Pitch Perfect – How to Use Your Voice

December 7, 2014


Before his election to the presidency, Adolf Hitler took voice development lessons from an opera singer. Hitler understood early on that the voice is one of the most important elements of body language. The voice has a dramatic and far-reaching influence on how our messages are understood and how our ideas are adopted.

In last week’s blog, we introduced you to the importance of body language. Thirty-eight percent of the non-verbal elements of body language relate to the central elements of voice and tone. These are the two tools that can help us evoke inspiration and attention. Below are several tips for the correct use of voice and tone:

The enemy: monotone – strength of voice, speech rhythm, style or pauses – there isn’t just one way to use these vocal characteristics. Fast speech isn’t preferable to slow speech and vice-versa; there’s no preference between a strong voice and a weak voice. The key to all of types of speech is diversity. These characteristics have a wide range of use and the speaker must move within this range. The mistake most people make is that they adopt a permanent tone and rhythm and stick with it. Here are ways to vary your voice throughout your presentation and keep your audience engaged.

  • Intensity – a quiet and a strong voice should be integrated. A strong voice can emphasize certain points, while a soft voice can create tension. We should move between the different intensities according to the message that we’re trying to transmit.

  • Rhythm – there is a widespread assumption that if we’re speaking before an audience, we should speak slowly. This isn’t necessarily true. We live in a high-speed world today. People are used to receiving content quickly. We need to suit ourselves to the rhythm of our audience.

    • Pay attention to the fact that a fast rhythm shouldn’t replace the words you’re saying. People have a habit of swallowing the end of a sentence. The more the words at the end of a sentence are emphasized, the more confident we sound.

  • Style – the content of a speech can become amazing with the proper use of your voice. For example, if you want to talk about “budget” in a soft and empathetic voice that will reduce opposition, try thinking about babies or puppies. These soft and tender tones will be heard in your voice. Whether it is empathy, authority or inspiration, a change of vocal style lets us grant a certain feeling to the audience, a feeling that will emotionally help it connect to your message.

  • Pauses – it is important to integrate pauses into your speech and, even more important, to know where to place them. It’s worthwhile to pause before giving the main message, in order to give it more power. A pause can also be used after someone in the audience asks a question in order to emphasize that we are thinking about the answer. Pauses are also important for making a distinction between various sections of a presentation. This gives your audience a chance to absorb what has already been said and to reflect on it.

How can you know if you have a monotonous tone? Here are a few tips:

  • Try to find some sort of metronome and practice speaking with it. The goal is for your voice to NOT match up with it.

  • You can experiment by counting the rhythm of words per minute. The average is 100 words per minute when we stand in front of an audience; although, studies show that mentally we can actually absorb 450 words per minute (but that doesn’t mean we need to speak at that speed).

  • You can record yourself, or simply ask people or practice in front of people. Ask leading questions because the audience won’t ask them. But if you’re an unmistakable monotone, the audience will immediately recognize it.

Hopefully, these tips will help you to become a more confident and dynamic speaker! For more tips, CLICK HERE to watch Julian Treasure’s TED Talk on “How to speak so that people want to listen.”

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