An engaging speaking style is one of the most powerful tools you can possess in business. For winning over customers, clients, and colleagues, developing a persuasive voice in particular is key. (To discover how to engage audiences rather than just deliver information, download my free cheat sheet, "5 Ways to Captivate an Audience".) Among the areas where you need both knowledge and skill are the following:
- Vocal quality.
- Pitch variation.
- Changes in pace and tempo.
- The use of pauses and silence.
- Gaining vocal authority.
- The ability to speak powerfully or gently.
- Expressing empathy.
- Emotional nuances.
Your voice offers a limitless palette to reach listeners and stakeholders and to influence their behavior positively. For instance, here are some ways to develop a more pleasant voice for business communication. Let's look at three key areas where your vocal skills need to be first-rate to succeed when you talk to interested parties.
Vocal inflection means raising or lowering the relative position of your voice on the musical scale. Most of us have a tendency to “sit” on our pitch (which is often too low to begin with), without ever raising or lowering it. This results in a monotonous speaking style that listeners soon tune out. Acquiring a flexible voice that includes varying pitch should be one of your goals in vocal persuasiveness. It will inform your audience and keep them interested in you as a speaker at the same time.
How can you develop a voice that's inflected enough to keep listeners interested and engaged?
• Get on the “right pitch.” Learn the difference between habitual pitch and optimal pitch. The pitch you now use (“habitual pitch”) may not be the most beneficial one for you in terms of minimal strain on your voice and ease of listening by others. Here's an easy way to find your optimal pitch: Record yourself singing “Happy Birthday.” Now tape yourself discussing any topic of interest to you that doesn't get you speaking too passionately. The pitch of your voice should be the same. If your second taped version is too high or too low, try to get back to your "Happy Birthday" pitch, for that is spontaneous and natural.
• Be flexible! Find yourself a few children’s books—the kind you would read to a 3- or 4-year-old. Dr. Seuss books are perfect for this exercise. Now read aloud, just as though you were reading to a real 3-year-old child. When you read to children, your pitch inflection is dramatic and overemphasized. Develop an ear for hearing your voice being this flexible. Don’t be afraid to use some of this pitch flexibility in your “grown-up” presentations!
• If you have time, take an acting class. Not only will you have the opportunity to do totally silly things and stretch yourself in fun ways. You'll also get in touch with your “feeling” self and learn to stretch yourself emotionally. This will translate into a more flexible and responsive vocal speaking style—one that helps persuade listeners because of our commitment and passion.
Vocal Power and Authority
Audiences and individual listeners alike respond the same way to speakers whose voices are powerful and authoritative. Such a person has credibility and is considered worth listening to. The following exercises will help you increase your projection and vocal energy, and bring more of the quality of command to your voice.
• Vocal power and energy: Since all effective speaking starts out with proper breathing, here's a way to speak with confidence using a simple breathing technique. Here's another great technique to develop vocal power: imagine that your energy is located in your physical center, i.e., about two inches below your navel. Bend your knees slightly. Now bring your arms up as if you've just scored a goal and you’re saying “YES!” At the same time, produce a guttural sound, “Huh!” or “Humph!”—no actual words are necessary. Your vocalization should be very basic and almost primitive sounding, more or less a grunt. What you're aiming for is a grounded sound that connects with your physical center. Power is more important here than prettiness. Think caveman or cavewoman. At any rate, grunt yourself to glory!
• Vocal projection: Your ability to project your voice strongly enough to fill the space you’re speaking in (meeting room, conference room, auditorium, etc.), has more to do with energy than loudness. Trying to be “loud” just puts a strain on your throat. Projecting adequately, on the other hand, supports your sound and gives you real authority and power. Imagine you're a soldier on guard duty. Someone approaches and you say, “HALT! WHO GOES THERE?” powerfully enough to stop that person in their tracks. Now imagine the person approaching you is 5 feet away, then 15 feet, then 50 feet. For each increasing distance, you must project more, supporting your sound as you do so. That's developing a truly powerful voice.
Among the most challenging aspects of convincing others through the power of your voice is achieving empathy and enough vocal variety to keep listeners engaged. The source of both of these skills is the same: your commitment to your message. “Passion” is a term that is often avoided with regard to professional speech situations. But if you’re not passionate about what you’re saying, who will be?
You must invest yourself fully, then, not only in what you’re talking about, but in meeting the needs of your listeners to hear your message. Here are two ways to do so:
• Develop empathy as a speaker: One of the skills you must cultivate is an ability to “listen” to your audiences, with all of your senses. What kind of nonverbal communication is your audience giving you, and how are they responding emotionally? Another way to say this is, listen with your emotions as well as your intellect. When you do, you’ll be far better at sensing the ways in which your listeners need to hear what you’re saying, as well as what they need to know. And your voice will reflect your emotional involvement.
• Cultivate vocal variety: A mistake speakers make is to try to impose variety on a speech or presentation after the fact. But it can’t be done! If you are fully invested in the ideas and emotions of what you’re saying, your vocal presentation will naturally reflect the changes that occur in that material. In other words, the vocal variety you need will be an organic (and convincing) part of the delivery. Go through your content and mark every place that 1) a major new idea is introduced or 2) you think the emotional component of what you’re saying changes. Practice as slowly as you like, stopping whenever you need to, to allow your voice to register each change. Now practice at normal speed. Your vocal variety should be much more evident.
Key takeaways from this blog:
- If you want to succeed in business, develop a nuanced speaking style.
- No communication tool you own is as flexible as your voice.
- Vocal inflection will help your listeners stay tuned in.
- Your voice must be powerful and projected to possess authority.
- Empathy and vocal variety are needed to connect with others emotionally.