We all have encountered superb speakers and not so great ones. So have I. Just for the sake of comparison, I once paid equal attention to both the types of presenters (I know it’s difficult) and later summarized the important action points in both. I was surprised to find that both of them had great ideas, in fact some of the ideas were common! The difference I realized was just the way ideas were conveyed. Just the way the presenter communicated made me want to keep listening to her or go off to sleep.
There are number of ways to improve command over speech. Here are some tried and tested techniques to gain control.
Voice energy has three sub qualities, volume, pitch and pace which we’ve all heard about. Now here are ways to control them.
Just the volume can determine whether you come across as boring and timid or overbearing and bossy. Neither of the extremes are good for a presenter. Strike the note between the two. The optimum decibel level (unit to measure volume) is 7-8 dB. You and I don’t have access to a machine that measures it. Try this instead, say the same sentence in different volumes, starting from barely audible to screaming. Get your friend to listen to you and tell you at what point on the continuum do you sound confident and assertive. In case you are presenting to a large group, do not strain your voice by constantly screaming, get a mic instead.
Pitch is a quality difficult to define, but we know it as shrillness of voice. Women have a naturally higher pitch as compared to men. Our pitch automatically increases when we get excited or angry. Very often our voice gets tired when we are presenting a topic close to our heart. That’s because of the excitement, we continue to speak at a pitch higher than our natural one. I use a simple trick to resume my natural pitch when I feel my voice getting tired. I take a break, close my mouth and say to myself, Uh huh…uh huh hi…uh huh bye…uh huh hello…uh huh people…uh huh executive education….uh huh presentation about executive education. There you are! The last sentence you said was in your natural pitch. Go ahead continue the same pitch in a more relaxed voice.
Everybody’s processing speed is different. Make it simple for people to understand and absorb what you are saying, by controlling your speed or pace of talking. Most of us are not aware when we speak too fast. Try this, go back to the beginning of the article and read a few paragraphs with pause after every word. Force yourself to stop for a second after every word. Refrain from pronouncing words which are joined, together. For e.g. don’t say “don’t”, say “do” (wait for a second) “not”. The more difficult you find it, the more you need to train your voice. Get comfortable with the pauses. Also after covering each main topic, stop for a few seconds, even if the pause is uncomfortable. Give people time to absorb the idea and ask questions if any.
Train your voice with these techniques and improve the quality of your presentations. These will require some practice to become a habit. But effectively applied, these techniques can make the presentations more comfortable for you and more interesting for your audience.