Speaking is easy. You open your mouth and talk. Speaking in a way that commands attention and respect is a whole other issue.
In my experience, both the simplest area of improvement and the area which will provide the greatest return on investment is your vocal volume. Too many speakers with great information fail because they simply aren’t loud enough.
Think back to the last time you were in an audience struggling to hear a speaker properly. You probably found it frustrating and distracting. You may even have given up and stopped paying attention.
For some presentations, you may have a microphone, but even then, make sure you know how to use it and be certain to check that the volume levels are well set before you begin. Also understand how close the microphone needs to be to your mouth to be at the proper volume. I have seen two speakers on the same program use the same microphone but their volume levels ended up very different, simply because one kept the mic closer to her mouth than the other. One was easy and clear to hear; the other faded in and out. Guess which one was better received…
You may be tempted to blame the A/V people for not adjusting properly. Sure, a good A/V person will be able to adjust the mic levels on the fly. BUT, do you really want to leave your success in someone else’s hands? Trust me, if people can’t hear you well you will look as bad as, if not worse than, the A/V people.
When speaking in smaller rooms, for smaller groups, or at many company meetings, you won’t have a dedicated A/V professional anyway. Someone will hand you a mic and you will have to figure it out yourself.
Regardless of the microphone situation, you should still learn and practice projecting your voice. Many times you won’t have the luxury of a microphone. If you happen to be a professional speaker speaking at a national conference to hundreds or thousands of people, you will have a mic. However, you will often find yourself in rooms and speaking to groups without benefit of amplification.
Projecting your voice simply means to make your voice louder without sounding like you are shouting. This is what actors and performers do, and it takes practice. But it is worth the time. In fact, this may be the most useful skill you develop to becoming a great speaker.