Just like your clothing and stride, your voice is something people will use to judge and decide whether or not to hire you. They will use it to assess whether they think you are boring, arrogant, intelligent, ditsy, confident, authoritative, bitchy, kind or meek. Your voice is laced with various aspects of your personality and people read these (often subconsciously) in order to make judgements about you.
So it’s important to ask yourself, “What does your voice says about you?”
A key point here: don’t ask your friends. Most of them will be too kind to be blunt. Instead, decide to be your own judge and record your voice. Be spontaneous in your choice of topics. Describe the room around you, talk about your summer holiday or discuss someone you like. It doesn’t matter, as long as the speech is natural and impromptu. In most people, listening to their own voice results in cringing and comments about how they don’t actually sound like that.
Yes, it may be painful, but just listen to the recording and try and objectively assess what personality traits your voice reflects. Pretend you don’t know you. What would other people be thinking when they hear ‘you’? Do you sound monotone? A little flaky? Lacking in confidence? Don’t panic – it’s good, because now you’ve received the kind of constructive criticism that most people will never tell you. Once you’ve identified the “chinks” in your voice you can actually do something about them. But remember, this exercise depends on you being as objective and honest as possible. Ignore what you already know about yourself and just use the recording as evidence.
As you go through the exercise, take care to target one deficiency area for improvement at a time. You have to be systematic to see results. If you try and improve everything at once you’re asking to fail. Say for instance, that your voice is monotonous and flat (in your opinion). Begin by playing with your pitch. Let your voice flow up and down in a way that sounds natural. Practice accenting key words. If you’re stuck for inspiration, try watching some good speakers on TV: charismatic politicians, comedians, even tele-evangelists!
Practice a few times and then record yourself. How does the new recording compare? Repeat the process until you’re happy that the ‘dullness’ has been filtered out of your voice (at least the voice you use for public speaking). Then move on to the next problem area. You may notice that you talk too fast. Perhaps you blur your words together. Make a conscious effort to slow your speech down and keep recording yourself until you reach a satisfactory speed. At first, it may seem a little artificial as you have to consciously think about the way you speak, but this is where change begins.
As time passes, you’ll have to think less and less about the changes you’re making until eventually they’ll be completely natural. Whilst things will become noticeably easier from the start, many psychologists estimate that it takes about 6 weeks of conscious effort for behaviour to become habitual (which isn’t really that long if you spent a lifetime creating the problem). The important thing to remember is that once you decide to change, you have to consciously inject the adjustments into your daily speech, not just the recording sessions. So practice on the newsagent, the bus driver, retail assistants, friends, your family, anyone you encounter.
I guarantee that if you put the effort into this technique that it will work. I have never seen a student yet who hasn’t improved their voice and presence ‘dramatically’.
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