A voice that is both easy to hear and pleasing to listen to immediately grabs your attention.
How many times have you found yourself tuning out a speaker with a nasal or whiny voice, or one that’s too loud and aggressive, because it’s torture on your ears? On the other hand, a strong, confident voice is hard to ignore.
No matter how enticing your content, it’s difficult to accomplish your goals as a speaker without gaining and keeping your audience’s attention. Hands down, that’s the biggest benefit to developing great vocal delivery skills.
Beyond merely getting the audience to listen, your voice also projects an image about you that can enhance your credibility and persuasiveness—or not. A high-pitched or timid-sounding tone can make listeners doubt your expertise. A bland voice with no vocal variety or lack of volume can convey laziness.
What do you want your voice to communicate about you?
The 4 P’s of vocal expression
Improving the basic qualities of vocal expression: Power, pace, pitch and use of pause can enhance your image and credibility, and help listeners to focus on your message. Here’s how:
Power is all about volume—how loudly or softly you speak. It’s no secret that adding volume to your voice is essential for making sure everyone can hear and clearly understand what you’re saying, especially in a large room.
Yet your vocal power can also convey emotion and confidence to your listeners besides merely helping you be heard. Using more vocal power gives you energy, authority and conviction. That’s why you naturally speak in a louder voice when you want to get listeners “fired up” about your topic.
Tip for increasing vocal power: Here’s a tip to increase your vocal power from Roger Love, one of the world’s leading authorities on voice, who has coached celebrities from Tony Robbins to Reese Witherspoon:
Most people simply do not open their mouths enough to let the sound come out unobstructed. … Drop your jaw down a bit and [do] not keep your teeth so close together. This will send more sound into the cheek area, where it will bounce around and come out more resonant and full.
Pace is all about speed. Most of us increase the pace of our speech when we are nervous. On the other hand, a voice that’s too slow or unvaried can put your audience to sleep.
Tip to improve your vocal pace: Vary your vocal pace, slowing down for important information so that listeners can understand, yet periodically speeding up a bit to highlight familiar points and keep listeners engaged. If slowing down is difficult for you, practice pausing in places where you would use a comma in written language. Take a breath at the end of each sentence or paragraph.
Pitch refers to the rise and fall of your voice as you speak. When your pitch is too extreme (high or low) or too monotone (lacking inflection), it can be unpleasant to hear and can cause your audience’s attention to wander. Another common pitch problem that can detract from your credibility, known as “up-speak’ or “uptalk,” happens when you raise the pitch of your voice at the end of a sentence so that it sounds like a question. Watch this video to hear an example of uptalk:
Tip to improve your vocal pitch: Here’s a tip about preventing uptalk from vocal coach Helen Moses, owner of Command Communication, licensed speech-language pathologist, classically trained singer, distinguished Toastmaster and division director of Toastmasters International:
“Instead of ending your sentence on an up tone, use a downward inflection pattern that gradually returns to your ideal conversational pitch as you reach the end of a sentence.”
Watch this video to see a demonstration from Helen:
A pause, ideally, is an audible punctuation mark.
Pausing helps your audience to understand and relate to your words by providing micro-breaks that give them time to process and help them stay attentive. Pausing also gives you time to breathe, and proper breathing gives you more power and control of your pace.
The problem is that many speakers are uncomfortable with pauses, so they fill them with “um,” “ah,” and “like.” When you use too many of these fillers in your speech, not only do you sound less credible and professional, but you don’t have time to breathe. Without adequate breath support, your voice lacks energy and is not compelling.
Tips to help you avoid gaps and fillers: Follow these steps from Forbes to rid your speech of those “ums” and intrusive silences:
- Listen to a recording of yourself using fillers liberally. Remembering a cringe-worthy performance can be a powerful motivator to drop those verbal tics.
- You’re more likely to ramble and add fillers when your content lacks organization. Establish a rhythm with a few sentences around one idea, then pause. Repeat that rhythm around an organized set of points, and you’ll break the habit of using fillers.
- Plan transitional phrases to take the place of those fillers, such as, “Let’s move on,” or simply stop talking and allow a second or two of silence to allow your point to sink in. That’s how to use a pause to your advantage.
Stephanie Scotti partners with c-suite executives and business leaders ensuring that they deliver high-impact presentations with the confidence that strengthens credibility, invigorates their delivery and maximizes their success. Learn more at ProfessionallySpeaking.net and ProfessionallySpeakingBlog.com. A version of this story originally ran on SmartBlog on Leadership.