Finding your voice


By Matt Britton


What separates the ‘Steve Jobs’ from the ‘Steve Jobless?’ What makes a good speech truly great? The apple visionary had an amazing ability to speak with passion and make his ideas understandable and memorable. For a tech guru he didn’t overload us with jargon nor did he kill us with PowerPoint. Jobs looked and sounded relaxed as he walked around the stage freely. It looked natural and effortless. What many don’t know is Steve Jobs rehearsed for days every major speech and product launch. He knew what every actor knows: it takes a lot of practice to make it look natural.


Fortunately for us not-so-natural speakers most of the important parts of presentation can be learned. From slowing down to eliminating pesky ‘ums’ and ‘ers,’ there are plenty of tricks to help you be heard above the crowd.


Theatre director and facilitator of our Presenting with ImpACT masterclass, Matt Britton, leads you through some simple pointers for getting the best out of your voice…


And breathe

It could be the idea that is going to change the world. But unless we can hear it- how do we know?


Whether it’s delivering that keynote presentation or simply fighting to be heard in a large meeting, finding your voice is key. When it comes to volume breath is essential. Under stress people tend to breathe from their lungs instead of their diaphragm. This results in short anxious gulps leaving speech pinched and shallow. Have you ever ran out of breath towards the end of your sentence? It’s because you’re not taking breaths from the diaphragm. Take a quick body check now. Breathe in slowly for a count of five. Do you feel your shoulders rising as you inhale? If so, you’re breathing shallow breaths from the lungs. Now try it again. This time place your hands around your waist. You should be aiming to feel your sides expand. This is a sign you’re breathing deep from near the belly. Remember, breath= fuel for the voice. And no, we’re not talking about shouting. Doing your best Malcolm Tucker impression is unlikely to endear you to any listener. There’s a difference between filling the space with a strong voice supported by sufficient breath, and straining your voice to be heard. If you leave the conference room hoarse you’re not using your voice or breath correctly.



Not so fast.

Already running on nerves, adrenalin and a gutful of macchiatos, public speaking tends to get us in a rush with our words. We’d rather just get it over and done with. As a consequence our mouths go into overdrive and our ideas end up hitting the back wall before registering in our audience’s mind. Simple tip. If you want to be heard in a fast world: slow down. Not only does slowing down enable you to articulate better it gives your brain chance to gather its thoughts. It enables the listener to collect their thoughts too. A good rule of thumb is to aim for short sentences spoken at a measured pace. Long-winded sentences can leave us gasping for breath. Never a good look. Short sentences which use shorter words are punchier and much easier to deliver. Slowing down, however, should never be confused with monotony. Which brings us to our next point…



Mix it up.

We’ve all been there. You’re sitting in a conference room for a business presentation and you start to nod off. The speaker’s voice has become so dull it’s hypnotic. All you hear is the same pitch, the same rhythm, you hear the words but the meaning has got lost in the monotony. Mix it up. Vary the pitch. Play with the rhythm. Our ears need to be entertained and kept interested. Use the full range of your vocals. Alter the tone. Your deeper range can indicate weight and credibility. Your upper ranger can communicate excitement and joy. To create passion in our voice we need to know when it is beneficial to raise the volume and increase the speed of our delivery. A good baseline is to maintain a measured pace with occasional flourishes of speed and volume.



Enjoy the silence.

A well positioned pause is a powerful skill in presentation. Too many of us feel the need to fill the silence. It takes a brave communicator to put a pause to good use. When we pause before a word or phrase, it creates anticipation. When we pause after we’ve said something, it allows the audience a moment to chew on the idea. When we talk about pacing our presentations and being mindful of the rhythm, a pause helps vary the delivery keeping ears from drifting off.



Finish strong.

The sun-soaked cul-de-sac of Ramsay Street first reached our TV sets in the mid eighties, introducing us to Kylie and Jason, Bouncer the dog, and the Australian upwards inflection! A whole generation began to add add inflections at the end of sentences, making our statements sound like questions. Actors, however, are trained to do the opposite. Rather than ending on a question, actors finish their lines on a down note. Completing your thought, then letting it stand in the silence, allows your audience to digest the information. It sounds much more confident than the uncertainty an upwards inflection brings.

A firm recently surveyed 700 British men and women in managerial and executive roles. 85% felt that the upwards inflection trait was not only annoying, but indicated a person’s insecurity. The study suggested this style of speaking could hinder a person’s career. If you want your voice to carry more authority wean yourself off the upward inflection and end your thoughts on a down note.



Practice, practice, practice.

What do you do when you familiarise yourself with your notes? You practice by reading it silently in your head, right? This is not actual practice. Actors’ rehearsals are noisy, loud and most importantly an opportunity to try things out and risk failure. Yes, they may learn lines in silence, but actual rehearsal is exactly that- rehearsing what you will do in front of an audience. Don’t let the first time you’ve heard yourself aloud be in front of an audience. Read it out aloud to yourself. Anticipate those trickier sentences, know which parts sound monotonous. Play about with pitch and rhythm and pauses. Practice. Practice. Practice.



There we have it. However, those previous tips won’t mean much if you leave your personality at the door. Bring your passion and enthusiasm to your speech. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Bring you. The best, boldest version of you centre-stage. Learn the craft, learn to love public speaking.



Join our Presenting with ImpACT masterclass to bring power and performance to your presentations.

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