I reckon anyone who’s ever rehearsed before speaking to an audience will have heard this before from a well-meaning but impatient critic: “Just give it some more oomph!”
“Thanks for that,” you think to yourself, “but that’s easy for you to say. I thought I was doing OK. What else am I supposed to do?”
It’s true that “give it more oomph” is not the most helpful feedback you can receive if you have had little experience of speaking to an audience, or you have never had voice coaching. It doesn’t really tell you what your delivery is missing.
Effective delivery requires not just rehearsal and familiarity with WHAT you’re going to say, but also a keen sense of HOW you are going to speak it.
Spoken English that’s engaging and easy on the ear for your audience should mirror the style and inflections of an everyday, lively conversation between any two people. Typically: well-modulated voices.
And what is a well-modulated voice? It’s NOT that you have to have been to a posh school. (It’s nothing to do with accent, regional or otherwise.) But it IS about a voice that’s warmed up, well hydrated, and makes full use of pitch, pace, power and pause; in other words, a voice and a delivery that reflects the nuances, energy and emphases you hear every day in animated conversations between two people.*
To warm up your voice before you rehearse or deliver a speech or presentation, choose a favorite verse or two of poetry, a limerick, or a couple of tongue twisters, and read them aloud to yourself – clearly and deliberately.
Note the punctuation marks and line endings, and make good use of these to introduce some natural pauses and inflections in your delivery.
Pausing in these places has a three-way benefit: it will give you more opportunities to breathe, you’ll gain greater control of your delivery, and you’ll give your audience more time to assimilate and appreciate not only your words but also the sense of what you’re telling them.
*Sign up here for my occasional insights on communication made human for business. On the same page, you can check out my short, online course for public speakers. The course includes a module on voice modulation where you’ll find some great exercises for developing this skill in your own time.
Peter Coë; July 19, 2022
Peter was a business journalist and BBC television news anchor for many years, and has nearly 30 years’ experience as a speaker trainer.