Does your public speaking help you move listeners and accomplish your business goals? Here's how to improve your voice to speak more powerfully.
Let's consider one of your most attractive qualities for succeeding in business.
Yes, that's right: I'm talking about your voice.
Surprised? Did you ever listen to someone, male or female, and think: "I could listen to this person all day long"?
What's that about? Well, I think it has to do with the primal, unconscious responses we all have to this amazing tool. The human voice is unsurpassed when it comes to flexibility, subtlety, warmth, power, and many other qualities for communicating with others.
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In fact, I believe it's the most valuable performance tool you own for public speaking. Yet if you're not bothered by the quality of your voice, you may only think about it fleetingly from time to time. Let's remedy that situation, at least for the time it takes you to read this article.
Creating a Powerful and Authoritative Voice
If you speak in public, you know that listeners make judgments about you quickly—since your voice, it seems, announces some things about you right away. "Seems," because the qualities that people hear in your vocalization may not represent you accurately at all.
On the other hand, it's easy to hear power and authority in a speaker's voice—or the lack thereof. In fact, when we speak about "the sound of leadership," vocal attributes are literally part of the equation. As a leader, your voice needs to carry, be well supported (i.e., keep the sound of the words buoyant without sinking or trailing away), and reflect maturity and experience.
If your voice is to reflect power, however, it has to have the right quality. You won't acquire an authoritative sound by shouting out your ideas and drowning out everyone else. The way you create that kind of sound is by breathing the right way, i.e., using your diaphragm to create a full reservoir of air to support and project your voice.
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How to Keep Your Voice Attractive
Controlled breathing is essential for increasing your power and authority while keeping your voice attractive. Here's what typically happens instead:
To give their voice more power, many people simply start speaking louder. There's a difference. You can increase the sheer volume by tightening your vocal cords and, well, basically yelling. But it will sound harsh; and over time, will strain and even damage the folds of muscle in your voice box. Worst of all, the quality of your voice will change. It will lose all warmth and become strident. This isn't the path to becoming a pleasant and trusted speaker.
Instead, use diaphragmatic breathing. The idea here is first, to gather enough air; and second, project it outwards. That is, you should actually pull your diaphragm inward, which forces a stronger column of air up your throat toward your voice box.
Simple physics tells us that more force (a strong column of air rushing upwards) will move the vocal cords more, creating more powerful sound waves. If this is done while keeping your throat open rather than tight and straining, the result is a voice that achieves power while remaining attractive. And you'll still get the sound out to where it needs to go.
Using Energy To Reach All Your Listeners
The key is increasing the energy that's driving the sound, not just creating greater volume. To sum up: to achieve a more powerful voice, think in terms of the energy you direct outward (through diaphragmatic breathing), without trying to make the sound louder. You'll accomplish that task while still sounding like you.
Here's a trick to make this easier to visualize: Think of the total area between you and the people farthest away from you in the audience. Every person (including you) within that space is enclosed in an invisible bubble. You must now "fill" that bubble with your voice. You can't talk too softly or those in the back won't hear you; but you mustn't blow away the listeners close to you with a voice aimed principally at listeners in the last row.
Find the balance that will make your voice authoritative yet accessible. That's your mission . . . should you decide to accept it.
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Gary Genard is an actor, author, and expert in theater-based public speaking training. His company, Boston-based The Genard Method offers in-person and online training to help executives and teams become extraordinary communicators. 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.