Voice Skills

by Judy Apps

Speaking to groups

A lot of people are nervous about speaking to groups of people, at meetings, or when making presentations or speeches, and this can accentuate vocal bad habits. The first and most important thing, in this case, is to relax (see Relaxation), which will free up your voice and make it possible for you to use the techniques described in this topic.

How can I get other people to listen to me?

There are two main points here. Both apply in ordinary conversation, but become even more essential in meetings.

1. Be clear and audible!

Obvious so far! People will listen to you only if they can hear and understand the words you are saying with the minimum of effort. See Projection exercises and Articulation. Talk at a pace that is easy to follow, neither too fast nor too slow.

Clarity depends on two main essentials:

  1. Sufficient volume, which itself depends on air
  2. Shaping the sounds with your mouth, tongue, teeth and jaw.

Many of us, especially when nervous, starve the voice, and attempt to speak using choked little pockets of air. Speaking up involves allowing the air to pass the vocal chords, so breathe deeply.

Other people move their mouth and jaw so little that they could find a new career in ventriloquism. This doesn’t mean that you have to force the word shapes, but just allow the muscles in the face and jaw to move easily and naturally.

2. Vary your delivery!

Even a confident energetic voice can become boring if it carries on relentlessly. Most of us can cite examples of ‘death by PowerPoint’, where the speaker was clear and audible, but never varied the tone or paused. A baby can fall asleep when there is noise, providing that it is constant, and we can too!

Key tip

Silence is golden

Allow silent spaces. They are like gold. And people really appreciate the opportunity to pause in their listening now and then.

Vary your pace and rhythm. Slow down to make a memorable point. Perhaps speed up to tell an anecdote.

Vary your tone. Speak from head, heart and gut to make different points.

Vary your volume and emphasis. Speak loudly to emphasise a point. Drop your volume to draw people in and make them listen attentively in a different way. Emphasise the words you particularly want people to remember.

Avoid being predictable. People like the element of surprise, and it keeps them attentive.

Project your voice when making presentations

The page on Volume will help you to produce your voice in a way that fills the presentation space.

Projection is also a state of mind and body. If you fill the room mentally, your voice is likely to follow.

Exercise

Stand tall and relaxed, with an open posture, well balanced on both feet; as you breathe, feel that you are filling the space of the room or auditorium.

Imagine that if you raised your hand, your fingers would sweep across the floor, up the far wall, and touch the corner of the ceiling.

Be aware of your vital energy filling the room and reaching the people you wish to communicate with before you even open your mouth.

 

Think big.

As Nelson Mandela said in his inaugural address in 1994...

Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in EVERYONE! And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others!

Marianne Williamson, quoted by Nelson Mandela, 1994

How to be heard at meetings

Do you find it hard to make your voice heard at meetings? Below are some ideas that should help solve the problem.

Mis-match!

If everyone is talking loudly and you talk loudly as well, you won’t be noticed.

If everyone is talking quickly, and you talk quickly as well, you won’t be noticed.

If you always interrupt others with your views as a matter of course, you won’t be noticed.

Speak in a way that contrasts with the general hubbub. Mis-match.

Use your whole voice

Contrary to what is sometimes thought, the person who is listened to in a meeting is often one who uses the lower resonance more than everyone else and who speaks at a firmer slower pace. If your voice comes from the whole of you, it will cut through in a way that a strident or shrill voice will not (see Gut resonance).

If your first couple of words come from that place, you will catch people’s attention for a moment. You can then pause for a moment, or repeat the words, so that you have everyone’s full attention before proceeding.

Intention and high energy

People will listen to you if you are utterly confident that this is going to happen. Any uncertainty or hesitation will get in the way of being heard. Be confident that you need neither shout nor rush. You just need high energy and single-minded intent.

Vocal impact – with and without a script

Should I read my speech, or work from notes?

Script

There is nothing inherently wrong with using a script or auto-cue, and many of the most memorable speeches in history have been delivered from prepared text. However, there are few people who can make reading sound like natural speaking, where thoughts become words, so your delivery will probably sound scripted if you read it. A whole presentation delivered in this way is likely to sound fairly stiff and formal, and certainly not spontaneous.

You use a different part of the brain for reading to the part you use for creating sentences. Written prompts will work best if they allow the thinking part of the brain to work on full power, so that what you say comes out with a directness and sense of intent that will be missing if you read.

Notes or bullet points

The most popular memory assistance is to provide yourself with short notes or bullet points, which you then expand as you deliver the presentation. This has the dual advantages of keeping you on track while allowing spontaneity and flexibility.

From a natural fear of forgetting when under tension, many people tend to make their notes too full – in other words, scarcely distinguishable from a full script. They then fall between two stools: as they glance down, they cannot grasp the gist of what they have written quickly enough to sound spontaneous, while at the same time the notes are not full enough to stand on their own as a written script.

It’s fine to create a full script as preparation for a speech, and to have it by you in case of emergencies, but you probably won’t find it that useful for the actual delivery.

Make brief, clear notes so that you can take in each point at a quick glance.

Appearance of notes

Arrange your notes in whatever way will make them easiest for you to read. Use all the variety that word processing allows to make the job easy for you, for example:

  • Size of font to enable you to read easily – ideally without spectacles
  • Variety of font sizes to emphasise headings, body text and so on
  • Different colours
  • Different points on different lines
  • Spacing on the page to distinguish sections
  • Use of bullet points, numbering and coloured shading
  • Use of pictures, symbols and images to aid understanding.

PowerPoint

Probably the biggest crime in presenting is just to read what is on the screen, or to amplify minimally on what is written. We have all experienced presentations of this kind, and they are scarcely dynamic.

PowerPoint can be useful to keep you on track, but should not be used just as a memory aid for you. It has to be visually interesting and add something of value for your audience as well.

Information versus stories

You may decide to read certain pieces of information, in cases where precision and accuracy are particularly important, and to talk ‘off the cuff’ for your illustrations, metaphors and stories connecting with the information. This can work really well.

Another useful topic is Presentations.