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Your voice is one of the most important instruments you have when it comes to your ability to present or communicate effectively with others. If you don’t believe me, take a moment to think of some of the great voices you’ve heard over the years. For me, John Facenda, the late sports broadcaster, had such a gifted voice that he could make reading from a phone book sound interesting.

Because of James Earl Jones' iconic voice, Darth Vader was menacing and captivating as a Star Wars villain. Walter Cronkite made speaking truth and power effortless. Oprah Winfrey is another one — she has an amazing voice. 

And let’s not forget that millions of people love listening to Morgan Freeman so much that they want him to narrate their life stories. 

Maya Angelou once said, “Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.” I couldn’t agree more with this statement. For me, your vocal impact is the starting point for effective communication and communication improvement. 

The Problem Is This: Not All of Us Sound Like John Facenda or Oprah Winfrey!

Everyone I mentioned earlier has a voice that instantly commands respect and attention. But one of the reasons why we think of them so quickly is because they are among the lucky few. Not everyone has a voice like that. For us, our voice and vocal impact need a lot of work. We are simply working with what we were born with and learning to make the most of it as we continue our professional lives. 

How do we maximize the impact of our voice?  Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Consider your volume — Along with having something interesting to say, a speaker’s goal should be to make everything easier for the audience. That means ensuring you always have adequate volume so the audience doesn’t have to strain to hear you. You want sufficient volume but also want to avoid making the audience feel like they are being yelled at. The volume with which you speak should be comfortable to listen to. 
  2. Use your voice to separate what’s most important — Stress the key points you’re trying to make by emphasizing words and phrases that convey the strongest meaning. Another way to accomplish this is through the strategic use of pauses. At a significant point during your speech or a conversation … pause. Let what you just said resonate with the audience … Give them a chance to make those important cognitive connections. Pausing not only helps audience engagement, it can also help you stay on track.
  3. Vary your speaking rate — This is called vocal variety.  A more rapid or fast-paced speaking rate can place more burden on the audience. And it may be worse if English isn’t your first language, or your dialect is unfamiliar to your audience. That said, using your voice effectively requires speeding up at critical moments and slowing down during others. Doing so ensures the audience stays engaged and hangs on your every word. 
  4. Have variety in your voice—To piggyback on the previous tip, slowing down, speeding up, raising your voice, lowering your voice, and remaining enthusiastic throughout your presentation is critically important. It has been said that if you act enthusiastic, you’ll be enthusiastic. And this couldn’t be more true. As you continue to do it, it no longer becomes an act — it becomes part of you.
  5. Be aware of negative tendencies you might have — As you practice and receive feedback on your voice, pay attention to tendencies that create distractions and hinder your ability to communicate effectively. For example, many people feel like they have to fill nanoseconds of silence during their presentations with filler words (umm, ahh, like, you know). These nanoseconds shouldn’t feel like an eternity. Be OK with these slight pauses in speech. Also, pay attention to rising or lowering inflection in your voice to ensure you’re not using  “up-speak” or trailing off at the end of sentences.

As we’ve said before in these articles, personal and organizational success are directly related to communication practices. The use of your voice is at the center of communication effectiveness. This is where tools such as TalkMeUp can help. TalkMeUp is innovative, one-of-a-kind software that profoundly addresses vocal impact, such as enthusiasm, pace, sentiment, volume, inflections, filler words, and related communication shortcomings, by leveraging AI for instant measurement, analysis, reporting, tracking, scaling, and more. 

Like having a public speaking coach on speed dial, TalkMeUp gives you the feedback you need to understand how your voice impacts your ability to communicate — all in real-time. As you practice more with TalkMeUp and do things differently, this practice becomes who you are, and your voice quickly becomes a powerful tool. To me, that’s the best feature. You can practice with TalkMeUp repeatedly and track your progress. As you begin to see changes in how you communicate, and TalkMeUp backs those thoughts up with accurate data, others will see you as a leader who speaks passionately and confidently in any setting.

Interested in seeing how TalkMeUp could help you improve your voice?  Sign up for a free TalkMeUp account now.

About the Author
Ron Placone, Ph.D., is an Associate Teaching Professor of Business Management Communication and the Former Faculty Lead and Interim Executive Director for the Accelerate Leadership Center at the Tepper School of Business. Ron teaches a range of communication courses and leadership programs for Tepper students. Ron’s research interests include civility in discourse and fostering individual and team creativity. Previously at Carnegie Mellon, Ron was the Assistant Vice President for Learning & Development. Before joining Carnegie Mellon in 1999, Ron was Vice President and Director of Organizational Development and Communications for Mellon Network Services. Ron has been a consultant, leadership, and communication coach for numerous executives and corporate and not-for-profit organizations. He has consulted in health care, financial services, education, technology, and energy sectors. Ron has a Ph.D. in Rhetoric-English from Carnegie Mellon University.