When you deliver a speech, your voice becomes the channel to communicate your message to your audience. A speech doesn’t come with subtitles. Your audience can’t hit pause, rewind, and re-listen to what you just said. Not every presenter will have a “golden voice,” however, as a speaker, you should focus on controlling the five aspects of voice – your volume, pitch, rate, and pauses/vocal fillers.
Unless you are delivering a speech at an event, there’s a good chance you won’t be speaking with a microphone. While delivering a workplace or classroom presentation, adjust your voice to the acoustics of the room, the size of the audience, and the level of background noise. If you speak too loudly, you may come off as aggressive. Speak too softly, and your audience won’t fully grasp your message. Remember, your voice always sounds louder to yourself than to your listeners. Observe your audience – If you notice your listeners leaning forward in their seats, you’re probably speaking too softly.
Pitch is the highness or lowness of a speaker’s voice. Changes in pitch are known as inflections. In everyday conversation, we use inflections to denote a question or convey emotion. Lack of inflections can cause a delivery to sound very monotone. My students are required to submit rehearsal audio before they deliver their speeches. By recording their delivery and playing it back, they can hear whether or not they are speaking in a monotone.
Rate refers to the speed at which a person talks. Each person has their own rate of speech. Nervous, novice speakers tend to race through their speeches. On the flip side, speaking too slowly can cause your listeners to become bored or sleepy. Again, recording yourself practicing your speech and playing it back will help you become aware of your speech rate. Adjust it accordingly.
Pauses vs Vocal Fillers
Learning how to take a pause when you lose your train of thought is one of the most important aspects of speech delivery. So many people are afraid of silence. As a result, they default to using vocal fillers – um, uh, like, you know, etc. The vocal fillers, also known as vocalized pauses, create a negative perception of the speaker’s credibility and intelligence. If you use vocal fillers, you will notice them when you play back any rehearsal audio. Overcoming the vocal fillers takes practice, but once you become aware of your frequency of use, it’s easier to train yourself to replace ummm with a simple pause.