I read an article sometime ago that said newscasters are usually men. When they are women, they usually are women who have a low or sonorous voice. If you’re a woman and men are listening to you, you might get some negative feedback (as sports journalist/radio show host Julie DiCaro found out). Going by some of the pieces on this topic, apparently humans tend to trust people who have a low tone of voice. Former UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher underwent vocal training prior to becoming PM and it’s rumoured to have accelerated her political career.
As an event host, my voice is one of my most important instruments. I cannot use machines, other people, or force to hold the attention of speakers and audiences. What I say is one part of my job, but the other is how. So, my voice becomes a focal point.
When I am on stage, I remember to incorporate vocal differences for variety. It’s not a rigid choice but a natural one: if you speak on a breadth of topics or use different approaches during a conversation, you’ll see that you are using your voice in different ways. For example, I use a low, baritone sounding voice when I’m discussing official things, but in moments when I’m speaking from the heart, the pitch of my voice changes. You may notice when you are telling a joke or switching to a lighter conversation, your voice sounds different than when you are speaking seriously or contemplating something.
So, keeping in mind the importance of your physical voice when it comes to presenting your thoughts and ideas to the world— what can you do to help it shine?
Here are some tips for your voice when you are about to present in front of people:
- 1) Practice speaking from your belly
When I started working daily on the radio ten years ago, I learned early on that you should speak from your belly. This produces a fuller voice that is more connected to your breath. It uses your abdominal muscles and not just your vocal ones. If you are supposed to speak for a long duration, you have to learn to breathe from the belly as you speak. It allows the vocal cords to be more relaxed.
- 2) Consider what you drink
Consider avoiding fizzy drinks, juices, cold water etc. when you are going to speak. Cold drinks can affect the tone of your voice, fizzy drinks can dry your voice out and the sugar in juices might not make it the best idea for continued drinking while presenting. I make it a point to only drink still water when I am on stage since I have observed from experience that even sparkling water might be a problem: it can cause gas or regurgitation.
- 3) Pause and relax
As I often keep saying, it is good to take breaks when you speak. They don’t have to be very long breaks but they are necessary. One of the important reasons for pausing is to rest your voice. Again, you don’t have to be rigid about it but your body will let you know when you need to pause. Just don’t be afraid of those pauses when the silence of a few seconds catches up. If you can relax, the quality of your overall presentation will be much better than if you are stressed and it will reflect via, you guessed it, your voice.
I have often heard this piece of advice from others: imagine the audience naked. I have never tried it so I can’t testify if it works or not. But I can say that being on stage and speaking with the spotlight on you is like being naked. And it seems that words are the clothes we use to cover that feeling of nakedness. But what if we don’t? What if you learn to stay with the initial discomfort of being listened to, of being seen? It takes time to realise and a long time to reach the conclusion that you don’t need to cover yourself. It is okay to mumble, freeze, forget and begin again. All methods are acceptable as long as you trust in the capacity of your own voice.