Thursday, July 10, 2008

Speak To Influence Minicourse Part 2 Of 5

Writen by Gary Horsman

This part of the program addresses:

1. Your voice: a musical instrument
2. Banishing non-words.
3. Avoiding embarrassing pronunciation mistakes.


When considering the elements that are associated with a musical instrument, we may list the following:


When it comes to your voice, pitch is very important, because if you do not speak at your natural pitch you can strain your voice. Try this when you are alone. Think of a phrase of a song that you know well. Alternate between humming and speaking this phrase. There will be a pitch at which you feel very comfortable. As you hum there will be a certain vibration around your nose and mouth that feels just right and you will experience no strain. This is your natural pitch.


Inflection is the difference between highest and lowest pitch. If you end your statements with an inflection as if you might be asking a question, you will sound uncertain, which lowers your creditability and authority. You need to pay special attention to your inflection habits and break them if they are working against you.

This exercise will help you to control the inflection of your voice properly. First, hum to set yourself at your natural pitch. Next, think of an easy sentence and state it at your natural pitch. Then state it at higher and higher pitches until you are at your maximum comfort level. Then repeat the exercise but go to your lowest extreme. By going through this exercise you will become more familiar with the natural range of your own voice. You will then be able to note more quickly the way you move your voice through this range. With more observation and practice you will be able to make adjustments to improve your use of pitch.


Tone is related to the amount of emotion you let into your voice. If you are down, do you let it show in your voice? If you do, your audience will certainly know it. You want to sound upbeat and enthusiastic in most professional speaking situations.

When speaking to someone in person, smile, keep thinking positive thoughts, and use positive body language. To help your telephone communication, keep positive images and items near where you work and on your desk. They will help keep you feeling positive, and that positive tone will come through in your telephone conversations.

Tempo (rate of speaking)

Your speaking pace is an important part of speaking success. The average speaking pace is 150 words per minute. Speaking studies have revealed that a faster pace leads to a higher success rate of message delivery/reception. For example, average salespeople speak a bit faster than 150 words per minute, while top sale people speak at almost 250 words per minute. Faster speakers are perceived to be more intelligent, knowledgeable, creditable, and persuasive.

This is not to say that you should speak as fast as you can. There is an acceptable upper limit. However, within a normal range, speaking faster has proven to make your communication more effective.

If you want to understand your tempo, go back to your recording of the scripted narration. Count the words and time the length of the recording. Next record yourself as you try speaking at faster tempos. Make adjustments as you deem appropriate.

By the way, the faster-speaking salespeople do not say the words faster. They compress or reduce the pauses and gaps between words. Try this as you seek to increase your tempo.

I do many recordings of people and then edit the narration afterwards. I can change the "apparent" tempo by taking out the silent spaces that occur in between sentences or when people take in a breath of air.

Keep in mind that blending pauses with pace properly can add to effective message delivery. A pause has certain effects on the audience. It may make them aware that something important was just stated or it gives them a moment to ponder. A properly placed pause is very important. Therefore, take out the small gaps that contribute to a slower tempo and then pause for maximum effect when you do pause.


If your voice evaluation suggested that you are boring or monotone, consider your rhythm. Sometimes you will want to emphasize something with a short staccato burst of words. At other times you will want your words to smoothly flow for a significant length of time.

Varying the rhythm of your delivery makes it more interesting.

To help you to gain an appreciation for engaging rhythm, think of a speaker who you are familiar with, who you think is lively and hardly ever boring. Listen closely to what this person does. Does this speaker vary the rhythm of the delivery? There is more than a fair chance that this is true. Watch and emulate this speaker.

Origin (or placement and voice amplification)

People that speak for a living, such as actors or voice artists, have a term they use called the "mask." The mask is a triangular-shaped area defined by your two sinuses and your mouth. The sinuses are your body's amplifiers.

To use this natural amplifier, you have to learn to place your voice in the middle of this area.

Try some exercises. First shift the origin of your voice to your chest. Can you make it sound deeper? Then try shifting the origin of your voice by focusing just on your nose. While you do this place your hand on your chest and your fingers on your nose. You will be able to experience the shift in the center of the vibrations.

With a bit of practice you will be able to shift the origin of your voice around and keep it focused on the mask when you are speaking.


Non-words are meaningless filler that get in the way of delivering your message.

Here is an example. When we . . . ahh . . um . . . make a presentation and um. . . ahh start to address the audience, we can sometimes get caught up in being too self-conscious . . . you know what I mean? To overcome this, we need to think like . . . well, um . . . a professional with the intention of constantly improving our speaking capabilities, okay?

The non-word fillers are completely unnecessary, and we never put them into our written material.

When we use these non-words in our speech, we sound less intelligent. Using them can make us seem unsure, hesitant, or even incompetent. They may aggravate and annoy the listener.

Beyond using non-words, we also have to be sensitive to annoying vocal habits, such as clicking or popping, and noisy breathing, such as gulping air. I once recorded someone that started almost every sentence with a slight single ticking sound like the sound your grandmother made when scolding you but this person did it only once. I was able to take this sound out of the recording and highlighted this to the person. Once she was made aware of it she quickly corrected this habit. Again, go back to your recordings and see if you have any habits such as this. Usually once aware it is straight-forward to make an adjustment.

We need to focus and work to remove these things when we speak.

Listen again to the recording you made. Do you hear yourself using any non-words?

Once you become aware of them, the first step to removing them could be to replace them with non-verbal pauses. Even though these pauses will sound like an eternity to you, the listener will not notice. I guarantee it. Once removed and replaced with a pause you can then work to reduce these pauses and increase your tempo. A little work identifying, replacing with a pause and then stepping up the tempo will lead to a significant improvement in your speaking performance. The best speakers use tempo and pauses most effectively.

As noted above a well placed and executed pause draws in the audience and may help to capture their interest. The power of a pause can also add drama and impact. You may even boost the appearance of being confident and in control.

Other benefits to adding pauses are that they can help you to gather your thoughts and allow the listener to reflect on what you are saying. Finally, a habit replaced by an effective pause can help you to vary the tempo and this adds interest and makes you a more exciting speaker.


Many mistakes can be avoided once you are aware of them. Many people often are unaware of their mistakes. This is an area where your trusted helpers can be invaluable. Let them know that you need them to point out everything and in particular a pronunciation mistakes.

If you are uncertain about the pronunciation of a work, look it up. Use the dictionary, and your pronunciation mistakes will quickly disappear.

There are many online dictionaries that will actually pronounce the word for you. Try the Merriam-Webster website at

It is helpful to make a list of your common bloopers. Work with this list until you no longer make any of the common mistakes. For certain periods of my life I kept a vocabulary journal. I wrote down new words that I heard and then looked them up and practiced using them in conversation. If you are like many people then your list will be small but this personal list is very important. It will be easy to address your own list of personal bloopers.

Well that's all for part 2. You can improve your voice and message delivery with a little time and effort.

Part 3 will cover some important points such as speaking with authority, conquering stress, making sure you get your listeners attention and then stating your case with care.

Gary is President of Presentations That Talk ( The core product of Presentations That Talk is the PTT Presenter. The PTT Presenter allows users to easily make voice-narrated streaming media presentations. This allows a company to present their products and services, using the Internet, with presentation marketing which adds impact and helps to influence the viewer.

Gary is also a public speaker, educator, and mentor/coach to others wishing to improve their speaking ability.

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