Using your voice effectively to captivate your audience

[This post is part of our series on Preaching for Youth]. We’re talking about using your voice effectively to captivate your audience when you preach. Yesterday we discussed the importance of being natural, finding your own natural rhythm and speaking clearly. Today we’ll give three more tips to use your voice effectively.

4. Use (some) dramatic tactics

When I was a kid I had a Sunday school teacher who could tell stories like no one else. When she did the Bible story, everyone was captivated and you could hear a pin drop. My own mom also was a great storyteller, she often told made up stories at night when we were on vacation and my sister and I hung on every word.

The best storytellers are those that use dramatic elements in their voice, like pausing or changing in volume, but without going over the top. This is really something you can and need to practice. Keep recording yourself as you tell stories, read stories, read from the Bible, etc. What can you change to make it more captivating? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Change of volume: you can go from a whisper to a shout. Don’t overdo the shouting though, very tiring
  • Pausing: use silence effectively by pausing a few seconds before continuing, for example after asking a rhetorical question
  • Talk faster: positive emotions can be supported by talking faster, speeding up. This communicates enthusiasm, happiness, excitement.
  • Talk slower: this can be used to express sorrow, thoughtfulness, etc.
  • Change in pitch: when I’m excited, my voice is higher in pitch than when I’m speaking normal. Use this effectively as well. Some people tend to end sentences with their voice going up in pitch. This can be really distracting for your audience. Practice your pitch so it goes up with questions and down with normal sentences at the end.
  • Warmth: this is something that’s hard to explain, but your voice can carry a lot of warmth…or not. For instance when you smile while talking, your voice changes as well. Even people who only hear you and not see you, will ‘feel’ the smile.
  • Emphasizing: you can emphasize certain words in a sentence to make a point or stress the meaning. Again, don’t over emphasize every other word, but use this effectively to get your message across.

A very real risk here is to make it too studied, too dramatic. That’s why you need to practice this, to find the right balance. If you know this is a weak spot, add a little drama at first until you are comfortable with that, and then add some more if appropriate.

5. Let your voice support your message

Your tone of voice should support your message and especially the underlying the emotion you’re talking about. It may sound very obvious, yet I’ve heard many speakers who failed at this. They talked about being scared or worried and their tone of voice never changed from when they were talking about God being great or about Jesus dying on the cross for our sins. They were stuck in neutral so to speak. If your voice and message don’t match, your audience will unconsciously detect a dissonance and may lose attention.

What is the overall emotion of your message and how are you expressing this in your voice? If I preach on a happy topic so to speak, I tend to talk faster, smile more and make more jokes. If I deliver a more pastoral sermon, I make sure my voice is warm, comforting, understanding and encouraging. When I explain the Gospel, I am very serious because I don’t want to make light of the most important message there is.

Again, listen back to some of your sermons to check if your voice, your tone matches the emotion of your sermon. If it doesn’t, where do you experience dissonance and what should you have done differently? Practice this the next time you preach.

6. Take care of your voice

As a preacher, your voice is of crucial importance to you, so take good care of it. Here are a few tips:

  • Do vocal exercises before preaching if you have a weak voice (as I do – I get hoarse easily).
  • Don’t drink dairy products like milk before speaking and avoid cold drinks as well, they stress your vocal cords. Lukewarm water or herbal tea work wonders.
  • Use your microphone well, ask for proper training in using it so you can speak at your normal volume.
  • If you have a weak voice, don’t overdo it on the volume because it will strain your voice unnecessarily.
  • Make sure you’re relaxed, physical stress hurts your voice. Do some relaxation exercises if necessary and practice good breathing.

 Are you using your voice to maximum effect? What could you change to use it better?

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