Keep Listener Attention During Presentations

Using Vocal Highlighting To Keep Listener Attention During Presentations

Let’s face facts…in the world of presentation skills, monotone voices kill attention.

If you’re speaking with a monotone voice, you potentially sound boring to clients, prospects or even employees.

To define it, a monotone speaker’s voice never changes. There is no variety through the entirety of the presentation or speech. And in today’s business climate, you only have a few seconds to grab and keep someone’s attention. You can’t afford to lose it.

So, what’s the solution? The cure for a monotone voice is variety.


How can you build variety into your voice? There are three elements that characterize your voice:

  1. Loudness
  2. Tone
  3. Timing

To transform your voice from monotone to dynamic, you can simply add Loudness, Tone, and Timing to your presentations. And it’s easier than you think to incorporate them into your daily speech in a natural way.

Remember when you were in school — how you used a highlighter to call attention to words, phrases, whole sentences, and even paragraphs when studying or preparing for a test? Think of using your voice to highlight pieces of speech. We call this “vocal highlighting.”


Practicing Vocal Highlighting

Let’s see how this notion of vocal highlighting can work.

Take a look at this brief excerpt from a classic reading passage called “My Grandfather.”

You wish to know all about my grandfather? Well, he’s nearly 93 years old and he still thinks as swiftly as ever. A long beard clings to his chin giving those who observe him a pronounced feeling of utmost respect.

Get out your phone or open a recording app on your computer. (If you can’t find a recording application, go here.) Record your voice as you read the passage out loud, then play it back. Just listen.

Ask yourself: do you hear sameness or variety in your voice? More than likely, you hear sameness. There’s little change in your loudness, tone, or timing. That’s considered being “monotone.”


Using Vocal Variety

Now, let’s try again. Record it once more…only this time use your vocal highlighter to add variety.

Here are some suggestions:

  • You wish to all about my grandfather?
    • Stretch out the phrase “all about my
    • Raise your pitch at the end of “grandfather making it sound like a question.
  • Well, he’s nearly ninety-three years’ old
    • Say the word “Well” with a smile on your face – sounding like you’re happy, and pause briefly after you say it.
    • Stretch out the phrase “93 years old
    • Raise your pitch and smile on the word “old
  • A long beard clings to his chin
    • Say the entire phrase slowly
    • Stretch out the word “long
    • Bring one hand up to your chin, squeeze it together while you move it down from your chin, timing your movement with the slowness of the phrase
  • Giving those who observe him – speed up while you say the entire phrase
  • A pronounced feeling
    • Stretch out the word “pronounced
    • Slow down and pause briefly after “feeling
  • Of utmost respect – Say the word “utmost” as though it was two separate words and pause briefly between them.

And it’s that easy!

Using Loudness, Tone & Timing in Your Presentations

When you focus on the meaning and the richness of individual words and phrases, you transform your voice and your entire delivery from monotone to dynamic.

This adds variety to your presentations through loudness, tone, and timing (along with a few gestures and facial expressions are thrown in).

To continue building your dynamic voice, think of your old friend – the highlighter. You don’t need to search through your drawers or backpacks to find wherever you left it so many years ago; it’s already built right into your voice.

Find ways to use your “vocal highlighter” during your presentations. As you do, your listeners will be riveted to everything you say.


Dr. Robert Portnoy, Ph.D., is the President of Learn To Present, a North American-based presentation skills training company.

Dr. Portnoy is a seasoned educator in the fields of leadership and communication. Dr. Portnoy has over 25 years’ experience coaching Fortune 100 executives, managers, and technical experts in designing and delivering presentations and improving interpersonal communication skills.

If you’re interested in learning more about vocal variety and how to grab and keep listeners’ attention, whether you’re presenting to 1 or 10,000, get a free copy of Dr. Portnoy’s Easy Guide To Great Presentation Skills by clicking here.

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