Delivery: 6 Quick Tips for Better Voice Control

You can speak well if your tongue can deliver the message of your heart.” –John Ford


Dianalecture1  Nerves can kill any performance, live or recorded. While being nervous can make you forget lines, stutter, stumble, and sweat like you’re under a giant heat lamp, one of the main things it affects is your voice.

People squeak when they’re nervous. They stutter. They stumble. They develop verbal tics—uh, um, like…. Their voices get high. They talk too fast. They talk too slowly.

My father used to say, “Nervousness is misplaced energy.” When I imagine placing my energy effectively, I picture wind rushing through a tunnel rather than scattering across a broad landscape. The idea is to put that energy to work for you instead of against you.

Here are 6 quick tips.

If you’re giving a public talk, you’re most likely going to be standing. But if you are recording a talk, lesson, or lecture, stand up even if you are in the privacy of your home.

Standing opens up the diaphragm and makes it possible to breathe more deeply. Breathing deeply will expand your vocal range and give you better control over your voice. Taking deep breaths and speaking from your diaphragm will keep your voice from getting too high or squeaking.

Remember to breathe; you can even write [BREATHE] into the script. A pause can create powerful emphasis in a talk, and it gives you a moment to regroup. A deep breath followed by deliberate relaxation of the shoulder muscles will enable you to convert nervous energy into positive vocal energy.

Before you go on stage or begin recording, practice aloud for up to 10 minutes. This warms up the voice and eases tension. Vary your tone and volume while you practice, and you will be more likely to use those tools once you start for real. (Of course, you should practice aloud before the big day as much as possible so you are truly comfortable with the content.)

You need to use your natural voice when you’re speaking. I’ve heard professors put on what they thought of as an “educated” tone but that came out as a condescending tone. Not only was it irritating to the audience, but it also compromised their tonal range and expressiveness. Record yourself having a conversation with friends, and listen later for what your natural cadence is.

Match your sentence structure in your written speech or script to that tone. Keep your sentences short. Use active verbs. Use contractions. If you are delivering the way you normally speak, you will feel more comfortable and sound more compelling.

A caveat: You will need to clean up the uhs, ums, excessive qualifiers, and so forth. And if your pacing when you speak conversationally is deadly slow or overly fast, you will have to adjust.

One common problem is the voice dropping in volume at the end of a sentence or during an aside. If you tend to do this, use your script to remind you of the need to maintain volume by putting the last word in all CAPS. It’s a cue for “volume up.”

If you’ve marked your script with places where you might include an anecdote or other aside, add a note in brackets, such as [VOLUME]. Reminders like these may seem silly, but they work.

I once coached a brilliant mathematician whose voice went up an octave when he got excited, which was whenever he talked about things like Cantor’s Infinities. At every major point in his script, we wrote in large letters, PAUSE. LOWER VOICE.

He looked as if he were thinking about what he was saying, but really he was reading that note, taking a deep breath, and consciously lowering his voice. It worked perfectly.

Don’t rush through your material. Remember that we want to hear it. If you mumble or rush, the audience feels as if it’s not important to you and therefore not important to us. During your practice, time yourself while someone is listening. Figure out your ideal pace—how many words per minute can your audience hear and comprehend. Add time cues to your script so you’ll know how you are doing and whether you need to adjust how quickly or slowly you are speaking.

Verbal tics are one of the toughest hurdles for many speakers. Throat clearing and smacking can often be signs of a dry throat. Stop for water. If you’re being recorded, such pauses can usually be cut out. If you’re giving a live speech, drinking water is expected.

As for habits such as saying “uh,” or “um,” take a deep breath and pause a beat when you are normally inclined to use fillers. It’s okay to breathe, think, and search for the next word. That’s better than a string of “ums” which can be distracting and annoying for the audience.

To sum up, here are the 6 key tactics to use your voice effectively:

  • Breathe deeply so you can speak from your diaphragm.
  • Deliver standing.
  • Pause to collect your thoughts, redirect your voice, provide emphasis, and avoid verbal tics.
  • Write to match your natural voice.
  • Use your script to remind you to control voice, breathing, tone, and pacing.
  • Practice aloud and practice often.

I hope these tips help you speak with confidence, knowing that your voice will help—not hurt—your delivery, and that you are channeling your energy for power and impact.

Please post your comments. What tips do you have that might help others? I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for joining me in this week’s blog. Tune in next Friday for Issue #11 of “Everything You Need to Know to Create Outstanding Online Courses.” We’ll look at what occurs in the revision stage.

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Headshot tight  About Marcy McDonald

Online Course Producer

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