Think of a storyteller who had you on the edge of your seat. Now, consider why that person was so engaging. Yes, the story itself was probably interesting, but likely, he or she made the story come alive in the telling, with a captivating voice.
The best storytellers, presenters, and communicators all employ—consciously or subconsciously—an artful, engaging voice to establish their credibility, get their message across, and move people to action. Exactly how do they do it? Here’s the sound advice, with some added tips for virtual settings:
Believe it: The sound of your voice matters a lot. The Wall Street Journal cited a 2012 study that analyzed 120 executives’ speeches and found that, “The sound of a speaker’s voice matters twice as much as the content of the message…The speakers’ voice quality accounted for 23% of listeners’ evaluations; the content of the message accounted for 11%. Other factors were the speakers’ passion, knowledge, and presence…” Citing another study published in the Journal of Voice, “People who hear recordings of rough, weak, strained or breathy voices tend to label the speakers as negative, weak, passive, or tense. People with normal voices are seen as successful, sexy, sociable, and smart...”
Make sure your audience can hear you. Nothing will annoy or make your audience check out faster than if they can’t hear you. Plus, a barely audible voice telegraphs a lack of confidence, and even questionable data. In one study of technical presenters, peer audiences didn’t consider the data as credible if the presenter was difficult to hear. So, do what you need to do: adjust the mic or speaker audio; check in with people to make sure they can hear you; and remember to breathe deeply so you have the air you need to project.
Be clear. Don’t mumble or speak so fast that people can’t understand you. Slow down and enunciate.
Vary your volume and pitch. Think of great storytellers again. They raise and lower their voice, in volume and pitch, to emphasize points, create suspense and drama, and keep their audience engaged. There’s nothing like a monotone voice to put people to sleep. And in a virtual environment, because you typically don’t have the option of standing up and moving around the room as you speak, an interesting, effective voice is even more important.
Ditch the “up talk.” Speaking of pitch, let’s all keep working at eliminating that annoying vocal upturn that makes a declarative statement sound like a question. “We made great progress last quarter?” Enough said.
Vary your cadence. When you tell a story to a friend, isn’t it natural to slow down in the parts you want to savor and speed up when you want to create excitement? Varying the tempo of your talk or presentation is another storyteller’s tool to keep the audience engaged.
Use the power of the pause. Silence does two things: It tells the audience that what’s coming next is different or important; and it adds yet more vocal variety. Pause briefly before and after you make an important point or transition between ideas. By doing this, you create suspense and allow others to process your comments and fully appreciate what you're saying.
Do it again, this time with feeling. If you don’t sound interested in or passionate about what you’re saying, how can you expect others to believe you and/or stay engaged? Again, think about masterful storytellers. While all of the “technical” aspects of voice like volume, pitch, and tempo are important, we love a passionate storyteller precisely because we can feel their excitement—or love, or concern, or curiosity, or whatever moves us. Emotion demonstrates authenticity, which can bridge the gap in virtual settings where people don’t feel quite as connected as when they’re with each other in person. (Added tip: Actually looking at the webcam when you’re speaking helps, too.)
Whether you’re giving a talk at a conference or holding a virtual team meeting, your voice, in so many ways, says a lot about who you are, what you care about, and whether your “story” is compelling. Make sure yours is as authentic and effective as it can be.
On the journey with you,
The PowerSpeaking Team