Voices Carry More than Words

April 10, 2014

use your voice to project power

When I started my first job as a TV reporter, my skills as a narrator left a lot to be desired.  So much so that the news director sent me to a voice coach, who was kind, but no-nonsense.  She greeted me with this observation: “Remember, Greg, you have no charm.”

After my initial shock wore off, I asked what she meant.  “Make the audience come to you, don’t reach out so much.”

The best speakers are not necessarily the most humble.  They’re not arrogant, but they are certainly not modest either.  The tacit message underlying the spoken words is “Listen to me, or you’ll miss something.”

One key technique is to use your voice as a FONT when you want to emphasize key points.  Sometimes it’s roman; sometimes it’s bold; and sometimes it’s bold, underlined and italic

 Note that you can convey different attitudes without cranking up the volume — merely by adjusting your pitch and speed.  The more slowly you utter the essential messages, the more emphatic you’ll sound.

The human voice, which is controlled by the laryngeal nerve, “has some of the most complex and dense wiring in the body, roughly fifty times as dense as the nerves to the hand or the tongue,” according to a recent article in the New Yorker profiling Dr. Steven Zeitels, a surgeon specializing in vocal repairs at Mass General Hospital.  The ligaments and muscles around the voice box stretch like an elastic band, with the ability to rev up from 75 to 1,500 vibrations a second “almost instantaneously.”  In everyday speech, men’s vocal cords vibrate at a rate of about 100 times a second – producing a more “bassy” sound; women’s at about 200 times a second, with more soprano results.

This entire apparatus has been called a column of air made meaningful by the vocal cords.  Yes, the breath is the foundation of the voice.  Do this exercise now: place your palm about an inch in front of your mouth and count to 10 out loud.  Feel the air hitting your skin?  Now try to speak without exhaling.  Impossible, right?

You need to learn to breathe from the diaphragm, literally taking in a belly full of air, before you speak with proper diction and emphasis.

Also, remember to breathe on the punctuation marks – the commas, periods and dashes – and not elsewhere.

Do not be afraid to let your personality show.  You know your subject.  You’ve researched it.  So proclaim your thoughts with attitude.  Feel the words in your mouth as you speak.

On the other hand, don’t smack expressive words too much.  The language has been around longer than you have, and it does a lot of the work for you.

Don’t turn a statement into a question with rising intonation.  Make a bold, declarative assertion, with intonation that would look like this:  “This ad will be novel and exciting.”

If your voice rises sharply at the end of the sentence, you will sound as if as you are asking question and seeking reassurance:

“This ad will be   ….. novel and exciting?”

It’s all in the in-to-na-tion – the way the pitch in your voice rises and falls — for men and women.  In fact, a new study by Kathleen Dolan shows that voters prefer the candidate of either gender with the lower voice: “Low voices are just more pleasing,” she says.  “Think Barry White versus Pee-wee Herman.”

In any case, remember: you have no charm.

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About The Author

Greg Stone spent many years as a journalist so he brings those “street credentials” to every assignment. He began his career as a writer at Time Inc. in New York, and later worked as a TV reporter in Minneapolis, Boston, and on PBS. His professional honors include three Emmy nominations. Turning down an offer to anchor at CNN in New York, Greg founded Stone Communications in 1989. Since then he has conducted numerous media and presentation skills workshops for high-level executives at Fidelity, IBM and 3M; deans at Harvard University; rocket scientists at the Smithsonian; senior managers at the LA Dodgers; and three spokespeople facing interviews on “60 Minutes.” As a recognized expert, he has guest-lectured on media relations at Harvard Business School. Greg has also written and directed hundreds of video productions for clients such as Coca-Cola, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Johns Hopkins Medical School and Stop & Shop. He earned an AB with honors from Harvard University, followed by two master’s degrees from Columbia University in journalism and business.

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