Talking Point: How to speak and grab attention
If your voice is a pleasure to listen to and has vocal variety you're more likely to grab and hold your audience's attention.
So, how do you develop vocal variety?
Use your body and breath.
1. Stand relaxed and tall.
Your body is like a column with the feet supporting the column – just slightly apart.
Release tension by gently, slowly allowing your head to drop forwards, then your shoulders and torso, arms floppy – just as far as is comfortable. As you do this breathe out.
Then slowly uncurl yourself, bringing the head up last. As you uncurl breathe in calmly and then once upright gently breathe out. Your head is now crowning the column of your body. You can breathe freely and your voice can travel easily.
2. Use your breath to carry your voice.
Our voice starts with the breath that comes up from our lungs and travels through our voice box and mouth.
We need to train ourselves to move away from shallow, high-in-the-chest breath which often accompanies nervousness. Instead we want to breathe using our full lung capacity so that our breath is anchored lower in the body and brings poise. This opens the door to vocal range and variety.
You need your breath to be free to carry your voice to the back of the room. Good breathing and good posture will help you to achieve this.
Your voice needs humidity to work well. Always carry a bottle of water. Take regular sips during warm up and throughout your presentation.
If you have ever read aloud to children you’ll be used to an audience that demands you are vocally lively and “do all the voices!”
To build this skill, start by reading the passage silently to yourself. Look for the meaning of the words. Read the passage aloud. Aim to express the meaning behind the words; happy, frustrated, sad, ironic, humorous?
Read the passage silently again twice. Note any key words or phrases used to construct the message. Allow the words to play on your imagination and open the door to expression.
Read the passage aloud again. Ideally record it and listen for the differences between your first and later attempts. You will begin to train your ear to experience new sounds. You will undoubtedly hear improvements.
The reading material can be anything you like. The point is to do it and make your voice sound more interesting when you speak.
Make sure that you find time to practice your own words and speeches to integrate your new skills.
There is no quick fix to finding vocal variety. Each of us has to practise little and often to extend our abilities.
The path to vocal freedom and expression is an exhilarating one to take. Your audiences will thank you and you’ll find you are in demand as a speaker and presenter.
nAndrew P. Bennett is from Toastmasters International, a non-profit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations. Headquartered in California, USA, the organisation’s membership exceeds 345,000 in more than 15,900 clubs in 142 countries.
Since 1924, Toastmasters International has helped people of all backgrounds become more confident in front of an audience. There are more than 300 clubs in the UK and Ireland with over 7500 members. To find your local club visit www.toastmasters.org.uk. You can also follow @Toastmasters on Twitter.