It’s Not What You Say, it’s HOW you say it!
Speaking so that others will listen is so much more than having the right thing to say. You can be the most interesting person but no one will know if your voice is annoying and monotone. Putting proper emphasis, tone and pace to your voice makes your words more impactful and credible. Consider the points you want to make and ensure that how you say them matches. Julian Treasure is a sound and speech expert and his 2013 TED Talk, “How to speak so that people want to listen” explains the Golden Rules for talking so that your words are meaningful and effective. Whether you’re negotiating a business transaction, ordering a pizza, or conversing with friends, these speaking techniques you will ensure that when you speak, people listen. Certain attributes of memorable voice come naturally while others take practice to learn and develop. Learning how to harness the power of your voice is crucial to owning social situations and speaking so people are guaranteed to listen.
Vocal register is where your voice actually originates. Variations on these registers can take your voice from comedic to credible while using the same words. Vocal practitioners divide the voice into three separate registers.
- Most associated with comedy and humor is the use of falsetto. This is the octave above normal speech and should be avoided while making impactful points while speaking.
- Modal voice is the “normal” register used most frequently in speech. Avoid speaking from the nose and throat while in this register to add credibility to your voice. Breathe deeply and speak “from the chest” to give a deep, full sound to engage your audience. Deeper voices are associated with power and authority and those with full voices consume the attention of their audience.
- Vocal fry is the lowest vocal register. When you try to make your voice sound deeper on purpose the low, raspy sound will hurt your credibility more than help.
Overall, the most effective register is your modal voice. Use proper body posture and speak from your chest to give the fullest and deepest register while still sounding natural to add credibility and authority to your natural voice.
There are voices that exude comfort, wisdom and trust that we could listen to all day. Voices like Morgan Freeman, James Earl Jones, or David Attenborough make us feel like we are wrapped in a warm blanket on a chilly day. To make your voice sound more rich and full there are many special breathing techniques and postures that can help. Practice and proper training will help build a voice that exudes, richness, comfort and trust.
This refers to the poetic rhythm of your voice or the sing-song way your voice moves throughout your phrase. To speak with no inflection or change of tone is boring and you’ll find your audience’s attention fading quickly. The archetype of monotony is Ben Stein, (Clear-eyes Visine Commercials) from years ago. It made for a great commercial but if the goal is to keep an audience engaged this should be avoided. Just as a single tone can be difficult to listen to, a repetitive prosody can be just as difficult. Someone who raises their tone at the end of a sentence so that every sentence sounds like a question uses “up-speak.” This portrays a lack of confidence and makes the audience think that the speaker is less intelligent.
Consider the way you introduce yourself to someone new. Where your voice raises can be a guide to help them remember your name. Practice raising your voice at the end of your first name and lowering at the end of your last name. This shows a finality to your introductions that will help make your name memorable. Considering the prosody in which you speak can greatly impact how people perceive you and their ability to listen to what you are saying.
The speed at which you speak is the pace. To build the excitement in your audience increase the pace while you increase your enthusiasm. Gaining speed throughout a talk increases the breathlessness of the audience and keeps them rapt in what you’re saying. By slowing down the pace you can better emphasize a point. To be most effective, your pace must match the energy of yourself and your crowd. Pace also involves silence. The moments between phrases that allow people to think and process what you are telling them are extremely powerful. A moment of silence can change a mood, create poignancy and be a powerful tool for negotiation.
Pitch is the highness or lowness of a tone as perceived by the ear. Changing pitch can change the entire sentiment behind a phrase. Using the same words something can become sarcastic, accusatory or loving. Pitch can determine emotion and also intention. By practicing with different pitches you can learn how to convey strong feelings without sounding argumentative or rude. Pitch is often what gives away our true feelings behind our words. Using the same words, changing pitch can change a question to a suggestion. “Why ↘ don’t you move to California?” (a question) versus “Why don’t you ↗ move to California?” (a suggestion). You can use pitch to draw listener’s attention to words or phrases that are more important than others.
This speaking tool is the easiest to understand yet is grossly undervalued. Volume is often regulated without thought. For example, if speaking in a library it is natural to whisper whereas, speaking to a large group we increase volume. The power of volume within a presentation is remarkable. Speak loudly to gain excitement. Let your audience see your passion and enthusiasm for the topic. Conversely, speak quietly when you want people to lean in and listen.
By learning to master these tools of vocal variety you will give your audience no choice but to listen and remain engaged in what you are saying. After knowing the words to say, you must think about how to say them to be most impactful. Each tool takes practice but is worth the effort. Being aware of what impacts your voice gives you an advantage in getting people to listen and retain the information you’ve given them. Take time with friends to practice different techniques, play with your voice, and don’t be afraid to sound silly. By understanding what you are capable of you will be able to guide your voice to make everyone listen.