To lead people when you speak, you need a fully expressive voice. Here are two secrets for developing vocal power and subtlety to influence!
I'd like to share the true story of a psychologist who was doing helpful work with people, but found herself without much of a voice herself.
She came to me for coaching for an upcoming appearance on national television to discuss her latest book. In her clinical practice, she often discusses sensitive issues with her patients. Unfortunately, the nature of those discussions had led her to develop a bad vocal habit in terms of speaking in public.
Your Voice Is Central to How Others Perceive You
In conversations like the one she would have on the T.V. talk show, she tended to speak too softly to have much of a presence. Even with a microphone in our simulated on-camera practice session, her voice could barely be heard. When we watched the videotape of our first take, she herself proclaimed, “You can’t hear me!”
A few breathing and projection exercises were enough to get this complete professional to speak with a stronger voice. And that helped amplify her presence, all of which makes me think she'll do well in her upcoming appearances.
With this client, the issue was generating enough vocal power. You may not have that problem. For you (as for many speakers), the issue may not be power but expressiveness. Using a voice that fully expresses what you want to say isn't just helpful—it's a key element of speaking with charisma for leadership.
For more on how leaders achieve influence with audiences when they speak, listen to my interview on 33 Voices. And be sure to view the slideshow!
Secret #1: Diaphragmatic Breathing Gives You Power
Interestingly, the path to both a stronger voice and a more expressive one starts in the same place: your diaphragm. For a voice that projects well enough to reach the back of the room; that has the sound of authority; and that supports the words until the end of the idea, diaphragmatic breathing is essential. To learn more about this crucial skill, read my blog, “Diaphragmatic Breathing: A Key Public Speaking Technique.”
The audiences you speak to as a leader—and whenever you give a presentation, you’re the leader in the room—don’t need to be rocked on their heels by your vocal power. But they do need to know, first: that you’re completely in control of the situation at hand, and second, that you can speak to it with passion, intelligence, and focus.
One necessary component of that type of control is being on top of your breathing. That means using the diaphragm instead of shallower and far less productive upper chest breathing. It's true that diaphragmatic breathing gives you the full reservoir of air you need to speak with sufficient power. But it's also the start of having a voice that's fully expressive.
Secret #2: The Key to Voice is Expressiveness
The expressive voice is one that paints word pictures with the full color palette, while being flexible enough to achieve any gradation of subtlety required. That runs the gamut from a thundering pronouncement to the most suggestive whisper . . . and everything in between. Speak as a leader and you will need these effects to motivate, inspire, and excite, as well as to inform and occasionally to entertain.
Of all the vocal tools available to speakers, the one used most poorly is the very tool necessary to be this expressive: pitch inflection. My own approach to speech training is derived directly from the theater because I’m an actor, and actors work all their lives to embody a fully expressive voice. But the same tools can be taught to non-theatrical professionals—in fact, you’re already using them every day.
To learn more about how you can use this amazing communication tool, see my E-Learning Guide, "Convince Listeners through the Power of Your Voice."
Develop Your Ear for Leadership Training in Voice
So to work on your vocal skills for leadership, start practicing this simple technique: pay attention to the way you sound when you’re at your ease, speaking to people you’re comfortable around. Develop your ear to hear how you sound in these situations. You may be amazed. (Another equally productive technique is to listen to yourself reading a children’s book to a young child.)
The reason you may surprise yourself is equally simple: in low-stakes situations when you’re not self-conscious, you use the vocal techniques that add color to your speech. To express your passion, amazement, or to embody humor, you display your vocal skills without premeditation. Hearing yourself do so is the first step to bringing your fully expressive voice into professional situations—instead of “ironing out” what you may think of as inconsistencies.
Note: For sheer manic inventiveness in tapping into the voice's capabilities, watch the late Robin Williams's First Appearance on the Tonight Show.