What do you do if your presentation voice isn't great? Here are 5 steps to help you improve.
"I want to give good presentations, but I don't have a good voice."
I hear this quite often. People worry that their voice is naturally unpleasing and that they will never be good at public speaking because of it. Even some professional public speakers worry that the sound of their voice is holding them back.
Unless you've got an ear-splittingly screachy voice like Janice from Friends— and, hey, even Maggie Wheeler who played Janice doesn't really speak like that — your voice is almost certainly capable of giving a captivating presentation.
In this article, I'll unpick the common misconception that our voices are unchangeable and you'll learn how to assess and improve your voice in just 5 steps!
What's Wrong With Your Voice?
Why are you concerned about the sound of your voice?
Did someone make a negative comment after a presentation? Did you hear yourself in a recording and say (doing your best Janice impression) "Oh my god! Do I really sound like that!?"
Perhaps you have always worried about your voice.
Working out the cause of your concern is an important first step.
My Voice: A Lifetime of Shyness
Let's take my own case as an example. I have a long-ingrained habit of speaking too quietly and at a pitch that is too low. I also tend to mumble. As a result, people regularly have to ask me to repeat what I've said, sometimes multiple times. This drives me crazy! However, I far prefer that they ask me to repeat myself. It's much better than the alternative! — that people just nod, smile and agree with me while not understanding a word that I've said, like you do when you're sitting on the bus and the crazy bag lady comes to tell you about all of her cats.
Over many years, this bad habit — which stems from my basic shyness — developed into a fear of not being understood. I constantly worried that I might be misunderstood and I went to great lengths to try and explain myself, often tying myself in knots in the process. In many situations I chose not to say anything at all, which unconsciously feels "safer" but in fact distances me from everyone.
My fears are one of the reasons that I became fascinated by voice and presentation skills. I have taught myself (with the help of very knowledgeable people) to speak clearly and engagingly on stage. It is my passion to help people to do the same in their lives.
I still struggle to be chatty in some social situations but, hey, we can only improve one step at a time!
My concerns about my voice were the result of a lifetime of shyness.
Your concerns about your own voice might also have a long history.
Remember: You Are Not Your Voice
Perhaps someone once gave you negative feedback about your voice. Perhaps they said your voice was "too loud", "too quiet", "too high" or "too hard". Perhaps you gave this feedback to yourself?
Receiving feedback like this sometimes feels like a stab to the heart, doesn't it? It feels like your personality itself is being attacked.
This is because we unconsciously feel like our voice is us.
Throughout your whole life, your voice has expressed every aspect of your personality. When you were angry, your voice expressed that rage. When you were ecstatic, your voice expressed that joy. When you were hurt and scared, your voice expressed that fear. If someone suggests your voice is inadequate, it feels like they are saying that you are inadequate.
But this is not the case. Your voice and your personality are very different.
Stop reading for a moment. Think of a time when you comfortably and easily communicated with passion.
Perhaps you were telling a friend about a TV show. Perhaps you were telling your partner about a successful day doing your favourite hobby. Perhaps you were recounting your favourite anecdote.
How did it feel to speak at that time?
Easy? Enjoyable? Energising?
When you are comfortable, your voice can be engaging.
Although your voice might benefit from improvement in some situations, you are already capable of communicating with relaxed passion.
The Myth: We Can't Do Anything About Our Voice
Unfortunately, many people believe that they can't change their voice at all. They think it's like trying to "change your personality".
This is a myth.
You can improve many aspects of your voice: your clarity, your confidence, your range, your resonance, your volume, your vocal variety… you can even change your accent if you really want to! (if you are unfamiliar with any of these terms, sign up to the newsletter below to receive updates on posts about all these topics!)
But! Do you really need to change your voice?
Think again about that time when you spoke comfortably with passion. See? You are already capable of speaking with a pleasing voice. The trick is to bring that natural speaking ability into your presentation voice.
It's better to enhance your vocal strengths, rather than change your presentation voice completely.
How to Assess and Improve Your Presentation Voice In 5 Steps
Working on your voice is a lifelong journey. This blog post may be your first stop in that journey, or perhaps you have been learning about your voice for some time now.
Step 1. Learn Voice Basics
If you are just starting on your voice journey, it's a good idea to learn some basic "voice vocabulary". This will help you to identify which areas of your voice you want to improve.
Sign up to the newsletter below, if you haven't already. I regularly address voice basics on this blog and via the email list.
Step 2. Identify Your Vocal Strengths
Using the terms you learned in the previous step, assess yourself and your voice. Try to identify your Top 5 vocal strengths. You might like to video yourself giving a presentation and use the video as a reference.
Step 3. Identify Your Major Improvement Points
Pick two or three aspects of your presentation voice that you would like to improve first. Don't be too hard on yourself. Although you may be able to list several things, just write down a maximum of three.
Step 4. Pick One at a Time
Finally, pick one vocal quality that you will focus all your efforts on. Make sure it's only one!
We often try to do too much at once. We think "But I want to speak more clearly and use more vocal variety and sound more chatty with the audience and …" This is a surefire shortcut to feeling overwhelmed. Pick one thing.
Step 5. Do Exercises and Experiments to Improve
Finally, the real work starts. Set up a rehearsal and warm up habit. Pick exercises which will focus on specific aspects of your voice and experiment with them until you find something that works for you.
When you sign up to the email list, using the form below, you will receive a video lesson which contains an exercise you can use immediately to improve your presence when you speak.