Learn from Smart Women

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Did you know that when you speak, the meaning of your words is actually the last thing your listener interprets?

Think of wine tasting: first you look at the color, the brightness, and the way it swirls in the glass.  Then, you smell it.  Finally, you taste it.  It’s the three aspects together that help you judge the overall quality.

The same thing happens when you speak: before your listener knows what you’re talking about, they see you and hear your voice.  And guess what?  They start processing your credibility, strength and professionalism before you’ve even gotten to the first stop.

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The bad news is, once that judgment has been made, it’s difficult to make your listeners change their minds, because the first impression always comes first.

The good news is, you can use your voice to influence how people see you…or should I say, hear you?

Pitch

As a voice coach and therapist, I’ll never recommend that you use a deeper voice than your natural pitch.  But, you don’t want to exaggerate a super-high pitch either. 

Instead, my advice is to keep your voice as relaxed as you can.  Let it flow without forcing or pushing it.  And don’t let it go too low.

Vocal fry

Vocal fry is that creaky voice we sometimes use at the end of sentences that makes us sound like we just got out of bed.  Typical ‘vocal friers’ that you may know include Britney Spears and Kim Kardashian

Vocal fry occurs when your air stream is not fast enough, so your larynx needs to put in extra effort to achieve sound.  As a result, your aryepiglottic folds close over your vocal folds. 

That may seem complicated, but in short, I’ll just say this: avoid it.  According to a recent study funded by Duke University and the Fuqua School of Business, vocal fry makes you soundless competent, less educated, less trustworthy, less attractive, and less hirable.

Uptalk

Are you posing a question?  If so, raise your pitch.  If not, don’t. 

Don’t expect to sound credible, strong and professional if you’re asking all the time—even when you’re not.

Pausing

Pauses in your speech serve three functions: they allow you to breathe in, guide your listeners through your thinking, and show confidence.

The third function is perhaps the most important.  Yes, your pauses reflect your confidence.  Are you able to handle silence while your listeners wait for you to continue speaking?  If you are, it means that you trust yourself.  It means you know your message will pique your listeners’ interest, and you have the courage to stay there, silent.

Years ago I conducted a study on how voice drives the perception of personality.  I recorded the voices of six individual women each reading the same text.  Then, I played each separate voice to a focus group of 30 people (15 women, 15 men) of different ages.  I asked them different questions about how they perceived each of the speakers in terms of physical attributes, age, education, social background and personality.  I also included these questions:

Who would you hire to be the CEO of your company? – This indicated competence and leadership
Who would you hire to take care of your child? – This indicated care and nurture
Who would you sit with at a dinner party? – This indicated fun and friendliness
Who would you sit with the first day in your new job? – This indicated help and guidance
 

The vast majority of listeners chose the woman who made longer pauses in her reading as CEO.  When a speaker made pauses that were too short, the listeners tended to say, ‚she wants to finish.’  But for the CEO-elected reader, they said things like, “she knows what she’s talking about,” “she sounds competent,” or “she’s firm.”

So, remember: keep calm and pause.

In addition, by separating the ideas in your message with pauses, you can show that your mind is organized and clear.  If you know where you’re going, your listener is better able to follow you.

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Before your listener knows what you’re talking about, they see you and hear your voice.

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Diction

Speech sounds result from the ways our mouths shape our voices.  Linguists call the way we move our lips, tongue and jaw ‘articulation.’  Sometimes we articulate very clearly, with speech movements that are fast, strong and wide (think: stage actors).  Other times we articulate poorly, and we just let the words slip between our teeth. 

In 1990, a Swedish phonologist discovered that speakers enunciate very clearly when their priority is to be understood.  That’s why we tend to hyper-articulate when we speak to foreigners or when we’re angrily trying to make our position clear. 

Professor Lindblom also discovered that when the message is difficult to convey, speakers tend to forget about diction and focus on their own mind.  As a consequence, their diction gets blurry.  The listeners, in turn, need to make an effort to understand the message.  But if the speaker doesn’t help, they’ll tire out and disconnect.

Yet good communication is about the listeners, not about the speakers.  As a speaker, you need to help your listeners understand you.  If your message is difficult, practice it.  And if it’s difficult emotionally, practice it even more.  Strengthen your vowels and polish your syllables: you’ll sound confident, clear and smart.

So, to multiply your influence power, remember these basic tips:

Pitch: Keep your pitch neutral and natural.  Stay away from vocal fry, and don’t go too high if you’re not asking a question.

Pauses: Pauses make you sound smart and make your message clear.   Long pauses make you sound confident.

Articulation: Speaking clearly helps your listeners understand you, while also showing that you care for them and that you’re not afraid to speak your mind.

 

Carolina is a Spanish linguist, voice coach and writer who has come to New York to learn more about communication in the business world – she is a Graduate Student at New York University, in the program of Public Relations and Corporate Communications.  Her passion is writing: words, stories, characters.  Carolina is also an adventurous cook, and she makes her own bread – with her hands. Visit Carolina's blog Power at Speech

 

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