Your Business Voice: Wimpy or Winning?
Your voice is a powerful tool when you speak for business; it has the power to give you gravitas and create a winning professional image. It also has the power to jeopardize your credibility, especially if you sound weak or “wimpy.” Here are some powerful strategies that will help you use your voice strategically and achieve maximum effect.
Uhm’s and Uh’s: Decrease Your Use of Fillers!
When you use your voice to connect ideas smoothly and authoritatively, listeners are drawn in and want to hear more. One appropriate goal is to minimize your use of “fillers” (words like “um, uh, like, so, well, you know”, etc.). When used to “fill” sentences, these words carry no meaning and are usually just a distraction for your listeners.
You can practice minimizing your use of fillers by rehearsing with a technique that actors use when they are preparing to speak extemporaneously.
Set a timer for two or three minutes. Audio record yourself as you speak in extended sentences on any business topic of your choice. Choose a topic that you know well and enjoy speaking about (not your elevator speech, a sales pitch, or anything that you have memorized).
As you speak, imagine that your words create a long string of pearls that are connected with no break. You want each word to flow smoothly into the next: connected, the way pearls are connected on a string of pearls.
Whenever you feel the urge to use a filler word
- Stop yourself
- Say the filler silently to yourself
When the timer rings, play back the tape and monitor yourself for fillers. Then repeat the exercise.
As you become comfortable with this exercise, start increasing the setting on the times: to five minutes, eight minutes, twelve minutes, etc., until you can speak for fifteen or twenty minutes on new topics of your choice, without the use of fillers.
Over time, this practice will help you reduce the number of fillers that you use; you will sound more confident and authoritative when you speak for business!
“Pitch” Your Voice Like a World Series Champion:
When you speak for business, the pitch of your voice should vary, to generate interest and convey a variety of messages and qualities. The pitch at the end of your statements has the power to make you sound either authoritative or insecure: winning or wimpy!
“Pitch” refers to the high and low tones of the speaking voice, altered with jumps and glides. It can convey energy, warmth, and sincerity. In the United States, ending a thought with a downward glide communicates certainty and authority. Ending an utterance with an upward glide communicates a yes/no question and/or uncertainty.
Become aware of the pitch at the end of your statements and at the end of each phrase within a statement. To sound confident and authoritative, always end your statements with a pitch glide downward.
Interestingly, a rise in pitch at the end of statements is being heard more and more frequently these days in speakers who want to soften the impact of their message. Usually, this is done subconsciously, and the final rise in pitch is caused by the speaker’s discomfort asserting his or her own expertise or power.
When you use a rising pitch at the end of a statement, you are actually and inadvertently asking a question. This can make you sound “wimpy” or insecure. Here are some of the most common questions that are inadvertently communicated this way:
“Do you understand me?”
“Do you agree with me?”
“Do you approve of me?
“Do you like me?”
These questions are subliminally communicated to the listener when you use a rising pitch at the end of statements, so it is easy to understand how a rise in pitch at the end of your statements can project a lack of confidence.
To project expertise, confidence, and authority (and to project a winning executive presence), be sure to end your statements with a pitch glide downward!
Estelle Parsons Taught Me To Tailor the Message:
Tailor your spoken message as specifically as possible to each individual business audience or group. Listeners are concerned with only one thing: “What’s in this for me?”
If your listeners begin to suspect that you are more interested in proving how multi-faceted you are than in helping them solve their current problems, you can easily lose their trust (or fail to earn it, to begin with).
I learned this lesson from the actress, Estelle Parsons, who has had a long career on stage, film, and television (remember her Academy Award-winning performance in the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde). Many people outside the entertainment industry do not know that Estelle is also a fine singer.
I, too, was an actress who sang. I had one resume that included my acting credits as well as my singing credits, and I faced a dilemma. I had found that many casting directors in the theater had a prejudice: knowing that a non-famous actor sang, they often assumed that she could not act.
When I was working on Broadway with Estelle in Joseph Papp’s hit musical The Pirates of Penzance, I asked her for advice about this problem of perception for the actor-singer. Her answer was simple: use two separate resumes; one for plays, and one for musicals. At each audition, present only the talents that are relevant to the casting of the particular production at hand. Solve the casting director’s immediate problem: demonstrate the talents and qualities needed for this particular role.
Expressed in business terms: Tailor the message to each unique audience!
This story should highlight the importance of this concept across industries. Your voice is a winning tool when it carries the message that each unique audience needs to hear.
Use your voice strategically for a winning delivery, to project the confidence and focus that gets more YES’s!
Copyright © 2013-2015 Maria Guida
Photo credits: Shutterstock. Top photo courtesy of Maria Guida.