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How entrepreneurs can use vocal variety to add heart to their presentations

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by Startacus Admin

ac-378 Speaking 3

Whether you're speaking to investors or customers, keeping them engaged is a must. Dan Magill from Toastmasters International shares some tips to help you do just that.

1_ClubMeetings_Stock_HRHave you watched the movie the Wizard of Oz recently? I have and not only was it great fun, it also served as reminder of how engaging time in front of a screen can be! We have all had seemingly endless online business meetings over the last two years. As our work screen time increased, most of us started to feel less over the rainbow and more Wizard of Zzzzzzzz(oom).

But no matter how much we wish we could go back, no matter how many times we click our worn-out bed slippers together and dream of how things were before, online communication is here to stay. So how can startup founders make their online speaking as successful as possible? How can you convince investors and gain customers through your communication?

Let’s look at some of the tools we need to be effective speakers both on and offline.

We need a brain, of course. We need to be able to think clearly about what we’re going to be saying. Speaking coherently is very difficult without a brain. We also need courage. Whether you’re giving a vital presentation to potential investor, or you’re pitching for a big client; you’ll need a certain amount of courage every time you speak. But, most important for entrepreneurs when speaking, is the heart. To keep an audience engaged, especially if you’re speaking online, you’ll need heart. You’ll need bags of passion, energy, enthusiasm, and vibrance.

In my view, there’s only one true outlet for the heart - and that’s through your voice. An audience, struggling to stay awake and alert, would find it much easier to listen to us deliver poor content in a lively, engaging way, than they would listen to us provide important content with a dreary delivery.

So how can all of us entrepreneurs add cadence and interest to our voice and keep our audiences listening and engaged?

Be yourself but bigger

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve suggested to clients that they add more vocal variety to their speaking, and they say, “Well, it’s just not me. I’d be embarrassed to do silly voices.” I said the same thing when I started out with my speaking. But it’s important to understand that nobody is asking you not to be you. Simply use your voice to add heart and passion to your speaking. When you speak, you should be you. But you should be a bigger, an exaggerated version of you.

People often tell me they can’t believe the difference between the me that speaks on stage and the me that goes for dinner with them afterwards. Of course they are both the same me. However, the stage me understands that to engage an entire audience – I must be an exaggerated version of myself, and I need to make the effort to really exaggerate my voice.

You can do this too. Be prepared to exaggerate your voice, modulate your voice, and use YOUR voice to help us go on that journey with you.

Listen Back to Your Performance

photo-1586985564150-11ee04838034 When you’re working on your vocal variety listen back to yourself. Some time ago, I gave a speech about the Three Little Pigs. I decided it would be more engaging if I had a different voice for each pig. I gave the talk and I really worked hard on each of my pig voices. Afterwards, a friend of mine called me and said, “Great talk, Dan. I loved your story. My only suggestion would be that you use a different voice for each of the pigs. Make it a bit more fun and engaging for the audience.” That evening I watched the video of my talk. She was completely right. All three pigs had the same voice!

The voice we hear in our head isn’t the voice other people hear when we speak. Record yourself when speaking, or rehearsing. It can be tough to listen to our own voices played back to us. But try it. You’ll hear what everyone else hears and you’ll discover if there really is any variety in your voice. I thought I was doing a distinct voice for each little pig. However, I needed to exaggerate those voices far more.

Don’t be embarrassed. We might feel we’re being too silly and we’re adding too much – but to the audience, it’s probably not even enough. Listen to yourself as often as possible.

Try out new things

Most of us didn’t choose the accent we have. But we have one because we listened to the people around us as we grew up. We begin mimicking voices from the moment we start speaking. So, why not do this with our public speaking too? I find it helpful to mimic the vocal style of people I see on TV. After all, if we’re going to be presenting online, we’re essentially looking for the same vocal qualities that broadcasting professionals have. It might be an actor, a comedian or a news anchor. It is good to mimic any kind of TV or film entertainers because they’re usually the ones doing the most with their voices to try to engage us.

This doesn’t mean you should start trying to do impressions of them. There might just be little things here and there that you like. Small things they do that you can try and incorporate into your own speaking when you’re on stage.

Let’s have a look at some specific tools we have at our disposal if we want to use our voices to create more engaging talks.

Pump Up or Dial Down Your Volume

Changing your volume can enhance the engagement your audience feels. If you’re online, lean towards the camera and whisper something that might be a secret or a reveal for your audience. If you’re in person – do the same by leaning towards your audience in the seats in front of you. Shout out the punchline to a joke or a big realisation.

Toastmasters Internatinoal VEN_0229Modulate your volume as you speak. A sudden change from a lower volume to a higher one can really jump-start your audience and bring them back into a speech that they might have been drifting away from.

Vary Your Pace

Varying the pace at which we speak helps us win the battle for our audience’s attention. If we speak at one pace the entire time, an audience quickly becomes used to it. They quickly become bored by it. They quickly stop listening to it. Think of ways you can really vary the speed at which you’re talking as you move through your talk.

You might be telling us a story where everything is happening very quickly and frantically, and you’ll speed up your voice to emphasise that. Or you may want to powerfully deliver an important message and you’ll slow down the pace and really give the audience time to take it in.

Expressing Emotion

Your ability to change your pitch is the most important vocal tool you have at your disposal. It is like painting a picture and adding colour. It’ll include using a deeper voice or a higher voice, but it’s also how you’ll express your emotions as you speak, for example, sadness, happiness, laughter, pain, joy, guilt, tiredness, sympathy, sarcasm. There are so many ways of saying the same sentence but using a different pitch to convey emotions.

Have a play with the following sentence and convey happiness, then relief, fatigue, sarcasm: “I really am delighted to see you.”

By changing how you use your voice you can get across different emotions to your audience.

In conclusion

When you start a new business every communication counts. As you prepare to give presentations online (or in-person) remember that every sentence we speak can convey different meanings, depending on how we deliver it. So, rather than risking becoming an online Wizard of Zzzzzzzz(oom), use your vocal variety to positive effect; engage your audience and win them over every time.

Dan Magill is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit



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Published on: 7th January 2022

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