Why Your Vocal Quality Is So Important

and 7 Ways to Make it Stronger

Every spring, Interact hosts a Pitch Boot Camp for start-up founders who are practicing their pitch, hoping to persuade a roomful of investors to fund their project.

In the first round of introductions, the majority of these innovative, smart folks talk a blue-streak—running past their name and swallowing the name of their company.

By the final round of practice, these start-up founders are standing taller, speaking slower and sharing their project with more confidence.

Slow Down, You’re Talking Too Fast!

Studies show that speaking too quickly tells listeners that you’re anxious. On the other hand, speaking with a slower, richer pace demonstrates a kind of openness. When we’re feeling confident, we don’t rush. We’re not afraid to pause and we feel deserving of the audience’s time.

When we’re feeling brave and confident, our vocal pitch and amplitude are significantly more varied, allowing us to sound expressive and relaxed. When we fearfully hold back—activating the sympathetic nervous system’s fight or flight response or vocal cords and diaphragms constrict, strangling our genuine enthusiasm.
Amy Cuddy

Monotone Delivery

A common pitfall that disconnects us from the audience is speaking with a monotone delivery. You could have the most exciting idea, but if you say it with a flat voice, no one will be energized by it. No one will buy-in.

I saw this happen in Business School, during project presentations. Regardless of how brilliant the paper, if the project was delivered in an flat way, the team would fall short in their ability to connect with the crowd. Yet a slightly less brilliant project, delivered with passion, would excite the audience and capture their buy-in.

Low Energy

A fundament vocal force is energy, which creates color, range, intonations, ups-and-downs in your vocal tone. As the presenter, its your responsibility to set the level of energy in the room.

I tend to be a little laid back, so before I take the front of the room, I say to myself, “Energy!” The importance of this was reinforced to me recently. I delivered two talks back-to-back, one on Tuesday and one on Wednesday. I let my fatigue show up in the first one and forgot to tell myself, “Energy.” The room was a bit too mellow. However, I was prepared for the second one. The crowd was energized and the room, more lively.

Soft Speak

There’s nothing wrong with being a bit soft spoken, but an overly airy or soft voice in presentations can keep you from sounding like a person with courage and influence. Instead of feeling your breath high, in your chest, practice bringing your breath moving from your belly upwards through your chest and out of your mouth.

Mumbling

We give folks a Committed Listening Self-Assessment when they attend a class Interact Studio. One question that always seems to trip up the participants is, “Do you try to listen even if you do not like the person’s style of talking?”

Trying to listening to people who mumble, for example, is a challenge. Mumbling is a lazy way of letting your words drop without articulation. People who speak English as a 2nd language often rush and mumble in hopes of masking their accent. The truth is, we Americans are engaged by accents. They make people so interesting. However, if we can’t understand the words we will lose interest. If your words are crisp and clear, you will have us.

Measuring Sincerity

Albert Mehrabian, UCLA Professor Emeritus of Psychology, studied the impact of words, tone of voice and body language as they relate to perceived sincerity back in the 70’s. His groundbreaking study found that your words influence your perceived sincerity by just 7%. The way we determine if you mean what you say comes from your body language at 55%—and tone of voice at 38%. Together, the way you animate visually and use vocal color is 93% of how we determine your commitment to your message!

Nasal Speak

Nasal Speak causes abnormal resonance in an individual’s voice due to increased more than normal airflow through the nose during speech.

A speech coach or licensed speech pathologist can help folks with Nasal Speak. Some of the exercises include:

  1. “Ear training” helps you learn to hear the difference between nasal and non-nasal sounds;
  2. mouth-opening techniques can counteract the clenching of the jaw that contributes to Nasal Speak; and
  3. muscle-strengthening by practicing words that feature stop sounds such as P, B, T, D, K and G, and words with consonant sounds such as S and SH.

Up Speak

A pervasive and off-putting style of speaking is called “Up Speak.”

Once assigned to young women, this vocal quirk is now showing up in men and women alike, particularly when giving presentations. Up Speak sounds as though you are asking a question or seeking support from listeners.

Communicators who ask questions via intonation are perceived to have less confidence than those who make statements. The presenter who puts the energy of a period at the end of their comments is perceived to have more natural authority.

Breathlessness

When a presenter is overly “breathy” throughout their talk, the diaphragm is constricted and they cannot use their exhale energy to propel their voice forward. They stove up and become uncomfortable. The audience can sense the discomfort and it becomes contagious.
Deep, slow breaths before standing to speak can help disperse the adrenaline provide access to natural projection. Knowing your opening lines can also help you side step the kind of adrenaline spike that constricts the diaphragm.

7 Ways to Make Your Vocal Quality Stronger

  1. Tap into your connection and sincere interest in your topic. Allow yourself to be animated and alive. Demonstrate passion with your voice.
  2. Embrace the goal of speaking in an unhurried way. Practice treating your words with clear and distinct pronunciation.
  3. Relax the muscles of your throat so that your voice lowers to its natural level. Record yourself and learn to move beyond an airy and overly soft voice.
  4. Pause to breathe from your diaphragm, which is the source of your strength. A breath of air will keep your brain from going blank, and allow your voice to project. Pausing will also eliminate the temptation to use filler words such as “um, uh…” and “you know.”
  5. Drink plenty of water, project your voice and use short, sturdy sentences. The longer the sentence, the more breath you need to support it.
  6. Practice projecting your words. Punch out key words in a colorful way with emphasis. This will isolate that word and tell your listeners it’s more important than the others.
  7. Prior to each talk, recording yourself using a mobile app. Listen on playback, record and repeat.

Quick Definitions

Amplitude: loudness, intensity.

Cadence: a regular beat or rhythm of speaking.

Intonation: the rise and fall of the voice in speaking.

Pitch: when the number of vibrations per second increases, it causes the voice to sound higher.

Projection: the strength of speaking in which the voice is used loudly and clearly.

Timbre: color, tone and unique sound of an individual’s voice.

Too often people overlook the importance of vocal quality in their communication–which doesn’t make sense when we are using it to read your passion, confidence, sincerity, natural authority and commitment.

At Interact we’ve been helping people overcome vocal obstacles that stand in their way. Find out more about our upcoming classes, or reach out to me personally for how Interact can help your upcoming communication goals.

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Avatar for Lou Solomon

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.