Blog – Train your Voice: Resonate with Confidence
After over a year of trying to make your presence felt in online meetings, it can be tempting to feel that you are becoming increasingly invisible to the outside world. What better way to kick start your confidence as the physical workplace slowly revives than to do some work on your main asset – your voice.
Stewart Theobald, Director of Talking Shop Training, ran a CamAWiSE workshop in May to demonstrate how your voice can be the perfect tool for persuasive and effective communication. Even online, the resonance of your voice can make you seem more authoritative and credible. Margaret Thatcher famously deepened her voice by “sitting back” on the voicebox (larynx) to achieve this, but as Stewart aimed to persuade us, we can do better than that!
Stewart first polled the participants on the issues that they would like to solve. These ranged from excess nerves, keeping the voice steady, verbal tics (“you know”, “like”), volume, projection and my personal bête noire – ums and ers.
First up was a short biology lesson on the physiology of the voice. Air flows up from the lungs through the larynx, which vibrates. The sound is amplified in the area behind your tongue (the pharynx) and travels out through your nose and mouth. Your voice sets off secondary resonances in the bony areas in your face and in the rest of your body. Essentially, the more relaxed and at ease you are, the more resonance you will have in your body. The two things that affect the volume of your voice are the resonance you achieve and the amount of breath you exhale.
Chest versus diaphragmatic breathing
If you put your hand on your chest and abdomen, which one moves first when you breathe? About 80% of us breathe into the chest before the abdomen, which is the reverse of the natural process. Chest breathing means you have to work harder to talk, making it more difficult to get to the end of the long sentence. To achieve a bigger vocal volume, the simplest remedy is to try breathing exercises to enhance your abdominal breathing.
Speaking with authority
Authority comes from greater resonance in your voice. While you are speaking, check where you can feel the sound vibrating. Is it the mask of your face, the top of your head or in your chest and rib cage? Vibrations from the body are perceived as having a more authoritative voice. Essentially, this tells people that you are relaxed and confident which means they trust you more. Lighter, higher voices resonate in the head.
The key to instilling confidence in others is to find your natural voice, as people will trust that more than an obviously fake or forced one.
Tackling the nerves
“We are not born nervous,” explained Steward. “We have acquired a habit of making ourselves nervous. In a situation that makes us nervous, our mind feeds signals to our body, which are then reflected in our voice, making a feedback loop back to our state of mind.
“If you are truly in the moment, you can’t get nervous but it’s not easy to achieve that,” warned Stewart. “Relaxing the body tells the mind that everything is ok. Changing your mindset changes your physiology and vice versa. If you can stop the first symptom of nerves from happening, you may not feel nervous.”
“The first step is to believe it can be done – what you believe to be true, is true.”
Variety in your voice
As a habitual conference attendee, I’ve certainly seen the effects of nerves about public speaking over the years, both experiencing them myself and seeing someone literally pass out mid-talk. Another challenge is making an otherwise confident speaker actually interesting to listen to. According to Steward, there are four elements that bring variety to your voice, known as the four ‘P’s – pace, pause, power and pitch.
Pace – The quicker you move, the faster you speak. A slower pace lends gravitas and gives people time to reflect on what you are saying. A rapid pace gives power and energy to your message and is more likely to be directly absorbed rather than thought about. Control your pace by adjusting your movements or lengthening vowels.
Pause – Pauses should vary in length and frequency. Once you’re in a repetitive rhythm, people stop listening. Remember that stillness and silence are really powerful. The most important pause is the first one before you start speaking. We tend to dislike silence, so we use filler words or ums and ers to plug the gaps. Replace those with a different habit – a swallow, a breath in, a drop of the shoulders, a shift of weight or a look at the audience. To make a point memorable, pause just before you say it, then pause slightly longer after you’ve said it.
Power – Every space has an ideal minimum and maximum volume. We’ve all listened to speakers who appear to be shouting uncomfortably loudly, or can barely be heard. Use the whole of that reasonable volume range for the space you are in. Overall, slow and quiet is reflective, fast and loud is full of energy.
Pitch and tone. We can recognise a slightly unnatural rise and fall in pitch and tone when we hear it. However, if you are connected to your subject and passionate about it, you will naturally express that through the rise and fall of your tone. This is harder to control compared to the other three ‘p’s but you can do vocal warm up exercises, such as a ‘siren’ noise. Think about what you want your audience to feel when they hear your words, and feel it too as you speak.
Take home message
To come across as a natural speaker and an authentic leader, relax, think about your breathing, check your resonance, articulate your speech carefully and warm up your voice beforehand.
“Remember that you engage your audience in two ways, intellectually and emotionally,” summarised Stewart. “Think about the key words in your speech that you want to have the biggest impact. When you welcome people to a talk, say it like you really mean it. For longer speeches, you don’t have to practice the whole thing but find one word or phrase in a paragraph that you want people to remember and just rehearse that.”
For me, the take home message is definitely to keep in mind the four Ps – pitch, pace, power and pause. And there should probably be another one – practice!
CamAWiSE would like to thank Stewart for his informative and engaging workshop.
Connect with Talking Shop Training for your Voice Coaching.