Want to be a successful business speaker? Discover these 5 ways of developing a warmer and more pleasant voice to persuade stakeholders.
Ever find yourself unpleasantly surprised by someone you admired but had never heard speak?
That happened to me recently. I was researching an upcoming conference, and since I'm a speech coach, was interested in one of the keynote speakers. But I was somewhat shocked when I found this person online.
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Your Voice Is a Key Factor in Business Success
This keynote speaker was obviously successful (to have been given a high-profile slot at the conference), even though he had a poor vocal style. But who wants to be in that position?
People respond to your voice in ways that predate modern speech by tens of thousands of years. Critical factors in influencing people—including likability, trustworthiness, credibility, expertise, and the ability to work well on a team—depend in part on how you sound when you speak to others.
So if you haven't done any work in this area, perhaps it's time to get started. Below are 5 ways you can strengthen one essential component of an engaging vocal style: a warm and pleasant voice. Let's look at how you can consciously work toward improving this winning aspect of your voice so that people will respond to you positively.
1. Learn Diaphragmatic Breathing for a More Pleasant Sound
Those who've read my articles over the years know that diaphragmatic breathing the key skill in achieving a powerful voice while reducing speech anxiety and nervousness. It's also an asset in knowing how to boost your focus and presence.
In addition, proper breathing also helps create a softer and more pleasant sound in the voice. If you have a harsh or nasal voice (my main complaint with the speaker I found online), giving yourself a sufficient "cushion" of air will help diminish the harshness. Also try this: eliminate nearly all the air in your lungs and try to speak in a large room. Not much power in that voice, is there? Instead, fill your reservoir with air so your voice "floats" softly and pleasurably, with no harshness in evidence.
2. Balance Your Head and Chest Voice
Have you noticed an epidemic of "little voices," in which seasoned business professionals sound like they're in their teens? That's an example of head voice, or speaking too thinly with the voice located only above the neck.
Chest voice, on the other hand, situates the sound in the thoracic or chest region. That makes the voice sound like it's stuck in an elevator a few floors south of here. This voice has a lot more wisdom than a head voice. But it can also be a "fuddy-duddy" voice with a pompous quality.
The solution is a balance between the two. Combine your head and chest voices so you achieve clarity and freshness (head voice) with authority and leadership (chest voice). The over-brightness of too much head voice, and the dullness of too much chest voice, are avoided as you create a balance that's both warm and intelligent. Tape yourself, and judge what you hear.
3. Relax Your Vocal Cords to Sound More Empathetic
Once you're breathing well and you know how to create a more balanced sound, pay attention to how relaxed your vocal cords are. The vocal cords (theh thyroarytenoid muscles) are actually folds of muscle in the larynx. When you speak, exhaled air activates these folds so they vibrate, producing sound waves that we hear as your voice.
Like any muscles in the body, the focal folds can become tight from tension and stress. We're all good at recognizing when our shoulders are tight. But what about when the same thing is happening in your throat?
You can easily test this yourself: Tighten your vocal cords when you speak and listen to the sound that emerges. Harsh, isn't it? Now relax them completely, using a soft, breathy, "loose" way of speaking. Your voice took on a warm, buttery sound, didn't it? You can overdo it, of course. But try making a relaxed voice more of a habit. You'll sound more empathetic.
4. Adjust Your Pace to Make Things Easy for Your Audience
If you're rushed as a speaker, you're putting pressure on your audience. They won't like it, and they won't feel comfortable.
You're also doing yourself a disservice. When you rush through your talk, your voice can't do its job. That includes coloring what you're saying, though emphasizing and de-emphasizing, pausing to create anticipation, slowing your speech to indicate the importance of key items, and all the other vocal effects that bring your intelligence and sensibility to the game. You're speaking in black and white, and not allowing listeners to understand your intentions. Here are 6 tips for pacing your presentation effectively.
5. Think in Terms of Connecting with Listeners
Recently, I worked with a client who is an anxious speaker. To compensate, this business owner composes her entire talks and delivers them from a meticulously written manuscript. (Here's how to speak from notes or a manuscript.)
What's wrong with this? Nothing, if you don't want your audience to feel like you're talking to them rather than reading from a script.
Your job as a speaker is always to establish a connection with your audience. When you look at people and relate to them, your voice suddenly sounds like that's what's happening. There's all the difference in the world between someone reading, and participating in a conversation. When you make the effort to talk to an audience that way, everyone hears the result. Your warmth, your personality, and all the rest of who you are begin to emerge. You and the audience will immediately hear when you're on the right wavelength.
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