People will forget what you said.
People will forget what you did.
But people will never forget how you made them feel.
Do you remember the heading on the third slide from the last office meeting?
Can you recall the specs for the new product being launched next quarter?
How about what your supervisor wore during the last training presentation?
If you answered “no” to any or even all of these questions, then you probably understand exactly what Maya Angelou was talking about. Don’t get me wrong, content matters. Speaking in front of an audience is a privilege, and you shouldn’t waste the opportunity or their time.
Superior expertise on your topic is great, but there is a difference between merely presenting content and delivering information. Strong vocal delivery is a critical speaking skill and will leave a lasting impression. Strong delivery exhibits mastery of the content and high interest in the subject at hand.
If you’re showing enthusiasm, the audience will pick up on it and it’s contagious. The audience will no longer only hear your words; they’ll be engaged with you and your content. While they may not remember every single detail, they’ll certainly remember the primary themes of your engaging speech or presentation. This is particularly important if the goal of your presentation is a call to action, such as a sale, a proposal agreement, adoption of a new idea, etc.
Being engaging will help you to become a better public speaker. So what are the rules of engagement?
1. Pitch Variability
Baseball is America’s pastime. The most important position in baseball is the pitcher, and the best pitchers have a variety of pitches to keep batters on their toes. The same goes for you with the pitch of your voice.
If you have a monotonous delivery, your audience will tune you out…..or fall asleep or just leave! A change in your pitch is an inflection. These voice inflections give your voice a melody, making you more pleasant and interesting to listen to. We all have a natural pitch to our voices. Women generally have higher pitches, while men generally have lower pitches. This doesn’t mean we are restricted to one sound. Your mood affects your pitch. If you become excited, your pitch tends to go higher. If you are serious or somber, your pitch tends to go lower.
Inflections can be powerful especially when used to emphasize an important point or concept. Vocal variety is critical to keeping the audience’s attention- so vary your pitch to avoid a boring monotone.
2. Volume Variability
Varying your volume increases the effectiveness of your speech. You can pique the audience’s interest by varying your volume as you are emphasizing different points. Raising your voice stresses important points and charges your audience up, while lowering your voice causes the audience to concentrate acutely on what’s being said and creates closeness.
Think about an orchestra that goes from a gentle rumble to a crescendo, and then back to a soft piece of music. The best way to raise your volume naturally is to focus on a person or group sitting in the back of the room and direct your speech to them. When you focus on reaching the group farthest away from you, you’ll naturally speak a bit louder. Take full breaths, stay calm and project your voice using the air you take in. To lower your voice naturally, talk to the person closest to you and maintain eye contact. This connection will naturally result in softer speech.
3. Pace Variability
The theme so far has been on vocal variety, but pace is another important component. You benefit from varying your pace. Continuing the baseball pitcher analogy, the best pitchers also adjust the speeds of their pitches. Adjusting your pace adds to vocal variety. This also includes taking pauses to let your audience digest ideas … and more importantly it lets you catch a breath! If you’re excited about a topic, you’ll tend to speak at a faster rate. You’ll speak a bit faster and louder, and express positive energy. Slow your pace if you want to emphasize a point. Allow your audience time to think when you explain complex information. To slow down, remember to pause and breathe between ideas. Another natural way to slow down your speaking pace is by holding longer eye contact with audience members. Hold eye contact for 3-5 seconds, or the length of a sentence, with each individual and it will naturally slow down your pace.
You’ll improve your communication skills by incorporating these simple rules of vocal variety. The more you speak, the more comfortable you’ll be with your own voice. It’s an amazing tool, so you owe it to yourself to get the most out of it.