Are you aware that most of us unconsciously call upon different voices, depending on the situation we find ourselves in? It starts at an early age, with something as simple as volume control. When you were little and you got a tad loud, you were reminded to use your “inside” voice.
The first time I can remember being aware of this multiple voice phenomena was when I starting flying a lot. I’d find myself having a pleasant conversation with a flight attendant, who seemed perfectly normal… until he or she picked up a microphone to make announcements. Then I’d hear some sort of weird, mechanical delivery that defied all logic. This bizarre, special “microphone-inflection” voice usually was delivered with a pitch, pace, and tone that sounded anything but authentic.
For some reason, the idea of making a public announcement seems to encourage that individual to use his or her mechanical, singsong “microphone-inflection” voice. No one ever walked up to me and spoke with that “microphone-inflection” voice before or after the microphone was in use. I think I actually got used to it. I guess someone must have convinced us that this dull and disingenuous voice is easier to understand. Perhaps.
But for many, our “inside” voice and our emotionless “microphone-inflection” voice make up only a part of our repertoire. It seems we have another insincere voice that likes to be heard. I call this voice our special “singsong-presenter” voice. This particular infliction is noted by an unusual rising and falling rhythm that sounds silly, and it can be dangerous for a presenter. This peculiar, oversimplified voice can sound condescending and lead an audience to believe that the presenter is talking down to them. Not good!
Audiences will forgive a lot of voices. They’ll forgive a “slightly-shaky-nervous” voice, or a “we-need-to-turn-up-the-microphone” voice, or even a “stern-in-charge” voice. However, this condescending “singsong-presenter” voice can distract on an audience, and in some situations, turn that audience against the speaker. So how do we change this potentially dangerous voice and keep you out of trouble? Two things:
- Remember. You don’t need to create a new voice because the voice you are looking for has been there all the time! The voice you are looking for is your “conversation” voice. This voice is the same pitch, pace, and tone you naturally use when talking with a few friends you feel comfortable with. Shocked? Don’t be. Just because you find yourself standing on a stage, other than slowing down just a tick, you don’t really need to change a thing. The audience wants to hear from you, the “conversation” you, not the “singsong-presenter” you. What’s more, when an audience feels like they’ve heard the genuine “conversation” you, they’ll bond faster and tighter with you than you can possibly imagine.
- Remember to Remember. Most presenters are unaware that he or she is using a different, “singsong-presenter” voice. In fact, it’s an unconscious behavior. Adjusting your voice to a more natural voice isn’t difficult to do, but it can be difficult to keep doing. To prevent you from slipping back into your other voice, simply place a note with the word “CONVERSATION” above any notes you may have on the lectern. Use a post-it or tape it down so it doesn’t move. This little reminder will give you a mental poke every time you sneak a peak at your notes, and will be all you’ll need to stay in your “conversation” voice.
Falling into the wrong voice, at the wrong time, and with the wrong audience, can make for a long day for you and for the audience. It’s not about trying to teach yourself to be someone you aren’t. It’s about remembering who you are, and how you sound when you’re with people you enjoy talking to. Mark Twain once said,
If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.
Using your “conversation” voice might initially take a prompt or two to remember when you’re giving a presentation, but in the end, it will be one of the easiest and most powerful fixes you can make. By using your natural “conversation” voice, you are just being truly authentic, and that’s what every speaker should be.