Do not underestimate the power of the voice for impactful presentations when you need to capture attention and influence your audience at work. Tremendous subtlety of meaning is conveyed by voice. Not just nuance and emotional context, but basic meaning of words varies according to vocal inflection.
The words you choose to speak serve as platforms from which your tone of voice creates meaning.
How Tone of Voice Can Change the Meaning of a Sentence
“You are going to do this for me.” According to thousands of business presentation skills training participants, this sentence can be phrased to have at least 3 different meanings”:
- An angry demand: You are going to do this for me!
- Amazement at someone’s generosity: You are going to do this for me?
- Sarcastic disbelief and putdown: You are going to do this for me?
How to Ensure to Convey the Right Meaning to Your Audience
To harness the power of the voice for impactful presentations, make sure that you:
- Learn To Control Your Voice Volume
Increasing and decreasing the volume of your voice demands attention. Experiment with underscoring key points by raising your volume. Then whisper your next point to further increase audience attention. When we get excited, or we are conveying important information, both volume and pitch tend to rise.
Raising and lowering pitch provides nuance. We signal that a sentence is a question by raising the pitch of the final words. When increasing volume, decrease pitch to avoid a breaking or squeaky voice.
Slowing your pace increases your authority as well as clarity. Most of us speak too fast – we get nervous and worried that we won’t “get it all in.” If you are stumbling over words, you are speaking too fast. The key to controlling your pace is learning to…pause.
- Align Your Voice with Your Message
Different vocal ranges communicate how strongly you feel about something. When you speak in a normal, conversational voice, it sends the non-verbal message that the statement is not of major import. When you speak with a higher level of intensity – more passion, more energy and sharp enunciation – it sends the non-verbal message that the statement is very important.
Practice flavoring your presentations with emotional character – excitement, concern, anger, or elation. Use your voice to demonstrate the attitude with which you feel about something. Examples include:
Using Emotional Affect
Do not hesitate to be vocally expressive in business presentations. If you tell your audience about an exciting product in a dull, monotonous voice, your words and your voice are not in alignment. It is an uninspiring pitch if you talk about “ground breaking developments” in a quiet, lifeless voice.
Telling Personal Stories
Telling a personal story provides abundant opportunities to stretch your vocal dynamism. When introducing a new character into your story, alter your voice to signal the audience “this is the other person.” Don’t say “he told us to finish up in an angry voice.” Instead, make your voice his and say sharply “Dammit, finish up NOW!” When describing a tense situation, get some excitement in your voice; as you talk about something sad, slow down and lower your voice.
Mapping Your Outline
Note where you want to create vocal emphasis (opening, and closing lines, key points, and potentially dull sections). Circle or underline words you wish to emphasize.
Taking Advantage of Silence
What is the easiest way to regain an audience’s attention? Stop Speaking. One of the most powerful uses of your voice is to not use it at all. Silence peaks attention and gives you an opportunity to take in information about the audience. Most presenters have a natural aversion to it. We consciously seek to fill any silence with “ahhhs, uhmms” and inane chatter.
Silence by the presenter creates tension in the audience. Experiment with just standing silently and watch heads start to turn toward you. Hold the silence while you look into an audience. Let the tension build interest. Comments introduced or punctuated by silence have high impact. Your ability to stand in silence before the audience demonstrates authority and confidence.
- Utilize Gesture and Movement: Where, When, Why
In addition to harnessing the power of the voice for impactful presentations, you can also utilize gesture and movement to:
To make a key point, to pull the audience back when you feel them slipping away.
To communicate confidence in yourself and your message, to command the room, to express your dynamic personality.
Communicate Precise Meaning
To fill the words with emotional import, to clarify the meaning of a statement, to indicate your perspective on the subject.
To convey the importance of an idea, the dissatisfaction with the status quo, the excitement of an event or future vision.
To seem authentic and credible to your audience. Body language reinforces what you are saying.
Optimize the Impact of Universal Gestures
To create rapport by their familiarity and to quickly develop understanding.
Communicate over a Larger Physical or Remote Space
To reach individuals in a large or remote audience requires more dynamic gestures than those when speaking one-on-one.
Liven Things Up
To liven and lighten things up use juxtaposition, exaggeration, incongruities, and surprise; pit gestures and movement against your words.
The Bottom Line
What you say and how you say it, especially when the stakes are high, can be the difference between a successful and unsuccessful presentation. Do not underestimate how you convey your message.
To learn more about being a better presenter at work, download How to Present to Senior Executives Like a Rock Star