Ever find yourself unpleasantly surprised by someone you admired but had never heard speak in public? It's a disappointment, isn't it?
Yet it's also a reminder of a fact that can be helpful to you: people judge your ability, likability, and honesty (among other things) just by the quality of your voice.
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Your Voice Is a Key Factor in Business Success
You can be great at your job, but your success may be limited by a subpar vocal style. And who wants to be in that position?
Why is the human voice so important? Well, for one thing, people respond to your voice in ways that predate modern speech by tens of thousands of years. Critical factors in influencing people—including trustworthiness, credibility, expertise, and the ability to work well on a team—depend in part on how you sound when you speak to others.
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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 aspect of your business communication so that people will respond to you more positively.
1. Learn Diaphragmatic Breathing for a More Pleasant Sound
You probably know that diaphragmatic breathing the key skill in achieving a powerful voice. (It's also vital for reducing speech anxiety and nervousness.) Stage presence depends, in part, on having a voice that projects well and makes people sit up and listen.
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Good breathing also helps create a softer and more pleasant voice. If you have a harsh or nasal sound, 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? Now, fill up with air so your voice "floats" softly and pleasurably, with no harshness in evidence. You should be able to clearly hear the difference.
2. Balance Your Head and Chest Voice
Have you noticed speakers with "little voices," i.e., business professionals who sound like they're in their teens? That's an example of head voice, or speaking too thinly with the sound staying, well, in the head.
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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 below where you need it. This voice gives the impression of more wisdom in its user than a head voice does. But it can also be a "fuddy-duddy" voice with a pompous quality.
The solution is a balance between the two, that is, combining 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 listen.
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 (the 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. You're probably good at recognizing when your shoulders are tight. But what about when the same thing is happening in your throat?
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You can easily test this: 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 and caring.
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 emphasis and de-emphasis, pauses that crate anticipation, well-paced speech that lets key items be heard, and all the other vocal effects that bring intelligence and sensibility to your game.
5. Think in Terms of Connecting with Listeners
I don't think I need to work too hard to convince you that there's a different vocal sound to a speaker who's reading data, and one who is busy having a conversation with listeners. (All great speeches and presentations sound like conversations between speaker and audience.)
Your job as a speaker is always to establish a connection with listeners. When you relate to them rather than just throwing information their way, that's much more likely to take place. The difference is unmistakable. Your warmth, personality, and all the rest of who you are begins to emerge. You and the audience will immediately hear when you're on the right wavelength.
The article was previously published in this space. It is updated here.
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Gary Genard is an actor, author, and expert in public speaking and overcoming speaking fear. His company, The Genard Method offers live 1:1 Zoom executive coaching and corporate group training worldwide. In 2022 for the ninth consecutive year, Gary has been ranked by Global Gurus as One of the World’s Top 30 Communication Professionals. He is the author of the Amazon Best-Seller How to Give a Speech. His second book, Fearless Speaking, was named in 2019 as "One of the 100 Best Confidence Books of All Time." His handbook for presenting in videoconferences, Speaking Virtually offers strategies and tools for developing virtual presence in online meetings. His latest book is Speak for Leadership: An Executive Speech Coach's Secrets for Developing Leadership Presence. Contact Gary here.