Sunday, February 23, 2014

Getting the Most Out of Your Voice

When we stand before an audience we have three means of communication at our disposal: our voice, our body and our visual aids. I have written on the latter two here and here, respectively.

Your voice is the primary means through which you deliver your verbal message. It is important to say the least. Many fail to analyze their message delivery vis a vis the voice itself with unfortunate results.

Overall, you are looking for three things vocally. You want to be be natural, have a conversational speaking style, and employ lots of vocal variety. Remember, sameness is boring, variety is interesting.

There are five key elements to voice: volume, rate, pausing, pitch, and articulation. As you go through each one consider how natural variety could be used to enhance message delivery. Let's take a quick look at each.

Everyone knows that volume refers to the loudness of your voice. What you may not know is how to increase volume, without resorting to yelling.

Your voice emanates from vibrations in your larynx. A small sound is created in your throat. What pushes that small sound out through your nose and mouth to fill the room is the air in your lungs. Air is the force behind your voice.

So when you want to be louder, you need to take a deep breath and project that air to the appropriate volume for the venue.

Ideally you also want to vary your volume to match the emotions of the message.

Rate is the speed at which you speak. A common result of nervousness is to speak too quickly. This will quickly tire out both the speaker and the audience.

But the overly slow speaker can be even worse to listen to. It is frustrating when someone's rate of speech is consistently slow, because we want the message in a reasonable time frame. The slow talker slows our intake of information...it kind of wastes our time unnecessarily.

So you want to avoid extremes for any length of time, but you do want to vary your rate as much as possible.

Pausing is a critical element in the speaker's repertoire. It is simply the part of the speech where you don't speak, and as such should be easy. However, the silence makes inexperienced speakers uneasy and they seek to fill the silence with vocalized pauses (uh, um), verbal fillers (like/you know) and any assortment of verbal tics(mmm/'nkay?).

Pausing must be embraced and employed for maximum effectiveness. Great speakers build a rhythm, a dramatic arc almost, to their presentations via pausing and rate variation. A pro can help you learn and master this art.

Pitch is the highness or lowness of your voice on a musical scale. Poor use of pitch results in the dreaded monotone speaker.

The key to using pitch effectively is to use the entirety of our pitch range--albeit the extremes pretty rarely. When you excitedly tell a story, your voice dances up and down the musical scale like Tina Turner on crack! Great speakers bring that same pitch variety to the speaking situation.

Articulation refers to the clear crisp production of the sounds that exist in a given language. Someone who mumbles has poor articulation. Sometimes rate and/or nervousness can affect articulation--as can too much alcohol! Even dental issues can be a factor.

Folks with articulation issues probably need some time with a professional who knows the articulatory features of each sound in the language, or to take a Voice and Articulation course at a local college.

Some people over-articulate and sound less than natural. If you really "pop" every sound of every syllable you can come off sounding silly or worse.

Remember our three goals: a natural and conversational voice with lots of vocal variety and you are well on your way to being a better speaker.

That's all for today friends. Be well, speak well, and as always. thanks for reading. If you are interested in learning more about Dan Leyes private and group consulting see Semiosphere Consulting.