That's a question you should be asking yourself, all of the time. There's a figurative aspect to it, of course—your "true voice" that you want people to hear. But there's also the physical aspect of speaking with enough power and command that everyone present is compelled to pay attention and be persuaded. Also important is the need to speak with a healthy voice, and that can effortlessly reach listeners without strain. Those are the aspects of successful speaking that I'd like to discuss in today's blog.
To move listeners to a positive response every time you speak, download my essential sheet sheet,"5 Key Tools of Vocal Dynamics."
“Why Don't We Stand?”
Let's begin with the choice of standing vs. sitting when you speak, because it's important in terms of producing a powerful voice. I conducted a workshop in presentation skills recently where this decision was an important one for more than one speaker.
The group I was training was a team of negotiators. They typically sit across a table from their counterparts on the other side of their industry, and contend with each other (there's really no other word for it) in difficult discussions. That's to say, they don't deliver formal presentations.
I was genuinely surprised to learn that some of these negotiators had soft voices that would lull any listener into inattention. So I discussed techniques of compelling attention, including projecting the voice and employing movement and gestures. (I had mentioned earlier that given the choice, I always stand when I'm presenting, since it's an excellent way to compel attention.) One of the trainees suddenly wondered aloud: "Why don't we stand? We always present our data sitting down!"
In fact, though it may not always be possible for this negotiating team, it's worth remembering that if you can use your full body for public speaking, you should do so. As a compromise for this workshop's participants who spoke softly, I had them improve their sitting posture and use better breath support to power their voices. That, too, is a reliable technique for a more imposing sound.
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If You're Not Breathing Diaphragmatically, You're Not Breathing for Speech
Breathing appropriately, then, in a core technique for more powerful and persuasive speech. What does that mean? It has to do with breathing for speech, rather than breathing for life.
All of us know how to breathe, of course; but few of us are using breath productively to create a voice appropriate for persuasive speaking. Passive or vegetative breathing frequently takes place in the upper chest and is sufficient to sustain life.
To project powerfully with enough breath to last until the end of phrases, however, more is needed: we need to breathe diaphragmatically or to "belly breathe." The reservoir of air this makes available helps create a resonant voice with the sound of authority. And of course, a fully energized voice more easily conveys an impression of power.
There's also another important benefit to breathing diaphragmatically: the creation of well supported sound that helps keep the voice healthy. With a full reservoir of air, your voice is projected sufficiently. There's no need to strain to be heard by tightening the throat, which leads to vocal strain and a rapid loss of strength, sometimes even resulting in hoarseness. Breathing by using the diaphragmatic avoids the habit of shallow breathing, which often results in an overuse of the vocal cords to compensate when the "cushion" of air is absent.
First Circle, Second Circle, Third Circle
For the last of today's solutions for speaking with more power and influence, I'd like to share with you a concept I learned at the acting academy I trained at in London: the idea of the Three Circles. In this concept, you focus on energy rather than breath. This is how it works:
When you speak, you need to create enough energy to reach listeners in one of three spheres. "First Circle" is the intimate space, or a distance of only inches. The vocal energy you expend need only be small (we won't discuss the emotional energy involved in this space!).
"Second Circle" is the interpersonal space, conversational space, or the distance between you and, say, colleagues you speak to at the office. It requires more vocal energy since the distance may be a few feet rather than inches, and therefore, results in more vocal power. "Third Circle" is the performance space—it's you giving a speech, delivering a presentation, speaking at a conference, etc. To reach a real audience in terms of projected power and presence, the energy you expend must be greater than in the other circles.
Breathe diaphragmatically, support your sound through posture and full body engagement where possible, and use an appropriate level of energy. In terms of physical approaches to speaking with power and persuasiveness, there's no better way to make sure your voice is heard.
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