences with “So…” I have no idea why but it is definitely worth keeping a check on mannerisms no matter how many times you have presented.
Just a note on recording yourself which I definitely recommend. No one likes the sound of their own voice, in fact most of us don’t even recognise it as ourselves. A recording sounds different to what we hear through our own ears when we speak. Don’t give up, you will get used to it.
According to “Your Speaking Voice,” a Toastmasters publication, when you speak, your voice reflects your psychological and emotional state of mind. Now I am not certain this has to be true because with practice you can throw off your state of mind when presenting and having control of your voice will help you to do this.
Take my points and record your presentation, so that you can hear what your audience hears. Remember above all else that you will not give a great presentation if your tones are harsh and unfriendly. Always go for a pleasant friendly tone and don’t start every sentence with ” So….”
If you would like any further help just comment in the section below and I will get back to you as soon as I can