by Tracy Goodwin
If people in business realized how much power they have with their voices and their bodies, the sky would be the limit for their success. Two of the greatest assets we have are a part of us and always have been: our voices and our bodies, or to be more specific, the non-verbal communication components of eyes, facial expressions, gestures, and posture. We also have access to other forms of non-verbal communication such as clothing, but today I’m going to talk about what we were born with and the untapped power we have within us.
I specialize in making people look and sound fabulous through communication. The reason why? Well, because only 7 percent of communication actually takes place with words. The balance is made up by the quality of our voices (36 percent) and non-verbal communication (an incredible 57 percent). One of my clients, a young man who is successful in sales, says, “Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what we know; if people can’t listen to our voices, then we’ve got nothing.” I really like the way he puts that. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times people have turned me off simply because I could not stand the sound of their voices or what they were doing with their bodies. It does not have to be that way. You can learn a few simple voice and body techniques that will dramatically impact your success in business, corporate positioning, and even help you socially. In this article, we are going to focus on voice.
The Power of Voice
I’d like to start with the example of the college professor who is known less for his knowledge and more for putting everyone asleep, the one that everyone seems to use for nap time. This can also be the case with bosses, salespeople — anyone, really. The reason this happens is the lack of vocal levels causes us, the listeners, to check out, or even be lulled to sleep. It’s just that simple. It is therefore essential for anyone in business, especially people who work in sales or anyone who makes presentations or sales pitches, to move beyond the “one level” in vocal components. In the world we live in, we are now trained to check out quite easily — the minute things don’t keep our attention. So several components become key to keep our audience’s attention. In my world, there are numerous qualities that make up a fantastic voice, but for the sake of this article, I want to talk about what I refer to as the Big 3: volume, speed, and pitch.
Normally we speak at a moderate volume, and that’s great, but it can also be our death. In order to keep our audience’s attention, we need to alternate, at the appropriate times, loud and soft. Volume adjustments are a great way to reel people in, and changes in volume can make you seem unpredictable and wildly interesting. If you’re a speaker who talks loud the entire time, you will need to add some moderate and some soft. Also, one of the coolest additions to volume is when someone talks softly when everyone thinks they’re going to be loud because that’s the norm.
Most people speak at a moderate rate of speed, but there are some people who talk quite rapidly and others who talk slowly. Speed variables are often related to different regions in the United States or world. The bottom line, no matter what your regular rate of speed is, you want to make sure you incorporate all three speeds, fast, slow, and moderate, into your speaking with the majority of your speech being moderate. The main reason for choosing moderate speed rather than fast is because it takes listeners a minute to catch up and “hear” what you said after the words come out of your mouth. If you talk too fast, people will give up trying to stay with you and will stop listening. If your rate of speed is too slow, your listeners will check out because they’re bored. Ideally, try doing a combination of moderate pace, fast pace, and slow pace. What you want to do is find the places in your speech, dialogue, pitch, presentation, or conversation where talking faster is more appropriate and where talking slower is best.
Now, pitch is a little more tricky, especially for men. The degrees of varying pitch do not need to be extreme, but if you can alternate or add in some low or high pitch, it will make your speaking voice sound more interesting. High pitches are harder for men, and my recommendation is that men not attempt talking at a really high pitch, and instead add just a “pop” here and there of words at a higher pitch. The same is true for women. Women shouldn’t try to go really low, and instead should alternate moderate pitch with an occasional pop here and there of low and high. If your normal speaking voice is really high, you may consider adjusting your natural pitch to something a little more moderate. High pitches also can be annoying if they’re too high and have no variables. Low pitches, on the other hand, are not hard to listen to; in fact, most people really like them. Be careful, however, if you tend to speak in a low tone that you shake up your speaking with varying speed and volume.
Oh, The Difference Your Voice Can Make!
By adding in these simple techniques, your speaking voice will become more dynamic and interesting, which is what you need to keep an audience interested. The benefits are many, but one of the most marked is that you become unpredictable. If your audience knows exactly what you’re going to say, and anticipates the stops you will pull out vocally to say it, they don’t have to listen. But if you shake things up so they don’t know what you’re doing, they won’t want to miss a word.
Additional vocal techniques that can make a huge difference include adding stress to words and phrases where more value is needed. In other words, incorporate elongation at certain points and on certain words, and utilize the power of the pause to set up certain points that really matter. All of these techniques should be added and incorporated for a more interesting and pleasing voice. If you overdo any of them, however, we go all the way back to square one and give our audience the opportunity to turn us off. Balance becomes key. I like to think of these vocal techniques as accessories to an already great outfit. You mix and match them depending on what you want to create, and if you do, you’ll sound fantastic!
Tracy Goodwin is known all over the world as “The Red Sweater Lady” for her extensive collection of communications videos. She has a masters degree in corporate communications and works with clients all over the world via Skype to help them improve their voices and speaking/non-verbal communications and presentation skills. Her client base encompasses people from every walk of life, from actors to Fortune 500 executives. At age 12 she won her first speaking award, and feels that she’s very fortunate today to be able to do what she loves.