It’s all in the Voice

Maybe one of the most common occurrences that happen in a public speaking situation is to see someone in the audience go to sleep on you. When you are the one going to sleep, you just hope the speaker doesn’t notice. But when you are the speaker, you know that you do notice and you wonder what you are doing wrong. You worked hard on your speech and you thought it was pretty interesting stuff. So why do they doze off?

Well, you are in good company if you see that happen. For some reason, this phenomenon happens routinely in churches all over the country every Sunday morning. And that preacher is a skilled public speaker who you would think could keep that crowd riveted. But in many public situations, even when the speaker has decades of experience, he may still not know how to keep that audience awake. That is because there is a public speaking technique that if you learn it early, you will become of the rare public speakers that routinely is considered to be “great” no matter what the quality of your material.

That technique is quite simply how you use your voice. The voice is a marvelous tool. It has the power to express emotions, complex ideas, humor or outrage. And yet for some reason, many public speakers when they stand up to do a formal presentation loose 90% of the expression in their voices. All of a sudden we all start to sound like a boring math teacher droning on in a monotone even if the subject we are talking about is very interesting, human or emotional. You could talk about the day you fell in love or how to skydive but if you say it in a monotone, you are going to put people to sleep.

You have a lot of vocal tone available to you that you naturally use when you speak person to person and you are relaxed. What causes speakers to switch to a monotone or a reduced amount of vocal tones when speaking formally starts with nervousness. You are so focused on speaking clearly so you are understood that you end up sounding like you are reading the phone book. This is especially true if you have your entire speech written out and you are reading it. The strange thing is you would never read like that to children. It’s strange we fall back to that style of speaking when talking to a group of adults.

Two great exercises can be used to help you get control over your vocal range as you speak. It really isn’t something you want to think a lot about when you are in front of people because then you will become self-conscious. But listen to other speakers and think about how they can improve their range of vocal tones. That will help you process your own range of expression. But also practice your presentation focusing on the ideas themselves but also on how you say them. Don’t be afraid to express emotions while speaking. If the subject is exciting, be excited. If it’s troubling, be troubled. Be a human in front of your audience will respond.

In addition, you can add a lot of variety to your presentation varying the volume with which you speak and the speed. You don’t want to shout but when you speak softly at times and with more force at others, that sudden change of tone and volume can capture the ear of the audience and hold their attention. In a way, your focal presentation takes on elements of music as you use your voice as an instrument to make sure not only that the information is given to the audience but that they stay awake long enough to hear it.