Flashback to Speech 101 class.
Palms sweaty, heart racing, voice squeaky, thoughts tangled.
Ring a bell?
Yeah, public speaking is dreadful to most people in this world.
When you meet a stranger, engage in small talk, and make your way toward a sale, your speaking voice matters. I mean really matters.
First, you’ll be judged by how you look. What are you wearing, how does your hair look, what are you carrying?
Then, you’ll be judged by whatever comes out of your mouth. And it’s not just about what you say – but how you say it. You can memorize scripts all day long, but if you sound unconfident, scared, flustered, or overly quiet or loud, your first impression is shot.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you’re standing in front of a crowd at Madison Square Garden or in front of a prospect at the kitchen table. You want your speaking voice to convey:
Your speaking voice should sound natural, which means it’s going to take some practice to make it a habit.
Find Your Starting Point
We’re all at different levels – some of us speak in front of people all day long, while others sit at a desk in the corner. No matter where you’re starting, there’s always room for improvement.
To begin, let’s determine what kind of speaking voice you have now.
Do you speak softly or do you take over conversations?
You probably already know how to determine this.
- Do people often have a hard time hearing you?
- Do you find yourself repeating things for others?
- Do your sentences tend to trail off?
- Are you known as the “loud” one?
- Do people often tell you to lower your voice?
- Do you tend to shout things across the room rather than get closer to the person you’re speaking to?
Are you monotone?
If you’re passionate about helping people, that passion should come out in the way you speak.
Do you find yourself bored by insurance? Do you lack conviction? If you couldn’t care less, that’ll translate into a dull, monotone discussion.
Are you a mumbler?
- Do you tend to speak with your hand over your mouth?
- Do you avoid opening your mouth when you speak?
- Do you suppress your words?
If you do any of these things, people will have a hard time understanding you, and they won’t give you the time of day.
Do you speed through sentences or take your sweet time?
Somewhere between Bob and Ray Slow Talkers and the Jimmy John’s commercial guy is the perfectly paced voice.
When we get nervous, it’s natural to start skipping over our words. Our heart rate goes up, and along with it goes our words. When we do this, people get agitated – they can’t follow what you’re staying, so they give up.
Some of us also struggle to keep up the pace. We bore our listeners and lose their attention. Our brain naturally processes information faster than we can speak, so if you move too slowly, your listeners will start daydreaming.
So much for the A+ pitch you had coming.
Now that you have a better idea of where you fit in the scheme of things, let’s learn how to improve.
1. Voice Relaxation Techniques
You may be thinking is a bunch of bologna – I’m somewhat guilty myself – but it’s no lie that many renowned therapists send their patients to vocal coaches. And it’s not to become an opera singer.
When people suffer from low self-esteem or continuous disappointing outcomes (think: never closing a sale), sometimes it’s because of their voice. Sounds silly, but think about it – do people you respect have a pip-squeaky voice? Are they constantly mumbling? No!
That’s why going through some of these cringe-worthy techniques is actually important.
This first technique is all about relaxing the voice.
Allow your jaw to drop, and take a deep breath. Put your hand on your belly and take another deep breath – in for 4 counts and out for 4 counts. This time, drop your jaw, take in a deep breath, and when you exhale, make a “huh” sound.
Do this multiple times. This helps relax your voice.
2. Increasing Volume Techniques
Increasing the volume of your voice is all about deep breathing. A great technique for this is to exhale all of the air from your lungs. Keep exhaling until there’s absolutely nothing left. Your body will automatically inhale deeply – it’s an instinct.
Feel how the air rushes in and repeat the process.
Another technique is to exhale, but not fully, just comfortably. Inhale a little bit and hold it for 15 seconds. Then, slowly exhale. Repeat this process. Over time, try holding it for 20 seconds, 25 seconds, and so on. Eventually, you’ll increase your time to about a minute, which will help you develop more control over your breathing. This strengthens your diaphragm, which helps you project your voice.
3. Pitch Control Techniques
If your voice is thin or too high, you lack authority. To help you reach more clarity in your voice, sing “ahhh” at the pitch of your regular speaking voice. Then, slowly increase your volume until you feel yourself straining or losing clarity. You may feel the sound “wiggling” as you struggle to keep a consistent pitch. Practicing this and focusing on stabilizing your voice will help you reach more clarity in your speaking voice.
To lower the pitch of your speaking voice, practice lowering your pitch in regular day-to-day conversations. If you’re conscious about it, it will become more familiar.
4. Voice Projection Techniques
Voice projection requires mental and muscular control – you have to “think” about projecting your voice forward, but your muscles have to be able to support that projection.
Once again, breathing techniques can help.
Lie on the floor. Breathe in from your abdomen and exhale slowly. Relax your jaw, and allow it to hang open. Relax your throat. Every time you exhale, the air should feel smooth and unobstructed.
Once you’re comfortable with the breathing, say “ahhh” when you exhale. It should feel like a breathy sigh. Continue to exhale and say “ahhh,” but count slowly up to five. Repeat this until you can say “ahhh” for five full seconds without straining.
5. Speed Stabilizing Techniques
To improve the speed in which you talk, you have to determine what speed you’re at, and you’ll have to actively work on slowing down or speeding up. Slow speakers read a passage aloud at about 120 words per minute, while fast speakers read about 190 words.
Read the following passage out loud and time yourself. It should take about 30 seconds. Did you finish too early or were you not quite finished?
Excerpt from THE U.S. PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE ON EDUCATION TO CONGRESS, JANUARY 29, 1963
Education is the keystone in the area of freedom and progress. Nothing has contributed more to the enlargement of this nation’s strength and opportunities than our traditional system of free, universal elementary and secondary education, coupled with widespread availability of college education.
For the individual, the doors to the schoolhouse, to the library, and to the college lead to the richest treasures of our open society: to the power of knowledge – to the training and skills (...)
John F. Kennedy
6. Practice Sales Scripts
While you don’t want to sound scripted, practicing a general outline for your presentation is encouraged. A great practice method is to record yourself. Play back the recording and ask yourself: was I easy to understand? Did my voice convey authority and sincerity? If not, write down the areas where you can improve, and work on the techniques mentioned earlier in this article.
It’s also really important to be conscious of confusing topics. If you’re explaining Medicare to someone who has no clue what it is, slow down. Pause occasionally to give your listener a chance to comprehend what you’re explaining.
7. Practice In Front of the Mirror
Watching yourself present something is very powerful. It will probably feel a little embarrassing, but watching your facial expressions, how you talk with your hands, and your overall posture will show you areas of weakness.
Perhaps you slump and don’t realize it. Maybe you look angry but don’t mean to.
The most important thing is to notice how often you smile. Smiling reacts with the tone of your voice and can immediately make your listener feel positive and receptive towards what you have to say. If you never smile, make a conscious effort to do so.
Overall, your speaking voice might be the last of your concerns, but it can be the biggest game changer when it comes to interacting with your clients. If you’re not happy with the outcome of your presentations, consider working on your speaking voice. A confident voice can make all the difference.