Make your voice an asset not a liability

Whatever your natural voice qualities, you can learn to make your voice an asset that will impress, intrigue and convince others. That’s why many actors, business people, politicians and people from many walks of life train their voices to be a more empathic and effective instrument, and why producers pay leading personalities vast sums to lend their voices to cartoon movies.

Your aim is to develop a voice which people trust and enjoy listening to. If you are a speaker, even the best planned talk won’t compensate for a high pitched, whiny, monotonous or irritating voice.

The five elements of a good voice which convey the sound of a person with conviction are:

1. Inflection or enunciation

2. Variation in pitch

3. Pace of talking

4. Emphasis

5. Use of pauses

1. Inflection

Good inflection makes you sound as if you know what you’re talking about. It is the most important aspect of voice control.

Speak up, but don’t shout. If you’re giving a talk, project your voice so everyone can hear, even at the back of the room. Don’t be too strident or too starchy, though; be conversational, while speaking with authority.

Enunciate clearly with lips, tongue and teeth. If you have an accent, use it to your advantage. Remember, all regional accents are attractive if well enunciated.

2. Variation in pitch

Pitch communicates excitement and helps keep your audience’s attention. The constant drone of a bumbled bee can easily send your listeners to sleep. Aim for variety, but keep it natural and don’t overdo it.

If you’re giving a speech:

  • Raising your voice and making hand gestures excites and arouses.
  • Lowering the pitch of your voice creates a rich, resonant tone.
  • If you’re unsure of yourself, the voice rises (especially at the end of a sentence), so when stating a fact, lower your voice at the end of a sentence.
  • When asking a question, the voice rises – doesn’t it?
  • When issuing a command, lower your voice.

3. Pace of talking

The secret is to speak at the same speed your audience thinks and can absorb. For example, young, fast moving executives in the big cities are used to processing information rapidly, but rural folk and older people don’t think or speak as fast.

  • Speak slower for emphasis and to give an impression of profundity (but not too slow – a deep, solemn voice can send your listeners to sleep).
  • A rapid, excited pace conveys urgency and adds punch, but risks members of the audience missing some points or losing interest.
  • Speakers often start in a rush, especially if nervous, so be conscious of your initial pace. If too fast, take your attention to your breathing and slow and deepen it.
  • As you talk, vary the pace of your talk to create variety, emphasis and sparkle.

4. Emphasis

Place stress on key words by varying the volume and using emphatic hand and body gestures and facial expressions. A change of volume can add interest and impact.

If giving a talk from a script, highlight key words and passages for emphasising in advance.

5. Pause

A pause is empty space, silence between words. No pauses is the auditory equivalent of presenting page after page of closely set black type. It’s too much.

Many inexperienced speakers are afraid to pause, worried that they’ll ‘dry up’.

Leaving space between words can add emphasis, signal a change in direction and allow the speaker to gather his or her thoughts.

Don’t worry about the occasional hesitation – people only notice it if happens often.

Talk as if you have a smile on your face

It’s a truism that what’s on the inside is reflected on the outside, so if you’re tense or angry inside, this is echoed in the way you speak. So imagine you have a smile on your face even if you haven’t – you listeners will pick it up subconsciously and respond to you more favourably.

Everyone can learn to improve the quality of their voice; if you’re in business, education or any walk of life where you need to convince others it is one of the best investments you can make.

©David Lawrence Preston, 13.6.2016

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