"It's not what you say, it's how you say it"
Experienced speakers have long known this to be true.
But now, new studies into communication are now proving it to be true.
That’s because as humans we find it relatively easy to manipulate our words and body-language, but not so much with our voice.
If you’ve ever seen an unhappy person smile and say “I’m fine!” – you probably knew otherwise because of their voice.
It’s thought that over time, this is leading us to subconsciously assess people’s voice for credibility. More so than what people say, or what people don’t say (their non-verbal communication). So when speaking in public, audiences are judging your believability based on your voice.
In order to communicate in a way that’s authentic, credible and inspiring, it’s crucial that we understand our voice and how use it properly. To begin this process, let’s look at some simple yet powerful ways to improve your speaking voice.
Implementing these steps will allow you to connect with people on a deeper level, and speak in a way that makes others want to listen.
Increase speaking volume by 20%.
If people can’t hear you, they won’t listen.
So while volume might sound like an obvious point, it’s one of the first vocal areas that speakers need to work on.
A quiet and unassuming voice might work 1-2-1 or in small groups. But it wont allow you to command a room, or command respect.
Low volume is especially prevalent amongst anxious speakers. If you’ve grown up being shy and speaking quietly, projecting your voice can feel like you’re shouting.
But in fact, speaking with more volume is one of the quickest ways for an anxious speaker to begin feeling more confident. This is because putting more power into your words reduces many of the nervous “tells” in your voice, such as high-pitched tones or mumbling.
Speaking with more volume can also force you to articulate your words more clearly, and to breathe deeper into the diaphragm.
For those in the “quiet club”, I’d typically recommend speaking with 20% more volume than you usually would. Before long this volume will become your new normal. As well as sounding more confident, you’ll feel it too.
For more advanced speakers, aim to use moments of both high and low volume for maximum engagement.
Speaking loudly to immediately capture attention or emphasise a specific point.
Speaking quietly to slowly draw your audience in, building a sense of intrigue as your voice drops to a whisper.
Playing with volume can add a huge amount of charisma to your communication. At a minimum, always speak loud enough to be comfortably heard by everyone in the room.
Find your perfect speaking pace.
Pacing is another major problem-area for people, most of whom we could call “fast talkers”.
These are people who rush through every sentence, barely stopping to take a breath or look up at their audience.
It’s often the result of nerves and anxiety making the speaker rush to finish and sit down.
But it can also come from someone having a life-time of experiencing being interrupted – teaching them that speaking fast is the only way to be heard.
Either way, the impression the audience gets is that you’re unprepared, or unconfident.
If you want to be listened to, you must learn to slow down.
Start practising this by slowing down your speech by as much as 50% in day-to-day when talking with friends, family or colleagues.
That doesn’t mean you should make conversations a punishing experience for people (which happens when you swing too far in the other direction).
But allow yourself time to pause, to breathe, and to elongate your words when speaking.
We live in a world where the majority of people speak quickly, and it’s natural for us to imitate those around us.
But with practice, you can learn to consciously slow down your pace in order to speak with more impact and authority.
Advanced tips: Different situations require different pacing, so work on reading the room and adjusting accordingly. If you’re explaining something new or important, slow down your pace to increase understanding.
If you’re covering known-ground, increasing your pace can show professionalism and an appreciation for everyone’s time.
Ditch the fillers, develop the pause.
Erm, so, like, well… you know?
When it comes to credibility killers, filler words are the official worst offender.
You’ve probably heard someone overusing them in a speech or presentation. Once noticed they become incredibly distracting. But the question is, do you notice when you use them?
Filler-words (or sounds) happen for many reasons. When we’re rushing, when we’re under prepared, and when we feel nervous. They also happen purely out of bad verbal habits that we’ve fallen into.
It’s one thing to start every sentence with “like” in a conversation with friends.
But another to do so in a work presentation or pitch.
The trick to overcoming filler-words begins with self-awareness. Most people have no idea how much they fall into the filler-word trap, so you have to start listening to yourself and noticing which fillers you use.
Then, as you start to catch yourself in the act – the next stage is to swap them out for something new.
Like any habit, it’s easier to replace it with something else, than to simply stop it all together. So instead of using filler-words, you begin replacing those moments with a pause.
Pauses give you time to think in the same way saying “uhhm” does. Only with the added benefit that the audience will think you’re more credible, more interesting, and more enjoyable to listen to.
So become aware of your fillers, then replace them with a well timed pause.
Speaking in monotone to melody.
There’s a reason why lengthy zoom meetings put us to sleep.
It’s because chances are, most people are speaking in a monotone voice.
Monotone – literally meaning using one tone, one note – is the monotonous monologues that make us tune out and switch off.
Have you ever wondered why your favourite podcast or radio show doesn’t have the same effect?
It’s because trained communicators understand the power of melody.
Melody is the antidote to monotone. Having melody means using the full range of high, mids and lows that the instrument of your vocal chords are able to create.
The best communicators have perfected this, and are able to keep people listening and engaged.
It’s the equivalent of Mozart playing beautiful symphonies on the piano, vs. the average Joe hitting a single key over and over.
Fortunately, adding more melody to your voice doesn’t require you to be a musical savant.
Start by listening back to a recording of your voice. Notice where you’re getting stuck in a monotone voice. Then work on adding more melody. If you need inspiration, listen to your favourite speakers and emulate them.
The voice really is an instrument, and adding melody is how we play it fully.
More air in, better voice out.
If you want to understand how important breathing is when speaking, try this exercise.
- Blow out all the air from your lungs.
- Keep going until your abdomen is completely pulled in.
- Then try to say something.
You’re going to hear a raspy croaky sound where your speaking voice should be.
That’s because all sound requires oxygen. The vibrations we make must be carried on a flow of air which is being pushed out of our chest, and hitting the ears of our audience.
So breathing is pretty damn important. But you’d be amazed at how many speakers I see who literally forget to breathe!
They get stuck trying to communicate in that same croaky voice. Barely audible, and looking like they’re about to pass out.
The reason for this is also usually down to excessive nerves.
The rush of adrenaline can make the abdomen tight, and your breath fast and shallow.
Not only does this constriction of air leave us feeling even more anxious, but it prevents us from actually producing enough sound.
If you’re the type of speaker who finds themselves gasping for breath and croaking on the podium, you have to build the habit of proper breathing. That means deep diaphragmatic breaths that make your stomach rise and fall.
To test this, try placing one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest. Then breathe for a few minutes however you normally would.
If you feel your chest rising and falling with each breath, try to slow and deepen your breath until the chest remains still. You should then begin to feel your stomach rise and fall as your breathing is corrected.
This slow, relaxed breathing is what we’re aiming to maintain when speaking.
In order for that to happen – even when the nerves kick in – it has to become a deeply embedded habit.
So take time to practise correct diaphragmatic breathing for a few minutes each day. And when you’re talking with others, hold some attention on your stomach to notice your breathing as you speak.
We were all born knowing instinctively how to breathe. The stress of modern life has got most of us stuck breathing as if we’re constantly panicked.
Learn to slow your breath, and your speaking voice will naturally improve.
The voice of public speaking success.
When it comes to speaking in public and communicating effectively, your voice is key.
The sounds we make allow us to influence, engage and connect with people emotionally. But they can just as easily kill our credibility, and switch people off.
The vast majority of people – including executives, politicians, and leaders – don’t use their voice properly. If you listen closely, you’ll hear them making all of the mistakes highlighted above.
The voice is an untapped resource. By learning to use it more effectively, you can catapult your charisma to the next level.
Now you know the major vocal issues and how to avoid them. It’s time to begin speaking in a way that makes people listen.
Keep practising, keep building awareness, and learn to love your speaking voice.
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