The way you speak is central to the impact you make. You can develop a way of speaking which adds to your professional presence and which places you in the category of people who make an impact and should be taken seriously.
Here are five steps to using your voice to create a positive impression.
You might think that speaking quickly shows engagement and reflects the speed of your dynamic thought processes, but it’s actually more effective to speak at a slower pace. Aim for about 160 words per minute.
Practise at home by timing yourself reading out loud from a book or magazine or newspaper.
Be careful to vary the pace — speaking slowly all the time will come across as rather boring and monotonous. A little bit of balance and variety is good. Let your voice speed up naturally at appropriate points, then slow back down. Basically, don’t gabble.
Speak in a low pitch
Our voices rise and fall as we convey different information, ideas, emotions. It’s a good idea to control the pitch of your voice, especially when you are very involved in or worked up about what you are saying.
Emotion can make you sound squeaky and breathless, not an effective impression if you need to be seen as strong and in control.
Lower voices are associated with authority. A low-pitched voice conveys strength and confidence.
Don’t worry, there’s no need to make dramatic changes. Get to know the range of your tone. Here’s what to do:
- Stand upright.
- Relax the muscles around your throat.
- Breathe from your diaphragm, and keep your upper chest still.
- Hum or sing or read a passage out loud, with your voice going up and down. Get to know which is your comfortable ‘high’ and which is your comfortable ‘low’.
- Hum or sing or read a passage out loud using your lowest range.
- In this range, practise saying something you will say at work.
- You could record yourself, or ask a trusted friend for feedback.
Lower your voice at the end of your sentence
On the whole, don’t go up at the end of your sentences. This habit makes you sound as if you are seeking agreement and confirmation all the time, and comes across as weak and lacking in confidence.
‘I saw him yesterday’ with an upward inflection on the last word suggests that you want your listener to nod emphatically that they understand the concept of ‘yesterday’ and give you permission to continue. Fine if that’s what you intend. But it probably isn’t.
Don’t use fillers
Fillers are the little words and expressions we are hardly aware of using. They punctuate our speech as we gather our thoughts, pause, look for responses, think what we are going to say next.
Filler words include:
- you know
- I mean
- know what I mean
If you use a few, that’s fine — we all do. But if everything you say contains a good smattering of such words, try to cut down. They can be distracting and detract from the impact of what you are saying.
Speaking more slowly will help you to cut down your filler use as it gives your brain a chance to catch up with your mouth.
Control the volume of your voice
Think variety, think appropriateness. You should speak more loudly or more softly to make your voice more appealing to listen to, and to fit in with the context in which you are speaking.
Whatever the circumstances, you need to be heard. If you know that people have asked you to speak up or to repeat something, or have just acted as if you hadn’t spoken, you probably need to speak more loudly. Raise your voice one level and see what happens.
If people wince and back away as you make your point in what you think is a forceful manner, you need to lower your voice a level. No-one wants to be shouted at. You’re not a football manager — well, you might be, in which case, welcome.
Here’s a trick you can use straight away. Speaking loudly can command attention and convey authority, but so can speaking softly. It’s a strategy teachers use to gain attention.
If everyone is speaking loudly and heatedly, speak in that way yourself for a few words so people turn towards you, then lower your voice. You can speak with intensity without shouting, and a lower volume in this case will have an impact.
Speaking with confidence and authority will alter the way that you are perceived, no matter how you have been seen in the past. Using your voice to repair a poor impression and create a positive impression is like having an unobtrusive makeover. And it doesn’t cost a penny.