Check out my new piece in Inc.com by Jeff Haden: 5 Easy Ways to Eliminate Stress and Perform Your Best
Close your eyes and “hear” a “Radio Voice”. Can you instantly recall someone whose voice is so melodic, deep, rich, that you are compelled to listen, even if you aren’t interested in the topic – even if s/he is speaking in a foreign language?
Now, just as quickly, recall a voice that creates a similar reaction in your body as the sound of scraping your fingers across a chalkboard – shouldn’t take too long!
What is it that about voice that creates such a visceral reaction in us?
According to Schirmer and Kotz:” “Whether we think someone is scared or annoyed greatly depends upon the sound of his or her voice . . . (Emotional) Arousal mediated changes in heart rate, blood flow and muscle tension, among other things, modulate the shape, functionality and sound of the vocal production system.”
It’s not always true that someone is in a heightened emotional state because there are a number of factors including genetics, illness, injury which can result in a tense voice. But we will always subconsciously react to tension with distrust or at least put ourselves on alert that something may not be right.
Trust -> Influence -> Impact
As mentioned in my previous Presence Point, there are always two conversations taking place, the verbal and the nonverbal. The nonverbal occurs a split second before the verbal and will be unconsciously believed every time.
We want to do many things to our audiences: delight them, entertain them, inform them, educate them, influence and persuade them – we never want to distract or confuse them. Vocal quality is one way of totally engaging your audience or totally turning them off. This is particularly important on the phone or in virtual meetings when all people have in order to “read” your nonverbal intentions are your voice.
How to use your Voice as a Secret Weapon
The use of vocal variety, rhythm and range are commonly associated with charisma, confidence, power and enthusiasm. Posture and breathing are critical in conveying openness, confidence and trust. A full, resonant voice results from a relaxed, full breath pumping through a relaxed and open vocal tract. Try some of these:
- In Winning Body Language, Mark Bowden describes how vocal tone is calm and confident when assuming posture and gestures in the TruthPlane: “keep your hands totally level in a horizontal plane that potentially spreads out a full 180° from the center point of your belly button and goes out and beyond your personal space” p. 51. If your audience is too excited, or you want to emphasize an important point, you can decrease the energy level by letting your hands drop straight down by your sides and standing still (the GrotesquePlane). Your vocal tone will naturally drop also and can be perceived as commanding, particularly if loud. Be careful, however, because continuously speaking in a loud, commanding voice can create distrust, as the lack of gesture/movement doesn’t match the intensity of vocal volume. Conversely, if you maintain this as your primary posture without being loud, you may actually depress your audience and put them to sleep with your deep, down-turned vocal tone.
- In virtual meetings, or on the phone, it is particularly effective to use gesture, to move your body slightly and deliberately to portray interest and energy in your vocal quality. (Caution: people can “hear” you if you pace or shuffle things around. It’s very distracting.)
Rhythm, cadence, resonance, inflection
- Pitch is subjective but typically a high pitch is perceived as immaturity, less authority. Breathiness can signal intimacy, but can provoke distrust. Deeper voices are typically perceived as more authoritative. Harsh or nasal vocal qualities are distracting. Check out some tips here.
- Vocal variety signals someone who is open, interested and interesting. A slow, measured tempo with frequent pauses conveys confidence. The typical rate of conversational speech is from 120 – 140 words per minute (wpm). Newscasters speak at @ 220 wpm. A speech rate of @160 wpm conveys “expertise” so it can be very effective to speed up for important points and then slow down again to engage trust (faster than 160 and we think we are being sold a bill of goods).
- Vary the length of your sentences to create and sustain interest.
- Dropping your voice at the end of a statement, particularly one that you want to emphasize, creates the sense of command, authority, and expertise. Compare this with the upturned “question mark” rising inflection at the end of a sentence, which can diminish power, certainty and authority.
- Silence is golden.
- Eye Contact, before we speak, is the most powerful form of body language we have in face-to-face interactions in Western cultures. Without it you have reduced trust. This is what can make virtual meetings a challenge. As speakers, we must establish eye contact: 5 seconds of direct, but soft, gaze is normal, 10 can be exaggerated for effect (longer than 10 seconds gets creepy). Looking a picture of a loved one during meetings dramatically alters your vocal quality.
- Pauses. Studies show that too much talking can overwhelm people’s ability to process information – strategically inserted pauses are highly effective.
Are you using your nonverbal secret weapons for maximum impact?
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