“Speak clearly, if you speak at all; carve every word before you let it fall.”
–Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., American physician and poet
Speaking clearly is fundamental to good communication. If your audience is having trouble hearing or understanding you, it’s pretty much guaranteed that they won’t be paying attention.
Think of the formidable and powerful speeches that have become legacy moments in our history. Speeches from esteemed leaders—like Martin Luther King Jr., President Abraham Lincoln, and Nelson Mandela—captivated and inspired so many people to make positive change for the greater good.
Can you imagine how those speeches would have been received if those leaders started with, “Can you all hear me okay?”
Take charge of your next speech or presentation by owning your voice. Here’s a quick lesson on best practices you can use to ensure your message is understood and heard.
A microphone is an effective tool you can use to communicate clearly and enhance your message, especially when speaking to large groups. But many people shy away from mics because they’re confident they can project their voice, or they’ve had unpleasant technical difficulties with mics in the past.
But fear not! Here are some tips you can use to communicate better with a microphone.
Holding your mic at the correct distance is critical to being heard clearly. (It also helps avoid those screeching feedback noises that hurt everyone's ears!) The best way to hold a microphone when speaking is at a distance of approximately 2–5 inches from the mouth and at a 45-degree angle downward.
Especially when using a handheld mic. If you’re someone who uses their hands while they speak, be mindful of your hand movements when presenting. Every time the mic moves away from your mouth, the sound volume is affected—so try to gesture with just one hand while you speak.
Even at the right distance, microphones pick up certain sounds differently—especially consonant sounds, like “puh” and “buh”. When we say the letter “P” it causes an explosion of air that can create an unpleasant popping noise. To counter this, avoid holding the microphone directly in front of your mouth.
It always helps to be prepared! Include time before your speech or presentation to reach the venue early and familiarize yourself with the mic and do a sound check.
⚡️ Prezent Pro-Tip: All mics are different in terms of voice sensitivity. Before your presentation, connect with your sound technician to find the right mic distance.
How you carry your voice is critical to delivering our ideas clearly and holding our audience’s attention. Without a powerful delivery, even great content loses its impact.
Great orators use these three elements of effective vocal delivery to move people and leave a lasting impression—tone, pace, and volume.
Let's learn more about these elements ⬇️
The tone of our presentation is more than just our choice of words. It's the way in which we communicate our personality. The key takeaway when it comes to voice tone is that you want your genuine emotions to match the words you are saying. Once you find the right emotion, your body language and facial gestures will follow suit.
Try this exercise. Say the following sentence with excitement:
“I won the lottery and I’m going to Paris!” 😁
Now, say the same sentence with an incredulous tone:
“I won the lottery and I’m going to Paris?” 🤔
Notice how the impact in your voice differs from these two tones? For most business presentations, you want to use a conversational tone while you speak, so imagine you're chatting with a best friend. This casual and comfortable tone will help keep your audience engaged with you. So, be sure to watch your tone as you prepare your next presentation.
Here's a quick breakdown from Communication Coach Alex Lyon about tone of voice in communication:
Sometimes it makes sense to speed up our delivery to demonstrate urgency or excitement! And sometimes it’s necessary to slow things down—or even pause—for dramatic effect. Throughout your speech, you should be altering your speech to match the mood of your message.
“The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”
–Mark Twain, American writer
Another good guideline to follow is to speak around 140–150 words per minute. If your pace is slower than 120 words per minute, people will start to lose attention. If it’s faster than 160 words per minute, the audience will not be able to follow you clearly.
Here's another quick breakdown on how to best pace a speech from public speaking expert, T.J. Walker:
Look for appropriate areas to vary the volume of your voice. While it’s an easy option to simply speak loudly to gain someone’s attention, we need to break this pattern.
Instead, look for opportunities to change the pitch of your speech. Much like we do in natural conversations, we can use pitch changes to add emphasis or draw the audience's attention to specific points and messages.
For example, is there a place in your presentation where you can whisper to the audience to engage them? Or a place where it makes sense to raise your voice for emphasis?
Remember to keep these three elements in mind—tone, pace, and pitch—when preparing your next presentation to help communicate effectively and keep your audience interested.