Your voice is a bigger and more important part of your presentation than you may think. With your voice, you can mutter, whisper, or shout. You can roar, suggest, demand. You can state, announce, assert, declare, affirm.
From the sound of your voice, your listeners will make judgments about your attitude toward them and your ideas. They'll judge your sincerity and credibility in part by your voice. And in turn that will affect how they respond to you and your message.
If the volume, pitch, rhythm, tempo, and timbre of your voice never fluctuate, you risk speaking in a monotone. You risk losing your audience as well.
A monotone suggests to your listeners that you have little invested in them or in your message. It suggests you don't really care much how listeners respond. It provides too few points of emphasis, points that help your audience comprehend your message.
You can supply emphasis by making your voice more expressive. An expressive voice pauses, quickens, changes pace, lowers and raises volume and pitch. It carries emotion ranging from certainty to doubt, surprise to assurance, delight to disgust.
Work expression into your voice by varying your volume, pitch, rhythm, tempo, and timbre. Try it by reading this next sentence aloud: "I didn't tell her you were stupid."
Depending on how you vary the vocal elements, you can give this sentence any of several meanings. Begin by saying the sentence aloud but emphasizing the first word. Continue repeating the sentence, each time stressing a different word:
- "I didn't tell her you were stupid." (Somebody else did.)
- "I didn't tell her you were stupid." (I emphatically did not.)
- "I didn't tell her you were stupid." (I implied it.)
- "I didn't tell her you were stupid." (I told someone else.)
- "I didn't tell her you were stupid." (I told her someone else was.)
- "I didn't tell her you were stupid." (I told her you're still stupid.)
- "I didn't tell her you were stupid." (I said something else about you.)
Identical words. Different meanings. That's the power of voice.
Here are some more tips on harnessing your vocal power.
Use changes in volume to prevent your voice from slipping into monotony and to alert your audience to the nuances of your message.
Always speak loudly enough so everyone in your audience can hear you. Speak a little more loudly if the audience is large, even if you're using a microphone. Lower the volume for an aside. Raise it gradually as you build toward a point. Vary it when you're changing an idea or an approach.
Pitch is the frequency of the sound waves you produce. It is about hitting high or low notes with your voice.
Learn to refine your pitch, phrase-by-phrase. Questions should end on a higher note. Conversely, statements should end on a level or slightly lower pitch. Vary your pitch throughout your presentation to establish and reinforce your message.
Rhythm is the pattern of the sounds you produce; modify it when you move toward new ideas or kinds of support.
Tempo is the pace of your voice. Slow the pace to emphasize particular points. Pause to underscore major ones, to give listeners time to absorb complexities, or when you're transitioning to another idea. Quicken it to show excitement or humor.
Timbre is the emotional quality of your voice, the attitude behind a word or phrase.
Use it to express the emotion or attitude you want to create—sorrowful, indignant, jovial. Vary your emotional expression to enhance, support, and signify meaning.
Your voice is one of many tools with which you communicate. Practice managing it; become adept at using it to clarify your message and to carry its significance to your listeners.