How to properly use your voice when presenting

“The voice is an amazingly flexible tool that we use to construct our identity” – Molly Babel, a professor of Linguistics. 

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And according to recent research from British Columbia, a voice and it’s response on the listener is harder to predict than previously thought, simply because it’s more complex than anticipated.

Why your voice even matters:

Your voice may be impacting more than you realize. Many of us have heard the saying “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it” – and our voice may indicate more about us, our health, and our emotional state than we may realize.

And whether people realize it or not, most people have a preference on these.  Research shows that as humans we like what we expect and consider to be normal. This might be why the research indicates that we prefer men with big voices, but use shorter words. And we prefer women with breathier voices because they indicate youth and a smaller body frame.

Regardless of whether the vocal elements are in our control or not, one thing still stands – and it’s that recent research has helped uncover that hearing another person’s voice affects the emotional part of our brain. Voice represents a person’s personality and passion. If people are excited, that comes through.  A voice also subconsciously indicates whether this person is part of our community (indicating social beloningness) and it also potentially indicates age and a person’s shape – and people like consistency with what they were expecting.

Thus our voice is important because it will indicate things that may be out of our control like our health (are we strong or weak), and our emotional state (are we passionate, angry, impatient or bored).

Improve your voice to enhance your presentation:

In last blog post, we established that 93% of your communication is comprised of nonverbal. And while there are many components to nonverbal communication, voice is an important one to focus on while presenting. Also, we established above that your voice impacts people on an emotional level as we prefer voices similar to ours, but voices are also what keep our presentation interesting and reinforce the content we’re presenting.

Thus, that’s what we’re covering here today – how to use your voice as a tool.

When your voice, body language and content are in sync – you should be golden. Your voice, along with your body, should be used to add additional reinforcement to your presentation. A voice not in sync with a presentation would be like a peanut butter and spaghetti sandwich. Weird and something obviously wrong – but at least in the sandwich case, a person would realize what’s wrong with it.

Think about the different components that are in your control and go into making a great presentation.

We think of the following as important areas of focus:

  • Speed
  • Rhythm
  • Pitch
  • Tone
  • Volume

If all of these, in conjunction with your content are thought through then delivery of your presentation will be memorable.

Side note: If you’re looking to improve the quality and sound of your voice, there are some helpful resources in the bonus section down below.

Using your voice as a tool:

 

Vocal speed/pace:

Think of some of your favorite speakers. What does their voice sound like? How quickly or slowly do they speak?

Speakers should be cognizant of the crowd and speak at a pace or speed that best suits the group. And beyond this, often times speakers can play with the speed to help make a point stronger.

For example, to make a powerful statement a person might slow down as they begin to make the point – and directly beforehand, pause for a little bit longer than usual creating a cliff in which the audience is hanging on to hear the next words.

Or to tell a story, maybe the presenters will speed up their speech to better convey a point or a moment they experience. They could speed up their speech to share about all the things flowing through their mind, how quickly they had to make a decision or any other situation that may appear to be quick – and using a quick speed will simply help the audience understand that situation further.

 

Rhythm:

Think again about some of the most powerful speakers. Do they speak in iambic pentameter or some other type of rhythm and cadence.

ObamaMLK and Zig Ziglar are famous for their hypnotic cadence and ability to speak with rhythm that drives their audience to action. And this isn’t something that always comes natural – however, meeting with a speech coach can help you develop or decide on what the best cadence for your presentation – or presenting style – might be.

Many famed presenters (including those mentioned above) use rhythm as a way to bring their audience along on an easy-to-follow journey. They also use it as a powerful tool to make a profound point that ignites the entire audience with excitement. How they make a powerful statement or point, is they begin to crescendo their voice’s volume letting the audience know their passion is mounting and a profound statement will follow. As the cadence and volume reach a pinnacle, the audience is waiting for the “beat to drop” or the point in which they’ve been waiting for – the profound statement.

This techniques often reminds me of a heart beat. As a person becomes more and more excited and involved in an enjoyable experience, they may feel their heart beat faster, louder and with more force. Just as that happens with an experience, a presenter’s voice should mimic that to enhance their presentation.

 

Volume:

Do you know how and when to project your voice? Speaking at a volume in which every single person in your audience can hear is not optional, it’s necessary for delivering an effective presentation.

If it’s difficult for you to project your voice, you may need to warm it up first.

Consider these exercises:

“MMM” exercise:

Vary the volume of your voice by closing your mouth and humming “MMM.” Start out quiet and work your way to middle volume, then lastly loud. Then move from soft quiet “MMM” to loud versions of “MMM.” This is helping you to warm up your vocal chords for anything.

Try this exercise again but instead of using “mmm” select a vowel sound.

 

Warm up your voice with a few of the exercises mentioned here or from this youtube video.

How females speakers can use their voice:

Female speakers have another hurdle to jump as well, since the voice impacts the emotional part of a man’s brain, we have to make sure that we are not being perceived as simply “too emotional.”

Voices that are too high, whiney or shrill can impact us negatively.  And the reason for that is because the pitch – the more shrill a voice, the less credibility it is given by men. A subconscious reason for that is because our voice usually deepens as we get older – which usually indicates wisdom, and plus the whole “not too emotional” component.

And women if you’re looking to build credibility with professionals, avoid the up-talk and vocal “fry.”

Up-talk is unfortunately a way of ending a sentence so that it sounds similar as if it is a question. And the reason up-talk is so detrimental is because it indicates lack of confidence and certainty – whether it’s true or not.  Avoid the up-talk.

And the other item on tis list – vocal fry is a new phenomenon popularized by celebrity Kim Kardashian and is pervasive throughout Britney Spears’ songs.  It’s where the end of your presentation has quicken cracks throughout it which indicates some level of emotion, but is also perceived as creaky which doesn’t resonate well with men.  Some men have even indicated that this sounds similar to a door that is creaky and needing to be oiled – I’m sure that’s not what Kim is going for.

This is what vocal fry looks like in action:

Protip for women, try to avoid vocal fry when interviewing or making important points in a meeting. This can damage any amount of credibility or professionalism reports The Atlantic.

 

Bonus tip: Ever wonder why you hate hearing the sound of your own voice?

We talk a lot about listening to yourself to be better analyze yourself and your presentation – but why is it so difficult to bring ourself to actually do it? Well I took to the Internet to learn about this one and the reason is quite simple. We subconciously (and maybe sometimes consciously)  spend our lives trying to perfect our voice – maybe we talk in a lower pitch or a higher pitch to sound better to the opposite sex, or in a meeting setting,  or maybe we change the pacing to make it easier for others to understand. We spend our lives doing this – but the voice that we hear is in fact different than the voice that others hear.

The reason for that is relates to the fact that we, the speaker, hear the air-conducted and the bone-conducted.  If you were to listen to a recording of yourself, you’d only hear the air-conducted and it would be via your ear drum, through three bony ossicles sent to the chochlea (where the vibrations are transmitted into things the brain can process).

When you hear your bone-conducted voice, however, it goes straight to the cochlea bypassing the eardrum – causing it to sound different and a bit lower or deeper than it might in fact be. This is what deceives us.

And we simply don’t like it because it’s different than what we’ve been hearing for our life, and different from how we perceive ourselves to sound.

 

Want to learn more about how to take care and preserve your voice?

Check out these helpful articles from around the web:

 

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