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Why your voice matters and tips for making it heard

Updated: Mar 18



Speaking up at work is generally considered a good thing and organisations where all voices are heard and valued tend to thrive.


Yet research* suggests that many hesitate to share what they think because they lack confidence or fear backlash.


If this is you, next time you find yourself holding back, remind yourself that failing to speak up when you have something important to say

  • is not what your organisation values or pays you for

  • may stifle innovation, diversity and progress

  • conveys to leaders that you have nothing to add and all is well.

In a nutshell, your voice matters.


So use it, and make sure it's heard.


How?


Here, using this digitally remastered version of his iconic 'I Have A Dream' speech, I pinpoint seven techniques Dr Martin Luther King Jr employs, which anyone can learn from. These tips don't only apply to making speeches and you don't need Dr King's status or a colossal crowd in front of the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to use them.


1. He’s mindful of his surroundings. His platform influences his content, and his audience influences his delivery.


At 00.39 come the words: “Five score years ago…” That language symbolically mirrors Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address a century earlier, which is poignant, given he’s speaking ‘in the shadow’ of Lincoln’s Memorial.


Then there are eight seconds from 2:13, where his audience responds to what he says. He stays silent. It can feel unnatural not to speak for eight seconds, but with practice, pause - whether used to quieten an audience or for dramatic effect - is powerful.


As the speech progresses, and audience reaction lengthens and strengthens, you sense King is using his pauses to funnel the crowd’s energy into his delivery.


2. He uses repetition to reinforce his key messages.


“I have a dream”. King doesn’t use these words until 1:54. Then he repeats them at the beginning of seven successive sentences. The first and last words in a sentence are most memorable. It’s their placement in the sentence, as well as their repetition, that gives them power.


But his ‘dream’ phrase, delivered in this structural arrangement is not the only one repeated. “Let freedom ring” is another. Indeed, he says the word ‘freedom’ even more than ‘dream’, which serves to cement the purpose of his speech.


3. He chooses words that paint vivid pictures in the minds of his audience.


At 1:05 we’re imagining people “seared in the flames of withering injustice”, or at 1:37 “crippled by manacles of segregation and chains of discrimination”. His use of image-based, sensory language throughout makes his message more relatable, compelling, and memorable.


4. He expertly employs contrast not only in what he says but how he says it.


Let’s start with what he says. Look again at the brutality of the language in bullet point 3. Then contrast it with his words at 2:33. These later words paint a unifying picture as we visualise “sit[ting] down together at the table of brotherhood”. His words tell us: Not that outdated reality any longer, but this visionary new one.


And his vocal delivery mirrors his words. Just listen to the contrast between the opening minute and the closing one. King expertly weaves together and uses to his advantage different vocal elements, which we’ll explore now.


5. He builds urgency by quickening his pace.


His leisurely opening is 92 words a minute but by the end of his speech he's clocking 145 a minute. He varies his pace, yet never sounds rushed. Conversationally we speak between 120 and 160 words a minute. That suggests he’s slowed his opening, so he can build speed without sounding rushed later in his speech.


6. He varies his volume for vocal interest.


As King’s pace increases so does his volume. Yet he’s never so quiet as to be inaudible or so loud as to be indistinct. It’s a brilliant illustration of how you can vary volume to bring vocal variety. It’s also evidence that it’s not how loudly you speak but the vocal energy you bring that’s key. Listen to how he keeps you hooked until the end of every sentence and anticipating the next, between 2.22 -2.40.


7. His intonation gives his voice musicality.


There’s musicality to his voice. At times, his use of intonation is so musical it’s almost like he’s singing. There’s no better example of how you can use the rise and fall of your voice (patterns of pitch), to create that musicality than at 5:10. Here King employs rhyme and repetition but it’s how he uses his voice to deliver both that is notable.


He creates this intoxicating musical cocktail by beautifully blending intonation with his prose, pace, and pitch.


Speaking up when you lack confidence or fear repercussions is easier said than done, I know. Nevertheless, I hope this post helps you rethink your relationship with staying silent and gives you some practical ideas to maximise the probability that when you say what's on your mind you're more likely to be heard.



And if you have success stories to share, I'd love to hear from you.




 

If you're eager to help your team improve their spoken communication skills, why not book a Business Voice Masterclass or Vocal and Executive Presence workshop for them?

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