In every presentation and public speaking event that we undertake, our voice is one of the most important tools that we have to create impact. Think of your voice as your instrument of influence and change. How we use our voice can affect how the audience reacts and responds to our message. To be an effective public speaker, you need to look after your voice and learn how to effectively use your voice.
1. Breathe out deep and low
Breathing is key to persuasive and influential public speaking. Deep breathing, low in the diaphragm is great for relaxation, oxygen exchange, and calming nerves. Deep and slow breathing is good for voice projection and for looking calm and confident. Many people as a result of their nerves end up shallow breathing, high up in their diaphragm. This shows nervousness and is harder to control and reduces breath control and voice projection. A simple exercise to learn and practise deep breathing is to lie on a floor with some books stacked on your belly button. When you breathe in (inhale) the books should rise. When you breathe out (exhale) the books should lower. If the reverse happens or the books do not move, then you are probably doing shallow, high breathing. Practice being able to switch to deep low breathing whenever you have to walk on stage and do public speaking.
2. Your Stance – Anchor your feet
I often talk about the Stance of Excellence for public speaking. Place your feet apart around shoulder width or slightly less and anchor them to the ground. Placing your feet in parallel with your shoulder can help make your stance comfortable as your weight is evenly distributed and it may feel as if there is no weight on your feet. This allows you to be comfortable, breathe deep and project your voice. You can also move freely and easily to another position on stage and re-anchor your feet. Nervous speakers often wander aimlessly back and forth, distracting their audience. So the anchor is good for confidence and voice projection.
3. Stand up straight
Stand up straight, lean forward slightly towards your audience, keeping your chest up and stomach in letting your arms hang naturally by your side. If you are standing straight up or have a strong posture, you will have good voice projection with a strong steady voice and you will also feel calm and confident inside. Amy Cuddy in her TED Talk explains the importance of posture and faking it until you become it.
4. Open your mouth
I have seen some speakers who mumble, don’t articulate clearly, or their voice trails off mid-sentence or at the end of a sentence. By opening your mouth consistently and using the stances described above you will have consistent and strong voice projection.
5. Drink water before and during your presentation
It is important to keep your throat and vocal apparatus fully hydrated. You do not want your voice to develop a dryness or be husky during your presentation. My workshops go from 3 to 7 hours and if I do not drink water as I go, then I know I will lose my voice and develop a dry cough which is distracting, embarrassing and worrying for the audience in these Covid times. A well-hydrated voice will reduce shaking and quivering if you are a little nervous. Always keep in mind your hydration when presenting and have a drink on stage with you.
6. Warm your voice up first with a tongue twister
When we do serious exercise, play sports, or go to the gym we always warm up our muscles. Why wouldn’t you warm up your voice before going on stage or leading a workshop? News readers, TV anchors, and actors all warm up their voices before speaking. An effective way to practice and warm-up is with a tongue twister. Before coming up on stage or starting your workshop, try a few tongue twisters or you can hum and sing a tune. Whatever you choose to do, it will help to exercise your jaw and mouth and at the same time warm up your voice, ready to have an impact.
Your voice is an essential tool for engaging and inspiring your audience. It is an important part of your presentation and is the main medium by which you influence, persuade, and give meaning to your message. We have to be very aware and practised with our voices because this will give us credibility and confidence and can make or break the presentation. Your voice is your tool of influence, understand it and look after it.