Can you imagine ‘I Have a Dream’ being spoken by someone besides Martin Luther King? If it was anyone else delivering it, it wouldn’t have had the passion, power or resonance it did.
Most people know that the actual words you speak only account for a small amount of the impact you have. Some studies have shown that body language can account for up to 55% of the message you convey, and voice tone can be another 38%.
Very often, we overlook voice tone and focus on gestures or posture. Yet, the way you speak has a profound impact.
During the past year, I have been aiming to improve the quality of my voice tone in my speaking, and have learned about five ways to make more impact.
Every person has a natural pitch. This is a place in the high-to-low spectrum they naturally speak at. Typically women have a higher pitch than men, yet there are exceptions. Speaking in the correct pitch makes you have more power and clarity in your voice. Not speaking in the correct pitch will actually strain your voice and make you sound less resonant.
To find your pitch, you can do a simple exercise. Say the words ‘uh huh’ a few times. Listen to the pitch you use when you say ‘huh’. Next, close your lips together and say ‘mmm hmmm’. Wherever you feel your voice in your mouth is where you natural pitch sits.
Try speaking in this pitch as your ‘middle voice’. You can go lower or higher at times, while having a steady middle that people recognize as your natural voice.
The speed at which you speak can have a big impact on your audience. When we are very excited, or nervous there is a tendency to speak quicker.
There is also a pattern in younger generations where they are speaking faster than before.
While this may be acceptable in normal conversation, it doesn’t translate to the stage. People need time to absorb each key point and running your words together confuses them.
As a rule, try speaking 30% slower than your normal pace. If people say they can understand you better, try to keep that as your onstage pace.
In communication, there are different reasons we pause. We can use it for affect after an important statement, or to build up the importance of what we say next.
If you run your sentences together or speak in sentences that are too long, you will start to lose your audiences’ attention. People think in chunks of about 7 to 10 words. Sentences longer than that make it difficult for your audience to completely absorb their previous thoughts.
Perhaps the most important reason to pause is because you need to breath. You cannot speak while breathing in, it can only happen when you are breathing out. Taking regular pauses lets you inhale more air, which improves your speaking voice.
The pronunciation of words is where different accents comes from. Each region of the world teaches different ways to pronounce words. When enough of these words are different, that creates a new dialect, or accent. No way is right or wrong, they are just different. However, depending on where you are speaking, it can make sense to check how a word is pronounced so your audience doesn’t get confused.
On another point, it is easy to get lazy with our pronunciation, especially when we are not conscious of it. We can run words together, we can mumble, we can drop sounds out of words. All these aspects make us seem less coherent and reduce our impact.
Crisp and clear pronunciation always adds a lot of value. If you want an exercise to improve your pronunciation skills, try to this Radio Announcers Test from the 1940s.
Having a strong voice comes from having power in your diaphragm. The stronger your lung capacity and ability to push air through your larynx, the better your voice will sound.
Singers have to work very hard to manage their breath when singing because this is essentially the engine of the vocals. The same is true for speakers. The more you work on your lung capacity, the better you will be able to use it in your speaking to project.
As a rule, try to speak a little louder than you normally would in front of an audience so that you develop more presence. It may seem strange at first, but the audience won’t notice it. Remember also that some people are hard of hearing and will appreciate the volume increase.
These 5 tips are simple, yet effective when you practice them. My suggestion is to choose one specific area of your voice tone to work on during your next few speeches. As you gain improvement, try for another one. Over time you will notice your influence and impact improving.