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What does your voice say about you?
Learning how to master your voice can help you to make a lasting impression in every aspect of your life. And yet, most of us have never thought about how we can improve our impact through speech.
Whether it is getting your opinion across in meetings, giving compelling presentations, or just being more influential in a social setting, your voice plays an essential role in commanding the attention of your listeners.
Many people say that public speaking is their number one fear, outranking death and divorce. Our anxiety about speaking in public may prevent us from reaching our fullest potential since we may try to avoid situations that could advance our career or personal goals. Even experienced performers can experience stage fright; the key is knowing how to manage those emotions in any context, so that the ‘real you’ can shine through.
Speaking well is a learned skill
We tend not to think about the way we speak in our every day lives. Speech becomes involuntary; we forget about delivery as we focus on the content of what we are saying. The first and most fundamental step is simply to become conscious of our good and bad speech habits.
Are you mumbling, as though you lack confidence in what you’re saying?
Are you rushing through your words too quickly, perhaps due to a subconscious fear that your partner is disinterested and wants to go do something else?
Is your voice too quiet, signaling submissiveness, or too loud, suggesting aggression?
Only you can assess whether your voice is portraying the person you want to be. Try using a tape recorder to record yourself speaking so that you can get a better idea of the way you sound to others. Don’t worry if your voice sounds strange to you at first! This is normal, because we are not accustomed to hearing ourselves. The tape will still be helpful in analyzing what you like and don’t like about your speaking voice.
What makes a compelling speaking voice?
The fundamentals of powerful speech are quite straightforward. It just requires practice! A compelling voice:
· Sounds relaxed
It helps if you can actually feel relaxed (more on this later), but in the meantime, try to determine whether you are showing any of the telltale signs of stress when you speak, such as feeling short of breath, flushing, stumbling over words, or losing your train of thought.
· Pronunciation is clear
Clarity of speech is important. If you mumble your words people are likely to think you are not sure of what you’re saying, or that you lack confidence. Professional actresses all practice elocution exercises to improve the clarity of their speech. Try some from the list on the next page!
· Speed is controlled
Rushing through your words makes it clear to your audience that either you can’t wait for this conversation/ speech to be finished, or you suspect that they can’t wait. In most cases, err on the side of too slow rather than too fast, because we typically think that we speak more slowly than we really do. Natural speech will vary slightly in speed. For example, try to insert a longer pause just before or just after you introduce a new idea. This gives people time to absorb what you are saying, and tends to leave a stronger impression.
· Tone is varied
Our tone of voice will impact whether or not our audience believes we are sincere. A monotone voice may leave them doubting our motives, or they may perceive us as boring even if the content of what we are saying is very stimulating.
When we speak naturally, we change our tone of voice in accordance with what we are saying. This makes us sound more dynamic and is key to holding peoples’ attention. Try raising or lowering the tone of your voice in order to emphasize an important point, or to convey your passion about the subject matter.
· Smile and be cheerful
Your voice will instinctively sound more natural and relax if you smile now and then while you are speaking.
Practice integrating these techniques
In order to make these powerful speaking techniques feel like second nature to us, it’s important that we first try to adopt them in our everyday lives – in the supermarket, at work or school, when speaking with friends. Aim for gradual change, focusing on one new aspect of speech every day, until you start to feel a difference. Then, when it matters most, you will remember what it felt like to give a compelling speech.
Once you begin to feel the results of your improved speaking technique, it’s time to focus on higher stake situations. Anxiety can sometimes leave us tongue-tied, but there are many effective methods of relaxation that can reduce fear of public speaking.
· Consider the worst case scenario
Chances are, the stakes are lower than you think. What’s the worst that could happen? How likely is this in reality? There are very few public speaking mishaps that are truly disastrous.
· Exercise releases nervous energy
As mentioned before, there are a million and one reasons to exercise, and here is another one – it really is the best way to release nervous energy.
“Sometimes, when I have an important presentation in the afternoon, I will pencil in an hour at lunchtime to work out at the gym or go for a run. When I’m really worried, it’s the only thing that will help me to get the anxiety out of my system.”
– Sarah K., Fund Manager
One of the most important tools you can use to enact any change in your life is to visualize success. Replace negative thoughts by imagining in as much detail as possible what it will feel like when you achieve your goal! Picture the setting, the faces you will see, the words you will hear yourself saying and the way you will sound – clear, confident, poised and polished. Most importantly, picture your audience smiling and nodding as they listen to you speak. We can never fully control the reception we will receive, but if you expect the worse, the audience will subconsciously pick up on your negativity and respond in a more negative way. Do yourself a favour and expect the best.
· Breathing Exercises
It’s important to keep practicing the perfect posture techniques from the previous section, because these will allow you to breathe deeply and help to prevent anxiety. Once your body is aligned and relaxed, think of something that makes you smile, like a loved one, or something amusing that happened earlier in the week. It’s important that you actually smile, because the simple act of smiling sends a message to your brain that you are feeling happy, relaxed and confident, and can help regulate your emotions. Then, place your hands on your abdomen and relax your belly muscles. Take a deep breath and feel the belly fill up with air. Keep inhaling until the middle of your chest is full of air and you feel your rib cage expand. Hold the breath in for a moment, then begin to exhale as slowly as possible. As the air is slowly let out, relax your chest and rib cage. Begin to pull your belly in to force out the remaining breath. Relax your facial muscles as you exhale and feel yourself start to let go of any anxiety. Think to yourself, “I’m glad I’m here and I’m glad you’re here!” Smile, and begin to speak.