In public speaking, our voice is a big part of our persona. How an audience hears our voice effects how they regard and accept us and our message. We have to be very conscious of our voices, particularly any aspects that may detract from our credibility, and must intentionally develop this crucial instrument.

  • First, know your speaking voice. Our voice sounds differently to others than it does to us. So you must record your voice and hear it as others do. Record it in different settings to see how you use your voice differently (e.g. in a conversation and to a larger audience). Record it both before and after you practice some steps to improve it. If available, get some coaching from someone with voice experience to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of your speaking voice.
  • You have to breathe. Be sure you breathe fully, but comfortably, when you speak. Fill your lungs with air before speaking. Use the natural pauses (and place some) in your speech so you can refill your lungs. Using "breathing pauses" will add variety to your delivery. Learn to breathe using your diaphragm—from your belly (not just shallow breaths using just your lungs); relax, especially your shoulders; breathe in deeply through your nose; exhale slowly through your mouth. This will reduce bodily tension which will enhance voice projection, pitch and even articulation.
  • Speak with enthusiasm. A most appreciated quality in speakers is vitality and enthusiasm—an audible positive feeling for the topic, the audience, and/or the opportunity to be speaking. Some enthusiasm is natural; if not, you must cultivate it. Enthusiasm is often conveyed through the voice. Your positive energy is reflected in the projection of your voice and the variety in your use of its techniques (pace, tone, volume and pauses).
  • Project your voice. An important visualization is to whom you are speaking. In a larger audience it is important to visualize yourself speaking to the person(s) farthest away from you. This does not require you to sacrifice intimacy. You will learn in time how to project your voice and still maintain a conversational and intimate tone. Remember to breathe and fill your lungs (see above). In some cases, when people have particular difficulties projecting their voices, they can consider options for amplification including using their own amplification equipment.
  • Vary the pace, pitch, and volume of your delivery. Speaking in a monotone voice tends to lull any audience into a near sleep state. You have the levers of control to avoid this danger. You can alternate how quickly or slowly you speak, how high or low a vocal tone you use, and how loudly or softly you speak. With a little practice, you can use changes in pace, pitch, and volume as ways to direct the audience’s attention to particular points that you wish to emphasize (much like written discourse).
  • Articulate your words. Often this requires nothing more than remembering that we are speaking to an audience and not to ourselves. We tend to mumble because we are actually thinking out loud while being introspective. As we are weighing our thoughts we tend to mumble to ourselves. Remember that the words you are choosing are for an audience out there, not the one in your own head.
  • Use the compelling power of the pause. One of the most effective techniques in all forms of speaking is the well-timed pause. In music, it is the important interval between the notes. In art, it is the absence of color or form to draw attention to a key element. Pausing takes a little practice because we are prone to want to fill in all the spaces with words, but when mastered it is very powerful. Pauses can be used to maximum advantage just before beginning to speak, during a story, to let information sink in, to create suspense, before and/or after making a key point, when the audience laughs at a joke, when asking or responding to a question, or just before and/or after closing. Pauses can create pleasing rhythms in a presentation. When delivering from a text, you can mark the text with symbols to show where pauses are most effective (after practice, of course).

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