Do you feel like you lose your 'voice' when talking to your boss or the CEO? Here's how to tell a story so you look good to senior leadership!
Does it scare you to present to your boss or senior leadership? Do you think they're going to pick you apart and leave your white bones glistening in the sun?
As I heard someone say recently, "Come on, man!" These people are on your side, and they want exactly what you want: worthwhile communication for the good of the organization.
That didn't help, did it? Of course you understand that the C-suite isn't out to pick your bones. (If you're the CEO, substitute "board" for "C-suite.) But knowing that intellectually doesn't mean you feel that way, does it?
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When the spotlight is on you (hey, that's a good thing!), that's the time you need your voice to be heard—literally and figuratively. Let's talk about your actual voice, and using it to a) sound more passionate, and b) make your best impression.
If You're Pitching Ideas, You'd Better Use Pitch
Ever listen to someone whose pitch never varies and uses what we call a "monotone"? Of course you have. And isn't it hard to stay tuned in to a voice like that? Plateaus aren't too interesting to look at compared to mountain ranges, which offer peaks and valleys. Likewise, important ideas and emotions demand a varied vocal landscape! And that means using the vocal tool par excellence for a varied and interesting voice: pitch inflection.
"Pitch" in this sense means highness or lowness on the musical scale; and to "inflect" the voice means to send it upward or downward. Most of the time, we think of inflection as raising our pitch. But lowering it can work equally well, because it's the change that matters. The human ear, like the eye, prefers variety to sameness. So, a surefire way to get senior leadership to listen to you (literally) is by using adequate pitch inflection.
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In fact, you have another vocal tool at your command that is custom-made to pair with changes in pitch: emphasis or "punching" key words and phrases. Combine the two tools—emphasize or punch a word or phrase while changing your pitch—and voila!, you've just created a peak that everyone will be aware of. Merely hitting important words doesn't perform the whole trick. Add inflection (either up or down) and your idea will come vividly to life.
Tapping Into Your Natural Voice
How do you get this all-important skill of pitch inflection going, and equally important, hear yourself doing it? I suggest two ways. The first is to record yourself on audio. Don't videotape or screen record yourself. If you remove the visual, so you're only listening to your presentation, you'll pay 100% attention to your voice. If you don't have any trouble understanding which words and terms should be inflected and can hear yourself making progress, this way of improving your inflection will serve your needs.
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The second approach should be used if you have trouble hearing the difference between emphasis and pitch. Some people fall into this category, and so end up just punching every important word. It's tough for them to recognize what pitch inflection sounds like in terms of their own voice. Because of this difficulty, they become convinced that varying their pitch is a skill they simply don't possess.
I almost always disagree with a client who comes to this conclusion. I ask them to consider how they sound when they're among friends or colleagues; when their guard is down; when they're taking about something exciting; or are having an argument with someone. At those times, I'm willing to bet that their voices reflect their thoughts and emotions just fine. It's when they speak on "serious" business topics that their inflection flattens out.
It's Story Time . . . So Go Grab a Children's Book!
It's at this point that I bring out some children's books. Most of us have either read stories aloud to young children, or at least have heard how it's done. The truth is, we inflect our voices like crazy when reading to a child: "Mommy, look! The nest has TWO BABY ROBINS in it!" We know instinctively that this is how to read a storybook to children, and we do it automatically. What great news this is for hearing ourselves use pitch inflection!
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If you feel that you just can't make your voice more expressive when speaking to senior leadership, this exercise is the proof that you can. Record yourself reading out loud from an actual children's book, just as you would to a 4- or 5-year-old. Then listen. You will almost certainly prove to yourself that you can in fact use pitch inflection to enliven your voice.
Then go one step further, and read the actual presentation you're going to present out loud as though it were a children's book story, exaggerated inflection and all. Just remember to come back to earth for your actual presentation! If you find yourself smiling as you imagine the C-suite or the board as children to be read to . . . well, who am I to argue?
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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.