Business leaders pay a great deal of attention to communication. Mastering what you need to say and how you need to say it are important factors if you’re going to be an effective communicator. However, one element of spoken communication is often overlooked—the way you speak.
We’ve all heard people whose voices are too grating, soft, or fake. Some people’s speech is so unpleasant that they undermine the speaker’s message entirely. However, you can take steps to improve the quality, tone, and expression of your voice, and how you express yourself vocally. It just takes a little know-how and practice.
One of the most important things you can do to improve the clarity of your message is to slow down, says Katie Schwartz, president of Durham, North Carolina speech coaching firm Business Speech Improvement. People tend to speak quickly when they’re nervous or unsure of what they’re saying. Speaking slower not only improves how well your audience comprehends what you’re saying, but it also makes you sound more confident and in control, she says.
A good benchmark is to speak slow enough that, if you were reciting a phone number, the person listening to you would be able to write it down. Practice your speech speed by reciting a long string of numbers, and writing them in the air as you do so. That’s just about the perfect cadence, she says.
If you breathe shallowly in your chest instead of deeply into your abdomen, your voice will sound weaker and possibly jittery. It can be tough to remember to breathe deeply when you’re nervous or stressed, but taking full-relaxed breaths will improve the depth of your voice and can help you sound more confident, says Kate DeVore, founder of Total Voice, a Chicago, Illinois-based speech coaching firm.
The way you sit or stand could affect your speech. Standing or sitting straight allows you to breathe properly and gives your voice greater strength and clarity, says DeVore.
Moving your head a bit can also make a difference. If you lift up your chin and tilt your head slightly, you can cut some of the resonance and make your voice sound more clear. If your shoulders are tight and hunched up toward your head, "you’re cutting out big chunks of your voice’s potential potency," she says.
Keeping yourself well-hydrated also helps the quality of your voice, DeVore says. If you’re drinking coffee, soda, and wine throughout the day instead of water, your vocal cords might not have the moisture they need to make your voice sound the best it can be.
"The vocal cords need to be fairly pliable because of how fast they vibrate," DeVore says. "For women they vibrate an average of 200 times per second, and for men it’s about 120 times per second."
Voices with high pitch or a nasal quality are often that way because the speaker is insecure or nervous, Schwartz says. Using the right vocal pitch helps you be a more effective communicator. You can find your perfect pitch by saying, "uh-huh" as if you were casually saying "yes" to a friend’s question. Schwartz says the pitch of your voice when you speak should match the "uh."
Love cheering on your team at the top of your lungs? That’s not exactly great for your vocal cords, Schwartz says. Yelling can strain them and make it difficult for you to speak. In the worst cases, yelling can lead to vocal nodules, or bumps on your vocal chords.