Training your voice to give powerful presentations
It’s true that most of our human communication is conveyed with nonverbals (body language and gestures). But that doesn’t mean your voice is unimportant. Far from it.
The human voice is our most natural method of communication. Using sounds that move through our lungs, vocal cords, and out through our mouths, nose, and throat, we can convey thoughts, feelings, emotions, and ideas. Adding on dynamics, volume, or inflection, we can affect the meaning of any sentence.
In fact, your voice is so important to our communication (especially our presentations), that you’re going to want to train it. Of course, that means practice, practice, practice.
At NobleEdge, we offer a leadership workshop on Presentation Skills called The Art of Skilled Presentations. Here are a few general tips that will get you started on training your voice so you can make powerful presentations. In this blog, we will look at three training areas for you to try: Breathing, pausing, and enunciation.
Ready? Let’s go.
Breath right to project your voice
I’m sure you’ve heard the advice that you must “project your voice” when giving a presentation. The mistake most people make is they focus on their voice box. They strain and push in their throat. If you’ve ever done this, I’ll bet it didn’t take long before your throat hurt and you went hoarse.
Actually, the key to projecting your voice is simple:
The air in our lungs is the power of our voice. It is the fuel. You must relax your throat muscles. Allow the air from your lungs to drive the sound—using your diaphragm to take a deep breath and then push out the air.
Practice breathing makes perfect. Try this exercise:
Stand up straight. (One reason people struggle with projecting their voice is that their posture is terrible. When you are hunched over, your lungs are can’t take in as much air. Also, your windpipe is obstructed, and your mouth may be pointed downward.)
Place a hand on your belly. As you draw in a breath, push out your diaphragm to take a nice deep breath, filling your lungs all the way down (as opposed to shallow breathing in your upper chest)
As you exhale, open your mouth and say, “Ahh!”
While you’re saying “Ahh,” push on your belly to make the sound louder. Notice it’s the breath that makes the volume. Your throat should be nice and relaxed.
Now, do this again but this time, remove your hand on your belly for both breathing in and breathing out, and practice increasing and decreasing your volume with your diaphragm muscles alone.
There are other exercises you can use to teach yourself to project your voice with your breath. With repetition, the skills required to project with ease will become second nature. Your throat and your audience will thank you.
Silence is golden…or at least, pausing is
Ever listened to a speaker who is talking at 90 miles an hour? It’s exhausting. Just one long run-on sentence! It’s not really their fault. When we are nervous, we tend to speak quickly—and nothing makes people nervous like public speaking. Well, maybe alligator wrestling.
Our nerves trigger the Stress Response. The environment has suddenly become “dangerous,” and in response, adrenaline is secreted into our bloodstream in the famous "fight-or-flight" response. And we’re off—speaking at rocket speed.
What you want to practice instead is to strategically build in pauses. A musician friend of mine used to tell me that “music isn’t one long note. Music is made up of notes and rests.” We can do this in our presentations, too.
Strategically placed silence (a “pregnant pause” in theatre) not only builds anticipation, it can allow time for your audience to catch up and your message to sink in.
A strategic pause can give audience members an opportunity to ask a question
A pause can give the audience a chance to predict what you’ll say next
Pauses are perfect when you change direction or topic
I highly recommend writing in pauses directly into your presentation. Not only will this help you control your pace, it will also take the question out of when you want to make a point. And let’s not forget that during the pause, take a deep breath.
See: The power of silence in presentations.
Make Mary Poppins proud with your enunciation
Back in the one-room schoolhouse days, enunciation was a specific part of the curriculum. Students learned poems by heart and stood up to recite them—and older students learned the art of rhetoric and debate which included proper enunciation.
But let’s admit it. Those days are long gone. Most of us are lazy when it comes to speaking clearly. We run words together. We drop our “g”s—we say, “I’m goin’ to the store” instead of fully forming the “G” sound at the end of “going.” Or my personal pet peeve: saying “offen” instead of “often” (which, surprisingly enough has a “t” in it). We mutter and mumble like we have a mouthful of marbles.
Proper enunciation isn’t difficult. It’s an easy skill that can be developed with practice. One fun way to work on enunciation is using tongue twisters. Tongue twisters have been proven to support deliberate pronunciation of words by stretching and strengthening our lips and our tongues. You will find that professional actors and public speakers often speak tongue twisters before they go out on stage.
Here are some of my favorites:
Red leather, yellow leather
Black background, brown background
Rubber baby buggy bumpers
Another great way to work on your enunciation is the listen to audiobooks. The narrators are voice actors. Professionals. Listen to their enunciation. Notice how they maneuver their mouth around difficult words.
When giving a presentation, we need to pronounce words as clearly and accurately as we can, enunciating each syllable. Avoid mumbling or slurring words. As you rehearse your presentation, practice speak slowly and deliberately. Ask someone you know to give you feedback.
If you’re serious about becoming a powerful speaker, you need to practice the craft. Nowhere is this seen as much as how you use your voice. Practice is key.
Use every opportunity to practice. Focus on your breathing when practicing your presentation. Build in pauses when you speak to your neighbors or talk to the clerk at the shoe store. Enunciate when a stranger asks you for directions.
And consider professional training. At NobleEdge Consulting, we offer the The Art of Skilled Presentations, a leadership workshop that utilizes theatre arts and human psychology to help you engage with your audience with ease and confidence. Participants practice and present real content and receive supportive and individualized feedback and coaching.
There are also wonderful experts who can help you with vocal training—for example, overcoming speech impediments and stuttering. Professional actors and speakers spend their entire career perfecting their voice. I know a number of experts who can help you. Reach out to me and I’ll connect you with them.
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See: Are your non-verbals helping or hurting your presentation.
Marie Tjernlund is the Co-founder and President of NobleEdge Consulting. As an accomplished executive coach, certified Conflict Dynamics Profile® facilitator, and a professional performer, Marie brings her positive energy and enthusiasm to clients around the world. You can contact her at Marie@NobleEdgeConsulting.com.