Does your voice have the power to influence others? Here are 4 proven ways to improve your voice for public speaking (and business)!
In my Voice and Speech Improvement course, clients often make dramatic improvements in how they speak for business. In fact, just being exposed to the advantages of using the voice effectively can be eye-opening (or ear-opening).
Practice is the key. And that is where a theater-based approach comes into its own. Dramatic performance teaches you how to externalize what you're thinking or feeling in a way that allows audiences to "get it." The best stage acting training is all about how to use your physical instrument. And of all the tools of spoken performance, the voice is the most powerful.
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Vocal improvement takes time, however. You've spent many years developing your vocal habits, and you need time to gain new habits. So, at the end of my executive coaching course, I always share a blueprint for continued personal growth in voice improvement. And though specifics will differ for individual clients, I always include the four-part prescription below.
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1. Pay Attention to Other Speakers' Voices
Understanding and practicing effective vocal skills raises your consciousness. Most on-the-job speakers focus on areas other than the voice as they prepare their pitches, remarks at meetings, speeches and presentations. Content is usually king (unfortunately). Even worse, they've never had systematic training in oral communication skills (our schools simply don't provide it). They have no idea of what constitutes the best techniques for moving audiences.
Once you've been turned on to the importance of your speaking voice, however, there's no turning back. Importantly, you also have day-to-day opportunities to listen and learn. Apart from listening to the content of others' presentations, pay attention to the part their voice plays. Are critical points highlighted vocally, i.e., through emphasis, pitch inflection, a different vocal quality, or a change of pace (among other choices)?
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Here's a question to ask yourself: would the average listener be distracted by this person's voice? If that's the case, it's a red flag. What you're generally listening for is whether the person's voice is serving the needs of the presentation, which is to say, serving the listeners. And remember: you can learn as much from poor speakers as from good ones!
2. Listen to Audiobooks
This is an under-appreciated path for vocal learners. But I believe it's a good one. There's the obvious advantage of convenience and portability. Much more importantly, though, you'll also find some of the best uses of the speaking voice on the planet here.
Among the top performers in audiobooks are voice actors—people who specialize in this form. If you've ever listened to a recorded novel where a dozen or twenty characters are portrayed effectively (i.e., vocally) by one voice actor, you'll realize the talent involved. More than anything, audiobooks help you understand the scope of vocal variety that is possible—some of which you should definitely be using.
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You'll also realize that some voice actors are famous in the form, and worth seeking out for your next listen. One caution: don't rely only on star quality. Some famous movie and TV actors record audiobooks who aren't very good at it. Instead, find someone who you know is good, and feast your ears.
3. Record Yourself Using Audio Only
We all know that visuals in presentations are seductive. It's the whole idea behind PowerPoint and other slide decks. And of course, there are situations where a photo, graph, chart, demonstration, spreadsheet, or other visual component is essential. The most important visual, though, is you. And believe me, people are paying attention. It is axiomatic, then: the visual component needs to be lessened if you're going to focus wholly on what you're hearing.
Here's what will happen if you don't do so. Let's say you practice a presentation while videotaping or screen-recording yourself. When you play the clip back, you'll watch yourself more than you listen to your voice. It's a natural response, since your brain is wired to process visual input more readily than auditory data.
To get around this problem, record yourself on audio only instead of videotaping; and if you're practicing virtually, turn off the camera. When you remove the visual, your brain will adjust, zeroing in on the vocal. For the same reason, don't read your speaking notes or manuscript while you are listening. Make it 100% audio. In virtual meetings where I'm working with a client on voice, I simply have both of us choose "Stop video." On playback, we're forced to give our focus and attention where it needs to be.
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4. Hear How You Sound in Comfortable Situations
This is where you can become your best friend in terms of vocal improvement. In fact, it's not going to far to say that you can teach yourself as much as your voice coach can!
The reason is that, when it comes to speaking for business, too many of us become, well, too business-like. Here's why: we understand that business is serious. We have an important job to do in discussing this topic, and we have to bear down. No more playing around!
The vocal consequence of all that bearing down is that we tend to "iron out" all the variety and inherent interest in our voice. What we're really doing, though, is shrinking our persona, because our real voice is such a vital part of our performance! The close connection between what we really think and feel and how we sound as we express ourselves, is lost. No wonder we sound like a talking head spitting out data!
There's another you, though, and I invite you to meet him or her again. You can do so by paying attention to how you sound in situations where you're not self-conscious and trying to do well. That means non-business situations. This is the you who chats with family or friends, at a cookout, telling a joke, talking about an exciting movie, and yes, arguing with your partner. In these situations, precisely because you're not thinking about it, your true voice reveals itself.
That's the voice with all the life in it, with blood pumping through its veins! It's exactly the one you need when you are advocating or persuading or inspiring people. The only way you'll ever do those things is to gain an easy and unimpeded link between who you are and what you're trying to say. That's the voice we all want—indeed, need—to hear.
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Gary Genard is an actor, author, and expert in public speaking training and overcoming speaking fear. His company, Boston-based The Genard Method offers live 1:1 Zoom executive coaching and corporate group training worldwide. In 2021 for the eighth consecutive year, Gary has been ranked by Global Gurus as One of the World’s Top 30 Communication Professionals. He is the author of the Amazon Best-Seller How to Give a Speech. His second book, Fearless Speaking, was named in 2019 as "One of the 100 Best Confidence Books of All Time." His latest book is The Online Meetings Handbook, now available at The Genard Method and at Amazon. To know more about TGM's services, Contact Gary here.