Monday, December 21, 2015

Speaking Up and Out

Your voice is a tremendous communication tool. Not only is it a primary tool in helping you to share your content, but it also serves to underscore what you think and feel about your content. Additionally, it helps direct how your audience should think and feel about it too.  Is your voice an asset or liability to your communication strategies?

Unfortunately, few of us take the time to truly assess whether our voice works for us or not, let alone work with our voice to improve what it is saying.  Given that it alone is responsible for conveying 30 percent or more of the takeaway message of our audience, failing to utilize it fully is leaving a significant part of our communications to chance.

Many communicators struggle with determining how to create a more powerful voice, often mistakenly equating it with greater volume.  However, speaking louder, especially shouting, tends to sound more autocratic and demanding than it does powerful.  If you are looking to move and influence your audience, then learning to use your voice more strategically may prove to the best investment you can make.

When it comes to learning how to develop your voice and make it a more powerful and strategic tool, you need to focus on the 3 P's...

1.  Personality.  Consider what your personality is.  It has an imprint on your voice, serving to 'tell' others far more about you than you may think. However, it does mean that we want to emphasize the messages that serve us, and reduce those that don't.  Having an understanding of what your personality is, along with clarity on your desired Branded Image, will help you to target those vocal elements that are working in conjunction with your Brand, and which elements detract from it.  Use recordings of your voice to become more familiar with your use of Speed, Volume, Variability, Rhythm and Tone and what each is saying about you.  Then being playing with each to modify the resulting messages.

2.  Passion.  Don't make the mistake of thinking that demonstrating Passion for your topic requires the use of Pom-poms and cheerleaders.  Passion need not be loud or brash.  It is an intensity that helps to communicate your Intent.  What do you feel about this subject?  What do you want your audience to feel about it?  Passion is therefore typically going to be displayed as and through emotion.  You must be prepared to show your audience you care if you want them to care.

3.  Projection.  There is no voice without air.  It stands to reason then that the amount of breath available drives the amount of voice.  Our posture (yet another "P" to be mindful of!) is directly linked to the amount and quality of our voice.  To project our voice we need to utilize our belly muscles.  However, if we are hunched over or compressing downward into our spines with poor posture, we no longer are able to breathe from the belly and must now attempt to speak only with air available from our upper chest.  If you find that you speak too quietly you likely breathe too shallowly.  Practice breathing into and from the bottom of the lungs, using your diaphragmatic muscles (your belly muscles) to push the sound up and out of you. The added benefit of breathing from the diaphragm is that you will also have a slightly deeper pitch and a rounder, more complex sound.

The easiest way to improve your vocal quality is to start playing with it, recording your attempts. Listen to your voice as it is now.  What does it say about you?  What elements work?  What elements don't work as well?  What could you try instead?  How do each sound when you try them out?

One of the first changes that is typically needed is to simply learn to relax your voice.  Our best voice occurs when our throat and jaw muscles are completely relaxed.  Tension in these areas can make our voices sound harsh and squeezed.  To help you relax these muscles... Yawn.  Yawn as big as you can, opening your mouth as wide as you can and dropping the jaw fully.  Finish the yawn with a long 'hum'.  If you record your voice prior and then immediately following the yawn exercise you should hear an improvement, simply from speaking from a more relaxed position.

Another exercise to play with is one that is designed to help you shift your breathing to the belly.  We always speak on the exhale, so you will start this exercise after an inhalation.  Breathe into the belly (should see the belly go out) and then begin reciting the alphabet - letter by letter.  When voicing each letter contract the belly muscles as sharply as you can, which will expel a small burst of air, which is when you articulate the 'letter' you are on.  Do this for the entire alphabet.

Our voice is a tool to help us to be heard.  However, it can do much more than to simply share our content, it can help drive the way our audience experiences our messages.  We can use our voice to direct how they might think or feel about the information we are sharing, or to even motivate them to take action. If we are focused only on our content and not on the way we deliver it, then we are missing the opportunity to make our content memorable and for us to stand out.

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