To lead others, you need to give the impression you mean business. Here are three ways to literally get the sound of leadership into your voice.
Speaking with a figurative "leader's voice" is one thing. Imbuing your actual voice with the sound of leadership is another matter entirely.
That is, we often hear about the voice of a leader in terms of vision. But much depends upon your ability to actually speak in a way that compels attentiveness, trust, and respect. I'm talking of course about the sound of your voice and the power and presence you project.
Whatever audiences you talk to, you need to align your thoughts with others' needs, shape your message, and speak with clarity and persuasiveness. Learn how to communicate with the voice of a leader! Download my cheat sheet, "Leadership Skills: 5 Essential Speaking Techniques."
It's possible to be weak-voiced and lead a company or organization. But in ways large and small, people will perceive you differently—and be more willing to follow you—when you invest the sound of your voice with the attributes of leadership.
The Dangers of Underperforming Vocally
Recently I worked with a client for whom vocal performance had become an overriding concern. She held a senior position in her company and held frequent meetings with her team. It had become apparent to her and her boss, however, that her speaking style was undermining confidence in her leadership.
As a longtime Voice and Diction professor, I know this isn't a gender-specific issue. Both women and men may have problems concerning vocal dynamism. My current client had a "small" voice, which was both underpowered and too light in tone and strength for someone of her age and position. Indeed, when she first heard herself on tape in our initial session, she exclaimed, "I sound like a little girl!"
Skillful use of your voice helps you speak with consistency and credibility. Learn the essential techniques for making your voice come alive for listeners. Download my free cheat sheet, The 5 Key Tools of Vocal Dynamics.
When I first started working as a speech coach twenty-three years ago, a consultant called me because potential clients would question his level of experience in initial phone calls. "How long have you been doing this?" they would ask, and "How old are you?" When he walked into my office for the first time, I found myself facing a man in his 50s with white hair.
So there's no doubt that your voice impacts perceptions of you. Here are three ways you can attain more of the voice of authority if you feel your voice isn't carrying its weight in terms of your professional success.
Supporting Your Breath for Speaking Power
If your voice isn't giving the impression of power, it's not entirely your fault. We live in an age where we simply don't need to project our voices the way we once did. Few of us work outside now where our voices need to carry across distances, or even in the marketplace or public square where commerce and politics necessitated voices that carried.
It's all too easy now. Standing next to co-workers, or holding a cell phone two inches from our mouths have turned us into pale versions of the robust talkers we used to be. Yet to stand before your team in a meeting room or an audience in a conference hall is to grasp the need for your voice to convey both your message and your vitality as an influencer.
The place to start is with supported breath that can effortlessly project the fullness of your sound. Learn how to breath diaphragmatically. It is breath that creates the vocal energy you need to reach every part of your performance space, and to sound like you mean business. You literally need energy to energize listeners, and to make essential words heard. Remember: the most important words in English usually come at the end of the phrase. Invest yourself with full enough breath so you have the power to "punch" the idea or image embodied in those words.
Balancing Your Sound to Achieve Authority
One reason my recent client (and many others I've coached) had a voice that sounded too young is that she spoke with too much "head voice." A key distinction you should know about is the dichtomy between head voice and chest voice: one thin and lightweight, as if it consisted of air; and the other sounding as though it's been left in the basement like an old stuffed chair.
Each of these voices has advantages and disadvantages. A principally head voice sounds young, bright, intelligent and lively, though its sound doesn't carry well and possesses no authority. The chest-voice speaker, on the other hand, has ample supplies of that last characteristic, though he or she seems to lack spontaneity and has a "fuddy-duddy" sound.
As you might imagine, you shouldn't speak entirely with either of these approaches because of the above limitations. Rather, you need a balance between head and chest voice. That's what I worked on with my recent client. The idea was to display her intelligence and flexibility, while at the same time demonstrating her experience and authority. And she needed a more forceful voice that commanded attention. Tape yourself, and listen to whether you're at one or the other end of the head or chest voice continuum, and work toward a happy medium. Here are some specifics on how to develop a more powerful public speaking voice.
Coloring Your Voice for Maximum Expressiveness
Finally, when you have enough breath support to power and sustain your voice, and you're speaking with a mature and balanced sound, you can go for the gold. It's time to develop a vocal style that uses the full color palette of the emotions.
That's exactly how I sometimes present my case to clients: through the metaphor of colors. Too "pink" a voice, with work, can suddenly begin to reveal more "burgundy" tones reflecting the maturity and steadfastness of a leader. Speaking in grays is entirely possible, and my clients sometimes hear me tell them that's all the range of colors they're using. A too-sad voice may contain too many shades of brown, and so on.
Audiences need to hear the emotions that inform your attempts to persuade them. Every leader, then, should tap into the subtleties and nuances that a fully expressive voice lends them, from quiet tenderness to powerful calls to action. To get there, practice passages from fiction and poetry, which offer the greatest range of emotions to be expressed vocally. And listen to audio books read by voice actors, the performers par excellence in this field.
The above techniques will help lend you the voice of authority. Learn to use them and feel comfortable with them, as you inspire and influence those who look to you as a leader.
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