How important is the sound of your voice on the phone? It’s always a contributing factor in how people perceive you and grasp your intentions, of course. But in some cases, your voice constitutes your entire persona in the minds of listeners.
So when it comes to doing business, you're taking a considerable risk by ignoring the qualities you project vocally. Let’s talk about the factors at play in vocal presence via the phone, and some of the ways you can improve your skills and impact.
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Your Voice Rules when Visuals Are Absent
It doesn’t take too much reflection to realize we're living in an increasingly visual world. From television to movies to the Internet to video games, we are constantly bombarded by visual imagery. And we respond.
At the same time, a huge component of our response to the world has always depended—and still depends—upon what we hear. I’m talking here in evolutionary terms.
Consider, for instance, that according to the experts, oral communication preceded writing by around 45,000 years. And nonverbal communication surely came before anything verbal. That means we’re all hard-wired to respond to vocal cues apart from the words being spoken. I think of this influence as a fast-flowing “river” that runs underneath everything we’re saying.
This is easy to understand, because we’ve all experienced it thousands of times. In any conflict between nonverbal communication and verbal content, for instance, you’re much more likely to buy into the nonverbal message. Think of someone who shakes their head “No” even though they’re saying yes! The world's foremost researcher into facial expressions and emotions, Paul Ekman, has even educated us about “micro expressions”—fleeting facial expressions that last for only a fraction of a second but reveal the true feelings and intentions of the speaker. Learn more in Ekman's book Emotions Revealed.
Now think about the phone conversations and conference calls that are an everyday part of your business. Most of the time, visuals are completely absent in these encounters. And in the absence of any rich visual clues, listeners will focus strongly on your voice. If you don’t have control of your nonverbal expression and know how to use your voice effectively, you’ll be short-changing yourself in terms of accomplishing your goals.
Your Outgoing Phone Message and the Messages You Leave
Consider for a moment how many customers, clients, prospects, and stakeholders experience you on the phone before ever getting to meet you in person. Ask yourself how many doors a good phone voice will open for you . . . or how many it may close.
Follow that up with these two important questions. 1) What impression are you making over the phone and in conference calls? 2) What’s your vocal phone presence doing for your standing in your industry or community?
Here are just a few of the variables people may equate with you or what you’re saying just from the sound of your voice on the phone:
- Stress level
- Clarity of thought
- Sense of humor
Without trying to embody all those qualities (as Ron Weasley said in one of the Harry Potter movies, “It would make your head explode!”), ask yourself if your outgoing message gives the impression you want it to. Do you even listen to your outgoing message to get a sense of what others are hearing? If not, you need to! You can also practice leaving messages on your own business line to see how you’re doing on that end of the deal. And here's a link to what youshouldn't say--my free cheat sheet on "25 Words or Phrases to Avoid in Speeches and Presentations."
9 Strategies for Improving Your Vocal Presence
Given the weight your voice carries in phone communication, here are nine strategies you can use to improve your vocal presence.
1. Qualities: Write out the characteristics you want your voice to embody. Now think about how you can achieve those qualities vocally. Try things, and play with different approaches. Absent an acting course, you've probably never had the opportunity to explore the flexibility in your own voice. Go ahead and do so now, using your smart phone’s voice recorder or any other taping device.
2. Posture: Sit up so that your vocal and breathing apparatus are free and ready to serve your voice production. Nothing is as easy yet detrimental to a good voice as sitting round-shouldered in front of your computer or phone.
3. Headset: Consider using one. When I’m talking to clients, prospects, reporters, or giving radio interviews, I always stand and speak through a headset-and-mic combination. Doing so frees me to use body language and amplifying gestures which listeners can hear in my voice. And yes, consider using a headset even for that brief outgoing message. For more, here's my blog on why you should use body language when speaking remotely or virtually.
4. Jot down some notes: In both your outgoing message and the messages you leave for others, take a moment to write down some key words or phrases concerning what you want to convey. Don’t create a script, though. The more you write, the more you’ll read—so don’t give yourself that temptation.
5. State your name and telephone number slowly and clearly: Please, please, please do this! It’s surprising and alarming (in terms of consequences) how many people sprint-rush-or-mumble their own name and phone number in messages. Yes, you’ve heard those particular sound combinations thousands of times in your life; but your listeners haven’t. Why invite an important contact to feel annoyed with you at the start by having to listen two or three times to an incomprehensible name or phone number?
6. Take time with the name of your company. I recently conducted training for a law firm in conveying pitches for business. You know what I’m going to say now, don’t you? — Yes, there were four names and ten syllables involved every time someone from that firm leaves a recorded message, and it's one of the things I made sure we practiced in the workshop. Talk about flying through the firm’s name! It was obvious that this was common practice at that law firm, given how everyone in the workshop laughed when I brought it up.
7. Work on your flow. Conciseness is essential in voice messages, and so is the flow of your conversation. Is the message you leave choppy, ragged, with occasional awkward pauses? Work on getting what you say flowing smoothly so it sounds professional and effortless. Hm, I like the sound of how you're doing that already!
8. Listen for vocal fillers. You know these pests: “um,” “uh,” “er,” “like,” “you know,” “right,” “okay,” and others. The only way to get yourself out of this habit of vocal clutter is to record yourself, become aware of your habit, and slowly train yourself to clean up your speech. Start (in your rehearsals) by taking as much time as you need to get comfortable with silence before you say the next word. It may not sound realistic, but you’ll be teaching yourself to trust silence.
9. Watch out for “up-speak”! If you haven’t heard this term before, up-speak is a vocal style in which every utterance seems to end as a question. Valley Girl speech is another label for this way of speaking. It makes everything you say sound tentative, as if you’re constantly seeking approval. If you’re young, the chances are much increased that you may speak using this habit. But it may plague you even if you’re older. If you don’t realize you’re doing this, recording yourself and listening with an open mind can raise your awareness wonderfully.
Your voice is your most important tool for persuading, informing, and motivating others! Isn't it time you discovered how to use it effectively? Learn the secrets of speaking powerfully for personal and professional success. Get my essential learning guide, "Convince Listeners through the Power of Your Voice."
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