Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies (UK Edition)
Your voice makes a major difference to your impact in social situations and in business. You may think that you’re stuck with your voice. On the contrary! Numerous easy ways are available to change your vocal impact. Here are a few key tips to get you started.
Getting People to Listen to You
You don’t have to become a different person to get people to enjoy listening to you – you just have to make it easy for them. Even small changes on your part make the vital difference in how you come across to others.
Loosen up. Ease out your body – listening to someone who’s tense and buttoned-up is hard. Shake your arms and legs, run on the spot, wriggle your shoulders and spine, and see how different you feel – and sound – when you’re more relaxed.
Speak clearly. Make sure that people can hear and understand you by articulating your words clearly. Imitate newsreaders – they always pronounce consonants and vowels really clearly so that you understand every word.
Project. Speak loudly enough to be heard – not just by yourself in your head, but by other people. Take a good breath before you speak and visualise the sound streaming out from you in an arc.
Speak lower. After you take a breath, settle into your body and sense the sound coming from your chest. Relax to do this and don’t push down physically. When your voice resonates against the breastbone it sounds strong and convinced, and people trust it.
Emphasise. People who speak with impact emphasise strongly, much more than you might be aware of. Emphasising the words that matter most helps other people make sense of what you say. As an example, if you say, ‘the cat sat on the mat’, make ‘cat’ and ‘mat’ stronger than ‘on’ or ‘the’.
Slow down. Take your time. Getting your words out as fast as you can might feel more comfortable, but it’s entirely self-defeating if people can’t catch what you say. Take a nice deep breath, enjoy emphasising certain words, and give yourself enough space to be heard.
Be quiet. Pause to take breath. Allow silence sometimes. A voice that rattles on without a break is very hard to keep listening to. Silence allows your listeners to catch up, and process what you’re saying.
Get out of your own way. Self-consciousness creates a rift between you and your listeners, and gets in the way of real communication. Concentrate on what you want to say and on the people you’re speaking to.
Enjoy yourself. Don’t take yourself too seriously. If you enjoy speaking and communicating, others listen and enjoy it too.
Speaking in Public with Confidence
Speaking in public is many people’s idea of a nightmare. Here are some easy hints on how to speak confidently and make an impact with your audience.
Stand well. Stand to your full height, with feet a bit apart, and put your weight evenly on both feet. Feel yourself grow taller and wider, so that you fill your space. Enjoy feeling how tall, broad and flexible you can be without effort.
Relax. Without slumping, feel every part of your body relax and melt, from the top of your head down through your body to your feet, while your skeleton stands tall and flexible. This is confident relaxation – the perfect way to produce your best from your voice.
Breathe. A strong voice depends on air, so you need to breathe well. The first step is to get rid of your old air. Blow all your air out and, without collapsing your body, just relax – as you relax, your body fills with fresh air naturally. Practise relaxation and good breathing frequently.
Lower your tone firmly at the end of a sentence. Lowering your tone may seem a minor adjustment, but makes a surprisingly big difference to how you come across. As a general rule, a falling tone at the end of a sentence is used for statements and commands, and sounds final – as if you mean business. A rising tone indicates incompleteness or uncertainty, and is used in all types of questions. End low and you sound as if you’re confident of your own opinions.
Keep up your energy to the end. If your voice tails off at the end of a sentence, you sound as if you lack confidence in what you’re saying. If you speak with clear emphasis and keep up the energy in your voice to the end of your statement, people believe what you’re saying – simple as that.
Avoid weak additions to sentences. Try to avoid saying ‘okay’, ‘like’, ‘actually’, ‘kind of’, and of course ‘um’ and ‘er’. People put in the useless little extra words because they think it buys them thinking time. But you don’t need them. Take your time to think of the next thing you want to say and be happy with silence. You then sound confident.
Speak long phrases well. If you want to sound confident, you need to be able to speak long phrases as well as short ones. Practise speaking long phrases in a loud, energetic way. Doing so builds up your ability to breathe well and you sound as if you really mean what you say.
Believe in yourself. Self-belief isn’t so much about thinking you’re fantastic as about giving yourself permission to be you. When you’re uncertain about your speech, you tend to tightly control your delivery. But giving yourself permission to be you means allowing yourself to falter on occasion, say the wrong thing or show unexpected emotion. When you give yourself permission to be human, mistakes are much less likely to occur. You come across as someone who’s at ease.
Hints for Speaking into a Microphone
Using a microphone is straightforward. Use the same full voice you would normally use to be heard in conversation and you sound good. Don’t try to be anyone else by putting on a special microphone voice. Put feeling and interest into your voice to engage people as you would without a mike.
Here are just a few practical tips you need to remember:
Know your mike. Microphones come in many different types and styles, including:
Handheld. With this mike, keep the ball of the microphone below your mouth a few centimetres from your face and pointed toward your nose so that the air travels over the mike and not directly into it. Alternatively, touch the ball to your chin and keep it there.
Lavaliere mike. This is a mike that clips to your lapel or collar, and usually has a battery pack that you attach to your waistband. Speak normally as if speaking to a small group without a mike. The mike allows you to move about freely, but try not to turn your head too much. If you need to constantly turn to look at a screen, clip the mike to that side of your lapel.
Podium mike. Point the microphone at your mouth about two hand widths away, and speak across the mike, not into it. Don’t turn right away from the mike. If you have to adjust the mike, bend the neck without touching the mike itself to avoid nasty feedback.
Find the on off button before you start! Find the on, off, standby and mute buttons before your speech so that you aren’t caught in confusion in front of your audience. Switch to the appropriate mode before and after you speak. Speakers have occasionally been highly embarrassed by making an intimate comment off the cuff with the mike still on, and being heard by everyone present!
Do a sound check. Always find an opportunity to try your microphone before you speak, whether a technician is in charge of the sound system or not. Every venue and system is different, so get someone to check the sound with you and evaluate volume and quality from different parts of the room.
Test just before speaking. Don’t blow into the mike or hit the top which makes an unpleasant sound for your audience. Instead, gently tap the side just under the mouthpiece or speak your first words listening for amplification. Wireless mikes take a second to kick in after being switched on, so count to 3 before you speak.
Wear the right clothes. Wear something with a lapel or tie for the lavaliere mike for easy clipping. A front-opening jacket or a blouse is also fine. Beware of clothes that rustle, and make sure that buttons and jewellery are out of the way to avoid amplifying their sounds. Have a belt or waistband to clip the battery pack to, or a pocket to slip it into.
Keep your distance. Don’t get too close to the microphone, which distorts your voice. The microphone is designed to capture a voice that flows over or across it, not into it. If you get too close, the mike amplifies every breath, click, pop and hiss.