How to talk so everyone listens

In today’s series of the science of presentations we will talk about the instrument we all play: our voice. Your voice is your best tool in public speaking. When we present ourselves, the way we speak is our verbal image. Your voice allows you to communicate to your audience, convey ideas and even solicit emotions and reactions because of your compelling speech.

How to talk so everyone listens? Don’t worry if you were not born with a captivating voice of a Rio de Janeiro’s international airport announcer that became famous when some travellers miss their flights because of listening to her smooth and warm voice. The truth is you can easily train your voice.

To start with you have to be aware of your vocal capabilities. It is hard to hear the sound of your own voice. The voice must travel through the bones of the head before reaching the speaker’s ears, changing the way it sounds, says Dr. Edie Hapner, Many people don’t not realize that their voice put others to sleep simply because they speak monotonously. So first thing you should do is to record yourself.

How can you harness the power of your voice to make people listen to you? Lets us look at the studies below.

  1. Vocal capabilities

According to analysis of media appearances by 120 top financial communicators “the sound of a speaker’s voice matters twice as much as the content of the message. A speaker’s tone, appearance and demeanor proved nine times more important in making a strong impression on potential investors than the actual content the speaker presented.” Being aware of your individual vocal capabilities will help you to express yourself through conscious use of your voice.

The bottom lineBy knowing your voice capabilities you can strengthen the core message of your speech and modulate your voice to steer the audience’s emotional states to persuade better.

  1. The message

According to Mehrabian’s study when audience is unsure about what you want to say, they pay more attention to the non-verbals.

The Bottom line: The one most important thing that will make your presentation a success is getting your message right. Once you are able to craft and deliver a CLEAR and INTERESTING message of your presentation or speech your audience will pay less attention to your nonverbal communication.

  1. The register and volume

Studies by San Diego State and Columbia Business School conclude that powerful people speak louder than others. It was quite well known that Thatcher had gone through voice coaching and her voice got deeper to exude a more authoritative powerful persona.

The Bottom lineSpeak louder and deeper to create authority. These findings suggest that listeners use vocal cues to decide who is in charge and whether a person speaking holds a position of power or not.

  1. Voice modulation and consistency

Another study proves that if the facial expression expresses one emotion, but the tone of your voice conveys a different one, it causes confusion to a listener as a result of a neural dissonance that takes place in the brain.

The bottom lineMatch your voice and your facial expression with the emotion you are conveying to make your speech more clear. If you want to express good news, your voice needs to become melodic; sadness is spoken with a flat and monotonic voice.  When we are angry, excited, or scared we should raise the pitch and intensity of our voice and vary it in speed and the tone.

  1. Stress vs. trust

Mehrabian study of communication, which was widely misquoted in many papers states that “we pay more attention to the non-verbal indicators when we trust the person less and suspect deception, as it is generally understood that voice tone and body language are harder to control than words. “

The bottom linePractice communicating trust with your voiceIf the audience doesn’t know you or trust you they pay more attentions to your voice and body languageIf you are not relaxed on stage and your voice is shaky you won’t be perceived trustworthy or credible. Why? Stress causes us to talk too much because it hinders our ability to speak with clarity. Your stress tells the observer’s brain that there may be something wrong, and that stimulates defensive posturing in the listener.

  1. Know your message and breathe!

Proper breathing should be practiced in order to gain awareness of inhalation and exhalation phases and the work of the diaphragm. During training sessions I ran I noticed that only a few systematically repeated breathing exercises are needed for speakers to be able to handle their voice, gain confidence, deal with stage fright, and control their emotions far more effectively. When you breathe fast and shallow – and this is a natural reaction to a situation perceived as stressful, dangerous – listeners have a difficulty to understand you.

The bottom line: Often a small change in the way of breathing gives positive reinforcement in the form of greater comfort of speaking and better understandability.

Vocal Exercises before going on stage

There are certain exercises you can do to help you modulate your voice, watch this great TED talk, How to speak so that people want to listen


Correct breathing helps you control your voice and increase comfort of speaking that in turn will elicit greater confidence and greater impact of your speech on employees and customers. Play around with the volume, pace and pitch of your voice when practising your presentation. Find different ways of saying the same sentence. Explore different ways of adding emphasis to your main points and remember to have fun, simply smiling can actually reduce stress.

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