It’s no secret that when it comes to persuading, cajoling, informing, and motivating listeners, the human voice reigns supreme. As corporate speechwriter Richard Dowis put it, “Words convey information, [but] nonverbal communications add meaning to the information.”
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Most of us tend to think of body language when we hear the term “nonverbal communication.” But nonverbal means exactly that: oral communication that doesn’t depend upon the words themselves, the verbal aspect of things. That’s the difference—and a great one it is!—between verbal and vocal.
How you say something, in other words, has a huge effect on how those words are received. In fact, the meaning itself can change.
The Vocal Aspect of Nonverbal Communication
Consider the following bare-to-the-bone bit of dialogue:
Person A: "Do you love me?"
Person B: "Of course I do."
Now, hear in your mind a perfunctory, barely-there response by Person B to the question asked, i.e., in a voice lacking in emotion. Compare that to a heartfelt reply instead—that is, the identical verbal response, but this time in a voice filled with emotion. Person A hears the same words in both cases, but what a world of different meaning is received!
Those of you who read this blog know I often speak about the need to do more than deliver content. In fact, when you use your voice well, you’re conveying a different type of information to your listeners. That information has to do with your intention, trustworthiness, motives, commitment to your ideas, and even your feelings about yourself and others.
How, then, can you use your voice effectively to move audiences the way you would like to?
Using Your Voice to Create a Response in Your Listeners
The reason we speak the way we do—passionately, excitedly, jokingly, with awe in our voice, or with a hundred other colorations—is not only to keep people interested, though our voice certainly should do that. It’s to create a response in listeners that echoes our own.
Amazed at something you saw? Sound like it when you speak and others will feel amazement as well. Proud of the new product your company is releasing? Your voice will help get salespeople on your wavelength so they can go out and sell it! Deeply worried about last quarter’s sales figures? Your team needs to hear that in your voice too.
Developing a More Expressive Speaking Voice
You may not need extensive public speaking training in using good vocal dynamics. The voice and speech improvement you’re looking for isn’t that difficult to achieve. But it does involve training your ear, and also recording yourself on audio and self-critiquing the results.
If you remember what I said above about using your voice to create a response in listeners similar to what you’re feeling, you’ll already have a good start. Below are a couple more practical ways to develop a fully expressive and productive voice.
Interested in learning more about how you can use this amazing communication tool? Click here for my e-Learning Guide, "Convince Listeners through the Power of Your Voice."
Practice Speaking in “Three Tiers”: If your voice naturally expresses important information differently from non-essential content, you may not have too much work to do here. But if you speak in a monotone, you need to take this instruction to heart.
Listeners are depending upon you, sometimes solely through your voice, to alert them concerning what’s vital in what you’re saying, versus what isn’t. Are you expressing an idea that’s of primary importance? Or are you giving supportive evidence or an illustration of that idea in action—which may be still of interest but of secondary importance? Parenthetical statements (of the type we call “thrown away” in the theater), usually announce that they're in the tertiary or lowest tier.
You don’t have to memorize any of this, or even consciously think about it much. But your voice (from the listeners’ perspective) should clearly differentiate between levels of importance in what you're saying. Try it yourself when you finish reading this blog by recording your last talk or an upcoming presentation. As you listen, ask yourself: Would your audience gain the understanding you’re aiming for? Or are you speaking in a monotone that flat-lines their engagement and grasp of what you’re trying to get across?
Storytelling: If all of this is too technical for you, here’s another avenue for developing a more expressive voice: think in terms of telling a story. Storytelling has many virtues in terms of audience interest, engagement, and retention of key messages, of course. But it’s also one of the most seamless ways to make your voice come alive.
When you’re telling a story, the narrative itself helps your voice assume all the color it needs to enliven and enrich your tale. Important elements—the immediate, exciting stuff—effortlessly become clear. And when you give secondary detail that supports the forward drive of the story, it sounds like that’s what you’re doing. Believe me, it takes an effort to speak in a monotone if you’re telling a story that interests you.
Does all of this make it sound like you should be reframing your bullet points into an exciting story that will thrill your business audience? Yeah, I think so too.
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 Richard Dowis The Lost Art of the Great Speech (New York: Amacom, 2000), 211.