A powerful, compelling voice is a great asset in public speaking. If yours is not like that, let’s have a look at how you can strengthen and improve it.
In the few minutes before you begin your speech or presentation, take some deep breaths. Breathe into your abdomen, rather than your chest, and focus on the action: breathe in slowly through your nose, then out even more slowly through your mouth. This will calm you (breathing is an excellent tool for reducing anxiety) and bring in more oxygen to stimulate your brain. Feeling more relaxed will automatically give your voice more strength.
Throughout your talk, remember to speak slowly and to pause between your points. This not only makes it much easier for the audience to follow what you’re saying, it also allows you to breathe. Tight and shallow breathing makes for a strained and feeble voice.
Be aware of your posture
Make sure your posture is not inhibiting your voice. If you’re hunched and tense, your vocal cords will have a hard time transmitting your message, so straighten your back and loosen your arms.
Project, don’t shout
Forcing your voice in order to make yourself heard will damage your vocal cords. This is already enough reason not to do it but anyway it won’t make the impression you want it to. The way to project is to keep coming back to the people furthest away as you make eye contact with your audience: if you’ve got the people at the back in mind as you’re speaking, once you’re doing everything else on this list, your voice should naturally rise to the occasion and reach them. If the venue is too big for that, make prior arrangements to use a microphone.
Nurture your voice
Always have some room-temperature water to hand, to keep your vocal cords lubricated. If you suffer from throat dryness or mucus, it’s worth taking some precautions in the days leading up to an important speech or presentation – for example, by cutting right back on caffeine, alcohol, smoking and dairy products and by getting enough sleep and drinking lots of water.
Before a big speaking engagement, it’s useful to warm up your voice. For guidance and inspiration, have a look at how National Theatre actors warm up for their performances. Practise some tongue-twisters, stretch your facial muscles and connect with your body for maximum resonance.
As already mentioned, tension will weaken your voice. As part of your warm-up, you might find some gentle body (as opposed to purely voice or facial) exercises useful in helping you to relax. This video shows you the kind of thing:
Make a conscious effort to relax – it will make everything better and easier, both for you and for the audience. Smile, be positive, enjoy your talk and your voice will find its power.
This is all good advice that will help you to strengthen and improve your public speaking voice, but there’s one crucial factor we haven’t yet looked at and that is…
Be thoroughly prepared
It may sound obvious but trying to find the right words while 10, 20, 100 people are gazing expectantly at you is not only difficult, it’s pretty scary. You can’t possibly do yourself justice in these circumstances and it will have an adverse effect on your voice, both physically because you’ll be tense and psychologically because you’ll be tentative about what you’re saying.
Hone and practise your talk until you know exactly what you’re going to say and how you’re going to express it. If this doesn’t strengthen and improve your public speaking voice to your satisfaction, it may be that some longer-term speech therapy would be the answer. I had a friend with a voice like a little girl’s, who worked with a speech therapist and got great results. I believe in the process, where it’s needed, but most people don’t require that level of intervention.
If you’re wanting to strengthen your voice, I recommend you begin by having some public speaking coaching. Whenever my clients have been unhappy with their voices, learning to prepare thoroughly, so they don’t have to think about what they’re going to say, has freed them from that worry. The key to powerful, compelling delivery is confidence, and confidence comes from knowing exactly what you’re doing.