7 Ways to Warm Up Your Vocal Presence

Two funny looking nerds talking.

Where can you always hear natural vocal expression? From kids. Before the properness of adulthood, children are free to dance, sing, shriek and giggle. Their voices aren’t supposed to sound any particular way, they are simply wonderful instruments to be discovered.

What happens? After being socialized, schooled, paid and promoted, we develop serious business voices (because business is serious).

We give monotone presentations and we run robotic meetings. We become background noise for people as they check their email.

What I learned about the voice from a radio career

In my early career I gave a daily entertainment update in the news on a talk radio station. Anyone who has ever spoken on the radio knows that the radio will subdue the color in your voice, so you have to crank it up a little to break through.

In the same way, the work place will dampen our voice if we let it.  We have to stretch over the threat of going flat.

“It’s not what you said…”

We all know the rest of the line, “It’s the way you said it.”

What doctors teach us about using our voices effectively

In Blink, The Power of Thinking Without Thinking Malcolm Gladwell describes a study by Wendy Levinson in which she recorded conversations between physicians and their patients. Roughly half of the physicians in the study had never been sued. The other half had been sued at least twice.

The physicians who had never been sued used a warm, concerned tone of voice. They were more likely to take their time and engage the patient, asking questions such as “Can you tell me more about that?” Patients in this group perceived their physician to be likable and caring.  They indicated that if their physician made a reasonable oversight, they would forgive the mistake.

Physicians in the sued group spent less time with patients and use a dominant tone of voice.  The difference was in how they talked to their patients and for how long, not in the technical quality of information given. Patients in this group perceived their surgeons as uncaring and arrogant. They indicated that they would consider suing if anything was miscommunicated.

What tone of voice do your use with clients and colleagues?

When we first meet you, we pick up friendliness or aggressive on a primal level. An unfriendly or domineering tone of voice, subconscious or not, is a red flag.

According to professor Amy Cuddy at Harvard Business School, when we judge others—especially our leaders—we look first at not only their competence but their warmth.

A friendly tone of voice is the doorway to connection.

Here are seven ways to warm up your vocal presence:

  1. Notice how you make statements such as “I’m really excited to be here.” Are you believable?  Or, “We are passionate about leading the industry into the future.”  Can we tell you’re passionate?  If not we’ll think you’re just a hollow business suit.
  1. Listen to children for their bursts of spontaneity and expression.  If you are lucky enough to have the cherished assignment of reading bedtime fairytales, notice how you make the stories interesting and fun—with your voice.
  1. Drop the formal, stiff sentence structure. Take natural pauses. Use real-speak as though you were having a conversation over coffee with a friend. Never, never, never read. Period.
  1. Tell stories. They have a way of releasing you into your natural vocal presence. You don’t have to tell us a long narrative.  Humanize your talks with tidbits about real people.
  1. Play back an important voice mail before leaving it.  Is it really you? If not, re-record it. People get fatigued listening to monotone, boring voice mails.
  1. It’s more about letting go than trying too hard. We don’t want you get loud or over-animated. Just come out from behind yourself in conversations and let us enjoy your authentic presence.
  1. Have fun. In the car I pretend I’m Beyoncé and just wail. Singing helps you keep that beautiful instrument warm.

If you never give another business presentation in your life, you should be aware that your tone of voice is a language—at work or at home. Your vocal presence is a powerful part of connecting and building trust.

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Lou Solomon

Lou Solomon is the founder of Interact. She is a TEDx speaker and a member of the adjunct faculty at the McColl School of Business at Queens University of Charlotte. Her articles have appeared in Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur.com, CEO.com, and Fast Company.