Public Speaking: Tips for Putting Your Best Voice Forward

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Whether you’re speaking to a large group in an auditorium, or a small group in a conference room, your voice is your most important tool as a speaker. To use your voice for maximum impact and make yourself heard, follow these simple public speaking tips.

Pointer 1: Vary your pitch, tone, volume and pace

The pitch of your voice is its “highness” or “lowness.” Varying your pitch is a way to add color, excitement, and emphasis to your speech. Nervous speakers sometimes have tension in their vocal chords, resulting in an unintentionally higher pitch. Relaxation and breathing exercises can help with this (see below).

The tone or quality of your voice says a lot to your audience that words can never convey. Does your voice sound warm or cold? Does it sound conversational or formal? Do you sound friendly, happy, angry, or nervous?

You’ve heard the word “monotone,” right? That’s what you sound like when you don’t vary the tone of your voice. When you adjust your tone to match the ideas and emotions in your presentation, your audience receives a deeper level of understanding as well as a deeper connection with you.

Volume is the loudness of your voice. Use varying volume for emphasis, and remember to adjust your volume to the size of the venue you’re speaking in.

One way to really grab your audience’s attention is to drop the volume when you want to make an important point. Lowering your volume forces the audience to give extra concentration to what you’re saying.

Use silence and pauses to maximize your message and to create drama. Silence gives you and your audience a nice break – it allows them to process what you’ve been saying, because it’s hard for our brains to hold too much information at one time. It also gives them a break from your voice. A pause can be used to emphasize a point, to really let something sink in.

One more thing to mention about volume: keep your sentences strong from start to finish. Some people’s voices fade out at the end of a sentence or idea, leaving the audience grasping to hear the final few words. Make sure to punch the beginnings and endings of sentences so they don’t disappear and leave your audience in confusion. Pace is the speed at which you speak. You can speed up or slow down for emphasis. Sometimes nervous speakers will race through their talk, finishing too early, and leaving the audience out of breath and lost, because they missed half of what was said. Breathing and relaxation can help you control and moderate your pace. Slow down your pace when you have something particularly important to say – you don’t want to race through your critical points.

Pointer 2: Practice relaxation and breathing

Have I mentioned relaxation and breathing enough times? Relaxation and proper breathing allow oxygen to circulate and your muscles to relax, rather than building tension around the shoulders and chest, which can compress your lungs and make your voice sound weak from lack of breath support. Take some deep breaths before your presentation. Practice breathing deeply using your diaphragm; you know you’re doing it right when your stomach puffs out but your shoulders do not rise. Search the Web for articles and books about “diaphragmatic breathing” or “belly breathing.”

Do some warm-ups and stretches beforehand, especially stretches that involve your face, jaw, neck, chest, and upper body. And don’t forget to breathe during the presentation. Pausing to breathe while you’re speaking keeps you from speeding through the presentation – and the audience doesn’t even notice.

Pointer 3: Repeat back questions so your audience can also be heard

In a large room, repeat back your audience’s questions. Unless there is someone in the auditorium delivering a microphone to audience members, it’s likely that some people in the audience won’t hear the questions posed to you. Repeating back the questions keeps everyone on the same page and keeps the audience from feeling left out.

One way to practice the tips in this article is to read aloud from a book or newspaper. Even better: read aloud from a children’s book! Children’s books are meant to be read with a variety of vocal inflections, and this will allow you to try out all of the tips mentioned above.

Your voice is your most powerful public speaking tool. When your voice matches the emotion and concepts in your presentation, you deliver to your audience deeper understanding of and connection with your message.

Lisa Braithwaite works with individuals to uncover their challenges and build their strengths in presenting themselves confidently as speakers. Find your voice with public speaking coaching! Sign up for my newsletter and find out about my free consultation by visiting www.coachlisab.com.

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