Once again with feeling…

Once again with feeling…

Monday, 04 March 2019

Your voice is your calling card - an essential part of your personal brand that can have a significant impact on how others view you. The timbre, pitch, volume and cadence of your voice are all influential factors in how convincing you – and your brand – are. In fact, studies even show that when people listen to speech where the words have been muffled to be incoherent, they still have the same perceptions of the speaker and emotional reactions as when listening to the unaltered speech. This is because as we evaluate the verbal content in a conversation, our minds are also simultaneously analysing and being affected by qualities of voice that have nothing to do with words. As linguistic expert and academic Shirley Weitz notes, ‘paralinguistics’ – or how you use your voice beyond speech - "sets great store on how something is said, not on what is said". We look at how three very different roles use voice to create the sounds that achieve their professional aims - and what they can teach us.



A rousing performance by a gospel choir is a masterclass in energy and dynamic vocal use, but its power isn’t just born from the mechanics of singing. Gospel music is based on the idea of a voice – in this case a singing voice -  conveying a personal story, and for that there has to be a strong belief behind it. For gospel music, that belief is religious - but to inspire in everyday interaction it’s equally important to convey passion and joy. And that is something that can only really be done if you’re connecting with your own content. The voice is our emotional weathervane – carrying energy, vitality, joy and intelligence on its reverberations. In a piece in Psychology Today (i), science author Leonard Mlodinow noted that, “Expressive speech, with modulation in pitch and volume, and a minimum of noticeable pauses, boosts credibility and enhances the impression of intelligence.” Just as shifting pitch and volume around fosters expression in a gospel song, it can also help you to sound credible, and keep people engaged emotionally as you speak. So too can the smooth rhythm of your phrases - try a technique from gospel singing and move your arm back and forward across your body as you speak to develop it in your speech. By focusing on connecting your speaking with the movement you will naturally extend your vowel sounds and create a fuller, more musical sound.


Key takeaway: Loosen up and let it all out.

Enjoying telling the story, presenting your work or conveying information is the x-factor when it comes to truly engaging other people - and will bring warmth, modulation and energy to your voice. Whatever the interaction, you are trying to take your audience along with you and they can’t get there if you aren’t committed to what you are saying and full of genuine enthusiasm to get your point, message or information across.



Using your voice to convey confidence and authority can be a challenge for everyone, but often has greater implications for women - and can even sometimes negatively impact on their ability to influence and lead. Channelling your inner referee offers useful tools for holding attention and directing a team, especially in difficult interactions that require calm, purposeful negotiation and clear guidance. First off, referees do not apologise and one of the key habits to break may be starting sentences with “Sorry, but…”. As Robin Lakoff, a professor of linguistics at University of California, Berkeley, and author of Language and Woman’s Place, notes, “Sorry is a ritualised form meaning something like, ‘I hope this is O.K. with you.’” Referees know they are the decision makers and what they say goes, and as such they get straight to the point of the interaction. In this way, they also hold the authoritative space necessary to order a game or match and help disparate players work as a whole. To do this successfully you’ll need to align the powerful voice in your head to the one your audience actually hears. “Record your voice. Listen to it,” suggests Gina Barnett, a long-time TED talk speaker coach. “Ask yourself, is this the voice of a leader? Is this voice telling or asking?”


Key takeaway: Own your words and your decisions.

Don’t apologise before you say something. “Sorry, can I just…” should be given the red card immediately. Speak with assurance and watch out for “upspeak”, something that many women do to implicitly tone down what they are saying, where they end sentences or opinions with a question mark (for example: “My research shows that we don’t need to have so many meetings every month?”) Have confidence in, and don’t ask for validation of, your opinion and take control of your own match.



Crisis and hostage negotiators deal regularly with situations that are tense, stressful and where conflict needs to be resolved quickly - and as such, their tone of voice is crucial to help move the interaction forward. Thomas Strentz, author of Psychological Aspects of Crisis Negotiation interviewed hostage takers, and found that they often could not recall any specific things the negotiator said to them to get them to turn themselves in. What they did remember however was their tone of voice, outlining the impact of tone over all things in creating rapport and developing trust. One FBI negotiator training tool focuses on talking to someone in a difficult situation as if they are your friend, but in a work situation be mindful of context and ask yourself if your tone is also displaying respect. Regardless of who you are talking to though, taking a leaf out of a negotiator’s book includes making sure your voice emits calmness while also being assertive, qualities that complement, not contradict, one another. Speak slowly and clearly, use minimal encouragers such as "mmm" and "okay" to show interest in what the other person is saying and encourage them to continue speaking and ask open-ended questions to get people to open up. Importantly, be warm and genuine in your intent for a positive resolution to any conflict or difference of opinion - regardless of what words you use, your tone will show the person if you genuinely care or are just ‘going through the motions’.


Key takeaway: Use pauses for emphasis.

Pauses in conversation will encourage someone to keep talking or to defuse things when people get emotional. Former FBI negotiator, Gary Noesner, says: “Eventually, even the most emotionally overwrought subjects will find it difficult to sustain a one-sided argument, and they again will return to meaningful dialogue with negotiators. Thus, by remaining silent at the right times, negotiators actually can move the overall negotiation process forward.”





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