The Voice of Experience

By Heather Baldwin
When you prepare for a presentation, you likely put a great deal of thought into your slides, the suit you’ll wear and the words you’ll say. But have you ever given any thought to the voice you use to deliver those words? You might think your voice is your voice, but that’s not so, says Marlena Reigh, president of Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Radiant Communications. “If you want a presentation that’s really dynamic and will separate you from everyone else, you can use your voice in a way that other people don’t,” says Reigh. “When you use your voice as a musical instrument – getting louder, softer, adding energy – you take your audience on a mental and physical journey.” To develop a dynamic voice that can leave a lasting impression and compel an audience to action, work on these three areas, says Reigh.
1. Volume Dynamics. Volume dynamics refers to a voice’s range of volume, from the very soft to the very loud. The best speakers change volume levels more frequently than average speakers. Moreover, any departure from an average volume draws attention to what you’re saying. To expand your volume range, Reigh recommends the following volume control exercise.
(Soft Medium Loud)
Ha Ha Ha Ba Ba Ba Fa Fa Fa La La La Ra Ra Ra Ka Ka Ka
Reigh says when people first do this exercise; each syllable sounds essentially the same. To fix that, make sure your jaw is dropped and in the same position each time by putting a hand on the side of your cheek. Dropping your jaw and breathing from your abdominal area helps your breath support the sound, which means you won’t make the mistake of closing your mouth to muffle the sound on the soft end. Once you’ve mastered this technique, you’ll be able to control your volume effectively throughout your presentation while still articulating well.
2. Speed variance. Speed variance is just what it sounds like – the rate of speed at which you talk. When you speak faster, people respond physically, just like they do to fast music. “Zig Ziglar is a good example,” says Reigh. “He speaks really fast because he wants people up and motivated.” On the other hand, slowing down, drawing out vowels and adding pauses can have a calming and soothing effect, she points out. It slows the listener’s mind and allows it to really tune in to what you’re saying. Reigh says it’s important to vary your rate of speaking speed because you’ll increase your audience’s attention span. The good news is that speed can be the easiest vocal characteristic to vary and refine. All you need to do is experiment. Take a sentence or paragraph and try saying it different ways – fast, slow, fast then slowing at the end, a pause in the middle and so on. See what works best for your audiences.
3. Range. Most of us have about eight tones in our voice range. We usually start speaking at about the third or fourth tone and don’t venture more than a couple tones higher or lower. (The really boring speakers get stuck on one tone – hence, the term monotone.). Yet vocal range adds color and depth to a voice. “Range adds the human quality to your presentation,” says Reigh. “The voice that moves up and down on the musical scale continuously in an infinite variety of patterns conveys emotion and gives words meaning.” To work on your range, consider your voice as a musical instrument and think about using at least eight tones when speaking. Change the pitch level of certain words for meaning. It takes practice, says Reigh, but the broader your range, the more interesting your voice will be – and the more interested your audience will be in what you have to say.

Armed with these thoughts, record your voice and evaluate it. What are your voice strengths? What are its weaknesses? Notice your energy level, pitch variation, dynamics in rate and volume, where and how you use pauses. Then work on the three areas above and reevaluate. For more ideas, check out Reigh’s CD, “7 Exercises for a More Dynamic Speaking Voice.” Or contact her at Mention Selling Power magazine and you’ll get a free voice evaluation.