Public speaking anxiety is incredibly common. If you feel nervous, apprehensive and uncomfortable about presenting your case before an audience, you are definitely not alone. Many business presenters worry about public speaking. After all, niche industry experts do not necessarily make the most natural performers and public speaking is essentially performing.
There is no way around the fact that, in order to present, you are dependent on your voice. Engaging your audience and making a good impression requires you to be both heard and understood. In practice, this is not always as simple as it sounds.
To make your voice clear and comprehendible, there are four main variables to consider: volume, pitch, pace and articulation. The first three often function together. When people get excited, for example, they talk more quickly (pace), perhaps louder (volume) and with a higher tone (pitch).
Work on these four key areas and you will build confidence, reduce your fear of public speaking and eventually overcome public speaking anxiety.
Pitch: Variation in pitch produces interest. Generally speaking, a voice with a restricted pitch range will sound monotonous, while a voice with expensive pitch range will sound more animated and interesting. The extent and appropriateness of pitch variation helps to determine the level of interest generated in your public speaking performance.
A rise in pitch is commonly used to signal agitation or excitement, while a corresponding drop in pitch is commonly used to signal boredom or gloominess. It's useful to practice the extremes of pitch variation, so that you can call on them when required.
Pace: The speech rate for Western languages falls within a normal range of 2.5-3.3 words per second. Many people claim that they speak too quickly and yet, when tested, their speech rate falls within this range. Articulation is the key. If you are gabbling, talking slower will not make the gabble any easier to understand. Fast, well-articulated speech is better than slow, unintelligible speech.
Volume: Well-articulated speech can be delivered quietly and still be understood. Poorly articulated speech, however, cannot be fixed by simply increasing the volume. Again, it is important to work on articulation first, before worrying too much about volume…
Articulation: Poor articulation is responsible for the vast majority of misunderstood and confused messages. Ultimately, this is due to laziness. As illustrated above, if your articulation is poor, almost every other aspect of your public speaking performance will be hindered beyond recovery.
Good articulation relies on synchronised movement of the lips, jaw, tongue and soft palate. As the jaw muscles are strongest in this group, they tend to dominate the production of speech. The lips, tongue and soft palate tend to get a ‘free ride’ and become lazy – resulting in poor articulation.
Fortunately, this is reasonably easy to fix. Try this:
Hold the cork (from, say, a wine bottle) end-on between your teeth. Try to read a newspaper article aloud for a couple of minutes. The objective of the exercise is not to speak fast, but to speak slowly and to over-articulate all the vowels and consonants. After a short while, your mouth will probably begin to ache. Good! All those lazy muscles will be getting a decent workout. Once you have done this for a couple of minutes, remove the cork and speak normally. You will be amazed at how clear and crisp your voice sounds.