Can you boost your speaking skills if you're not working with a speech coach? Here are 5 great ways to achieve voice improvement—all on your own!
Want to become a better business speaker in terms of your vocal ability? Understand this first: it's a slower and more ongoing process than simply improving your presentation skills.
Yet the rewards of having a more expressive speaking voice are much greater. For one thing, the way you use your voice matters as much in your personal life as it does on the job. You can't say the same thing about the slide deck you slaved over for the annual user's conference.
Want to speak to be heard? Then keep your voice in top shape! Get my free cheat sheet, "Public Speaking — 15 Easy Ways to Keep Your Voice Healthy."
Here are 5 ways you can start your own personal journey toward greater vocal effectiveness. Remember, the voice is both the subtlest and most powerful tool you own for public speaking performance. Here's how to make it work for you, so you're using the full palette of coloration, influence, and impact on your audience.
1. Develop Your Awareness of What the Voice Does
Your voice is much more than a tool to convey information from your mouth to the ears of listeners. First of all, the range of emotions, intentions, and meaning that you can achieve through your vocal apparatus is extremely wide. That means that you can speak with great subtlety toward the things you're talking about. Information delivered in the form of words, graphs, charts, and bullet points can't come close.
Just as important, the human beings you're talking to are perfectly wired to receive these messages. Mirror neurons in the brain, for instance, allow listeners to share the emotion you're experiencing—as long as you're skilled enough to allow them to hear it. Put simply: part of your voice's job is to elicit in others the emotions you're experiencing yourself. Understand that, and you'll probably be willing to put the time and effort into developing this marvelous instrument.
2. Listen Carefully to Other Speakers
Once your consciousness has been raised in this way, you can pay attention to what you're hearing in terms of others' voices. You may have been vaguely aware that you like one person's voice, and can't stand listening to someone else. (Movie actors often make us feel this way.) Now you can start to ponder why you feel this way.
There's obviously much more going in on terms of how a speaker is reaching and influencing you than the bare content they're throwing your way. Ask yourself what is pleasant, soothing, grating, monotonous, exciting, intriguing, unusual, or otherwise notable about that speaker's voice. A pleasant and professional-sounding delivery can induce you to listen closely, and to open up to that person's influence. Ask yourself what is happening here, and how you can use what you're hearing to your own benefit.
3. Pay Attention to What Your Own Voice Is Doing
If you're dissatisfied with your professional voice, as many people are, understand that you almost certainly have more talent than you think. In fact, you're a natural at using varied vocal expressiveness! You're just not paying attention when it's happening.
What I mean by that is this: we're all good at using our voice expressively when we need to. And that generally means when we're not aware of that need. When we're with friends and colleagues, telling a joke, sharing something exciting that happened recently, or in a heated argument, for instance—boy, do we know how to express ourselves vocally! But when it's time to give a presentation or speech, we put on our formal vocal attire, and everything gets flattened out. Business, we tell ourselves, is serious. The solution: start to listen to yourself when you're using your voice unselfconsciously. Then bring that person up on stage with you.
4. Practice Intonation with Children's Books
It's possible that you may try to do the above, but find that it's still difficult for you to achieve vocal variety. Most of the time, that means you're not using pitch inflection. Of all the speaking tools, this is the one that enlivens our voice the most. From the neutral word "monotone," meaning one tone, we end up with "monotonous" to indicate someone who doesn't inflect.
Again, you may be better at this than you're giving yourself credit for. The way to find out is to read a children's book aloud. Find a good one (maybe you still have a few from when your kids were young), and imagine you're reading to a three-year-old. We read in a certain simple and exaggerated way to small children because their brains aren't sophisticated enough yet to grasp anything that's too subtle and adult-like. The major feature of that style is that we inflect like crazy. "Who are YOU?" said the mother bird: "You don't belong in OUR NEST!"
Tape yourself reading this way, then play the recording back. You'll probably be amazed at how much vocal inflection you're able to achieve. And it's important that you hear it. Now feel free to let your voice explore the upper regions of the house when you're speaking professionally as well, instead of spending all your time in the basement.
5. Spend Time with Audio Books
When clients ask me what they can do to keep improving their voice, once they've completed our Voice and Speech Improvement Program, I always recommend listening to audio books. Please understand, I don't mean podcasts.
Audio books feature some of the best voice over talent you'll find anywhere. Some of the artists who record audio books specialize in this area. When you listen to a book by, say, Dickens, and marvel at how the reader is able to convincingly convey 27 different voices of both sexes, you'll appreciate this particular talent. Yes, famous actors are also asked to record audio books for their box office draw; and authors who read their own works may or may not be good at the art.
Chances are, though, that with all the audio books available by subscription or free from your local library, you'll discover some exceptional use of the voice. Even the genre doesn't matter. A person of true abilities will bring the book alive, largely through their vocal talent. Let it be an ongoing hint at how much more you can achieve with your voice in your own profession.
You should follow me on Twitter here.