Have you ever sat through a presentation from the back of a room and struggled to hear what the person up front was saying? Or, have you sat at the front of a room and painfully listened to someone yelling nearby?
Presentations are a necessary part of business all over the globe. A survey by Prezi found 70 percent of employed Americans agree that presentation skills are critical to their professional success. And while so many agree that presentations are necessary, almost half admit to tuning out presenters during meetings.
Voice projection is a powerful skill to learn if you're giving presentations. It’s necessary to ensure your audience can hear you clearly and understand your message. But projection is more than a matter of raising your voice and speaking louder. Learning to project your voice correctly can help your message resonate with all your listeners, keep their attention and influence their behavior – no matter where they are seated.
Here are six ways to improve your vocal projection and make an impact on your next audience:
1. Check your posture.
How you stand can affect your breathing and challenge your ability to project. Make sure you stand in a neutral position, feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your shoulders back and avoid slouching. This posture helps you take deep breaths and helps your diaphragm control the speed and power at which your air is released as you speak.
If you are sitting, do so on the edge of your seat. Avoid crossing your legs, as this can compromise your breathing. Keep your back straight and your head held up to avoid straining your voice while speaking.
2. Breathe deeply.
Your breathing can affect the way your voice projects. Shallow breaths between words limit the power you can generate in your voice. Instead, be mindful of your breathing. Take deep breaths using your diaphragm to pull as much air into your lungs as possible. The air you breathe generates power in your voice, allowing you to broadcast the sound farther without straining your vocal cords or causing throat irritation.
Pause throughout your presentation, offering you a moment to breathe deeply. It will help calm your nerves and alleviate stress. Pauses will help you clear your mind, help you focus and slow down your rate of speech, and make it easier for everyone to hear what you have to say. Research shows a slower pace of speech increases the ability for listeners to understand what you say.
3. Exercise routinely.
Staying in shape helps you develop the breathing skills necessary to have a robust and resounding voice. Cardiovascular exercises ensure proper oxygenation to the muscles and force your body to stretch your lungs and use your diaphragm. This trains your body to breathe more effectively and use air more efficiently. With regular exercise, taking deep breaths will become second nature. You won't have to focus on breathing to project sound. It will begin to come more naturally.
Proper pronunciation helps to ensure audience members can understand what you are saying, even in the back of the room. Words typically misheard are those in the past tense and those ending in an "ing." Be sure to articulate every syllable in a word to avoid sounding like you're mumbling. Emphasize your words with energy as you speak. This will help each word sound clear and audible.
Even the best presentations can be lost on audiences when poorly delivered. Speaking too quietly or quickly makes the audience work too hard to understand you. Concentrate on speaking clearly. Avoid filler words such as "uh" and "um." These sounds can easily blend in with your speech, making the words you want to say sound garbled.
5. Get immediate feedback.
Understanding how you are perceived when speaking can help you uncover areas of weakness. Get feedback from someone you trust who can share their perception of your presentation. Get their opinion on what you need to focus on to improve next time.
Another way to discover opportunities to improve is by recording yourself speaking. You can do this in a meeting, presentation or as you practice in preparation on your smartphone. Immediately watch the playback and carefully observe your posture, your breathing, enunciation and voice projection. Take notes and mindfully work on those areas. If you're recording yourself in preparation for a presentation, continue to fine-tune each skill, record yourself and watch the playback. Don't stop until you see skills become a habit.
6. Seek accountability.
Mentors, voice coaches and trustworthy peers can help you identify areas of improvement and hold you accountable to ongoing practice. Find someone who can help you focus specifically on presentation skills, including voice projection. Voice coaches are ideal to help you learn proper skills for breathing, vocal-cord strengthening, enunciation and more. If a voice coach isn't readily available, mentors and peers can provide continual feedback. They can point out bad habits and observe changes as you practice.
The ability to influence others isn't something you're born with but a learned trait that requires focus, dedication and practice. Implement these six tips to help your message resonate with your audience in a more powerful, impactful way.