(This blog is a 12th in a 15 part series titled ‘Definitive Guide to Making Killer Sales Presentations’. Sign-up now to be the first to receive the full-fledged guide.)
Voice modulation is very rarely discussed in professional circles even though it is one thing which all leaders, business or otherwise, orators, politicians, actors, activists, past and present throughout geographies have been leveraging to make a lasting impact.
Professional speakers are like stage actors. They focus a lot on having a great voice modulation. It can make the difference between a crisp, impactful presentation and a dull boring presentation. Preparing a sharp looking deck but then faltering on the delivery of the pitch nullifies all the effort that went behind it.
Apart from having a flawless articulation, refraining from using stall words like ‘err’, ‘umm’. ‘ah’, ‘like’ and using connectors like ‘you see’, ‘I mean’, ‘understood?’, ‘hope I was clear’ etc, a good voice modulation would require control on 4 basic aspects of voice, namely,
Pitch (how high/shrill is the voice),
Tempo or pace (how fast are you speaking),
Volume (how loud or soft) and
Tone (quality of the voice such as angry or sweet)
Control and variation in these 4 basic aspects helps the audience feel more engaged through all the emotions portrayed in the voice which in the absence would otherwise cause them to go to sleep due to the monotone.
Check your pronunciation of various words alone and with test audience to see if what you say is understandable by others. Learn and stress at the right syllables e.g. towards the end of an important point. If you’re about to make an important point, lower your pitch than what you were speaking at and then slowly raise your pitch towards the end of the pitch on the last few words. This creates an impact on the point. A good way to improve this is to record your own voice and listening to it multiple times until it sounds just about right to you. Saying words in a low pitch makes them sound more authoritative while saying words in a high pitch makes them sound more engaging. Exaggerating words help them stand out and deliver the meaning to the audience. Practice reading out aloud and watching actors perform to improve this skill.
An average reader reads at 200 words per minute. So when public speaking aim to be slower than this pace to accomodate for all types of audience. Also, reading by oneself and comprehending the meaning would be faster than hearing someone speak, understanding it and then comprehending the meaning. Hence, a comfortable for public speaking is usually between 125 to 150 words per minute. Use pauses before an important phrase for impact and after a phrase to let the audience grasp and react. Similar to the above case, alongwith taking constant feedback, recording and listening to one’s own voice is one of the best ways to reach the desired pace required for effective delivery.
As a best practice, always begin your presentation by asking the audience if you’re loud enough and enough people sitting at the very back can listen clearly enough. You don’t want important potential prospects sitting at the back to not get your message resulting in you losing business. You also don’t want people murmuring throughout your presentation asking what you just said creating chaos for others sitting around too.
Exuding passion and excitement about what you’re speaking about helps audience feel the emotion you’re feeling. People get excited when you talk excitedly with them, they get sad if you talk in a sad tone and happy if you talk in a happy tone. Humans, even some animals, have this remarkable quality of mirror neurons. This is what helped humans have the quality of empathy towards other humans which other species are not known to have.
Speak animatedly with a lot of emotion if you want your audience to feel the same. Have facial expressions and gestures which mimic your emotion. Breathe normally and try to take breath between the pauses so as to avoid taking breaks between your sentences. Improve the tone of your voice by breathing from your diaphragm. try variations in tones to suit the mood of your presentation, you can go from authoritative or commanding to cajoling and sweet or angry and sad. practice is the key here.
As an example, have a look at this brilliantly delivered TED talk by Dr Jill Bolte-Taylor,a brain researcher. She speaks about how the teenage brain works beginning at an easy to follow pace of 165 words per minute. As she builds up the momentum speaking about how the teenage brain gets flooded with hormones and what all changes follow, she speeds up to more than 200 words per minute to let the audience experience that emotion.