When it comes to influencing listeners, how important is your vocal style? Well, if you speak like this, it can hurt your credibility!
Is your voice helping or hurting your career? That may not be a question you've ever asked yourself. But the truth is, it's an important one to consider.
Your vocal style affects everything from your credibility and authority, to your persuasiveness and likability. Given the importance of the voice to human communication, this shouldn't really be a surprise.
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Two aspects of your speech performance in particular can be limiting you professionally. Let's spend a little time discussing each of them.
Don't Talk Faster than a Speeding Bullet
Superman may be faster than a speeding bullet (and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound). But the rest of us had better keep our listeners in mind when we're flying past them as we deliver our presentations.
If rapid speech is an issue for you, you may already have received feedback about it. If not, start noticing if audiences members tend to lean forward or wear a slight frown when you speak. They may simply be trying to absorb what you're saying. That can be a challenge for them if words and thoughts come at them faster than they're able to absorb or feel comfortable with.
This can be a problem in particular in phone conversations or conference calls, where all visual clues are removed. (Here's how to make your voice sound better on the phone.) Yet if it's a habit for you, it most likely will be present whenever you speak, including when you're not even excited about something. One of the reasons this can be such a disadvantage, is that fast speakers may not even be aware that people are uncomfortable listening to them.
Recording yourself to build your awareness (and to hear yourself starting to slow down) can be helpful. Even more fundamental is breathing properly, i.e., making sure you take enough breaths. Mother Nature has arranged things so that we can't inhale and speak at the same time. I get the feeling she knew what she was doing.
Here's an exercise to help slow down your breathing. It's in my Free cheat sheet, "How to Calm Your Nerves Before Speaking."
I'm Serious: You Need Gravitas as a Speaker!
noun 1. dignity, seriousness, or solemnity of manner.
A lack of gravitas or authority in your speech is the second weakness that can seriously affect your credibility. And believe me, I'm serious when I say you need seriousness as a speaker!
Dickens' character Scrooge may have thought that there was "more of gravy than of grave" in the ghost of his partner Marley (that is, his appearance was due simply to a bit of indigestion on Scrooge's part). But gravitas in terms of maturity and experience can announce itself—whether the perception is accurate or not—through your speaking style.
Wikipedia offers this marvelous take on the word:
Gravitas was one of the ancient Roman virtues that denoted "seriousness". It is also translated variously as weight, dignity, and importance and connotes restraint and moral rigor. It also conveys a sense of responsibility and commitment to the task.
You can understand, then, why sounding like you're experienced plays an important part in persuading stakeholders that you're credible and authoritative. To cite one example from my presentation training practice: a company had a group of talented young salespeople who sounded that way. The company discovered that it was tough for prospective customers to decide to spend big with a sales staff who (in the prospects' minds) sounded like kids.
Could that have been an unfair judgment? Of course. But if you sense that customers and clients may be viewing you that way, work on that gravitas!
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Gary Genard is an actor, author, and expert in public speaking training and overcoming speaking fear. His company, Boston-based The Genard Method offers live 1:1 Zoom coaching for executives worldwide. In 2020 for the seventh consecutive year, Gary has been ranked by Global Gurus as One of The World's Top 30 Communication Professionals. He is the author of How to Give a Speech. His second book, Fearless Speaking, was recently named as "One of the 100 Best Confidence Books of All Time." Contact Gary here.