Your vocal skills are your best tools for persuading audiences. How can you use them? Here's the fastest way to improve your voice for public speaking.
If you want to be a good speaker and presenter, you need to learn the art of "pitching."
Forget stepping on the mound for the Yankees or Red Sox. And I don't mean persuading a group of investors, either.
I'm talking about varying the pitch of your voice to make ideas and emotions come to life.
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Just as variety is the spice of life, it's a necessary ingredient in what you serve up to listeners. Without it, your most vital points won't stand out the way they need to. Imagine you're driving across a desert. Everything looks the same, right? But . . . THERE! . . . a tree or giant cactus stands out prominently in the near distance.
Your gaze goes right to it, doesn't it? That's because it's the only thing breaking up the visual monotony all around you. The same phenomenon applies to your vocal delivery as it impacts listeners. To speak in a "monotone," i.e., without any variation in pitch, leads to being monotonous.
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And frankly, a speaker with monotonous delivery is in constant danger of losing listeners' attention. What good is your fabulous data if everyone is asleep when you share it? You could become a hypnotist, I guess. But I have a faster and more reliable method of succeeding with audiences. It's called "pitch inflection."
Up, Down, and All Around . . . Now You're Talking!
"Pitch" in terms of voice means highness or lowness on the musical scale. It doesn't matter where your habitual pitch falls on such a scale—what matters is that you vary it, to catch listeners' attention. The human ear, that is, like the human eye responds to difference, not sameness. The unvarying voice droning on at the same pitch will make everyone zone out.
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And the opposite? Your interest and passion for your topic, the key points you make about it—and as important as anything else, your emotional commitment to what you are saying—will all come through more clearly when you vary your pitch. People simply won't get what you're really saying if the words are correct but there's no life behind them. It would be like your car's GPS delivering your presentation!
Here's a simple way to both understand and practice good pitch inflection. Keep in mind that we tend to raise our pitch when we say something important. "Where have you been? I said to meet me here at seven o'clock, not eight o'clock! I've been standing here for an hour!" That's how you sound if, like most people, i.e., you use pitch inflection when you're not self-conscious. Along comes those scary, serious business settings, though, and your pitch flattens out. But business people, like everyone else, would rather look at a beautiful mountain landscape than a plateau.
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It's Time to Revert to Your Childhood. Have Fun!
Of course, to practice good pitch inflection, you need to hear when you're doing it, versus spending your time on that butte or mesa. And frankly, this is a challenge for some people. So, here's an easy and effective way to get in the groove (or peak or valley, as appropriate): read children's books out loud.
This will not only guarantee you some elbow room while sitting in a subway car. It will teach you that you CAN use pitch inflection and hear yourself doing it. Imagine that you're reading this story out loud to a 3- or 4-year old. (If you're a parent, think back to when you did this.)
When we read stories to children, we speak in pastels. We simplify and over-exaggerate everything, including our pitch. "Mommy, look! It's a baby rabbit!" we throw our voice upwards to mimic the girl in the story. If you record yourself and listen afterward, you'll realize that it's a breeze for you to speak with pitch inflection. It's one of the fastest ways to improve your voice for those big, bad business presentations lurking in the closet.
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Gary Genard is an actor, author, and expert in public speaking training and overcoming speaking fear. His company, Boston-based The Genard Method offers live 1:1 Zoom executive coaching and corporate group training worldwide. In 2022 for the ninth consecutive year, Gary has been ranked by Global Gurus as One of the World’s Top 30 Communication Professionals. He is the author of the Amazon Best-Seller How to Give a Speech. His second book, Fearless Speaking, was named in 2019 as "One of the 100 Best Confidence Books of All Time." His handbook for presenting in videoconferences, Speaking Virtually offers strategies and tools for developing virtual presence in online meetings. His latest book is Speak for Leadership: An Executive Speech Coach's Secrets. Contact Gary here.