Category Archives: Voice

Voice . . . for Personal Competitive Advantage

Develop your Voice for Advantage
Develop your Voice for Power and Impact

I often ask the rhetorical question “Do you have a case of Bad Presentation Voice.”

The question addresses the issue of your voice quality, one of the key issues in business presenting today.

“Bad Voice” is a problem that goes largely ignored.  For many reasons.

Pride.

Ego.

Sensitivity.

It remains a debilitating burden for many people who could otherwise be superb speakers.  And folks forfeit a key factor of potential personal competitive advantage.

Your Presentation Voice

Your voice can be a sensitive issue.

We tend to think that our voices are off-limits when it comes to changing, let alone improving, our presentations.

Business Presentation Voice
Develop a Powerful Business Presentation Voice for a Personal Competitive Advantage

We believe the voice is “natural” when, in fact, it’s likely the product of undisciplined and random influences – parents, peers, television, celebrities, radio, occasional mimicry.

The result can be awful.

Many influences in our culture have, in the last decade or so, urged on us a plaintive, world-weary whine as voice-of-choice.

Thus, voice becomes a matter of style – not just in the slang we use, but in the way our voices sound when we use that slang.

So what’s a “Bad Presentation Voice?”

Do you swallow your voice in the back of your throat so that you produce a nasal twang?

Is it pinched?

Do you use your chest as the resonating chamber it ought to be, or does your voice emanate from your throat alone?

High-pitched.  Small.  Weak.  Pinched.  Nasal.  Raspy.

Unpleasant.

Next time you stand in line at the convenience store, listen to the people around you.  Focus on the voices.  Listen for the trapped nasal sound, the whine of precious self-indulgence.

Or the sound of air rasping across vocal cords.  A voice that has no force.  No depth.

Cartoon Presentation Voice

A voice you could swat away as you would backhand a fly.

A voice from reality television.  A cartoon voice.  A voice that can even hurt your social life.

The cartoon voice is more prevalent than you might imagine.  Several reasonably-known celebrities have cartoon voices, and they usually dwell in the wasteland of reality television.

Two champions of the squeaky, whiney cartoon voice are people who appear to have achieved questionable fame for all of the wrong reasons:  Kim Kardashian and Meghan McCain.

Their voices are barely serviceable for even routine communication.  They embody all that is wrong with regard to acquiring a powerful business presentation voice.

They exhibit habitual pathologies of the worst sort.

But . . . my Voice is “Natural!”

If you want to become a good speaker, but you do not accept that you can and should improve your voice, it means that you are much like an un-coachable football player.

Oh, you want to become a superb football player, but you refuse to listen to the coach.

He tells you to develop your muscles and coordination in the gym, but you refuse.

I’m sure you see the absurdity in this.

The same is true when it comes to your presentation voice.  Voice is an extremely personal attribute, and people don’t take criticism lightly, perhaps viewing it as a self-esteem issue or an attack on personhood.

It’s not.

Don’t bristle at the notion that you should strive to develop a mellifluous and compelling presentation voice.  This is naiveté and vanity and ego masquerading as who-knows what.

It’s a self-imposed handicap and an excuse for inaction.  You hold yourself back.

It’s also a manifestation of fear.  Clare Tree Major observed this fear almost a century ago in college students of her time:

“People are exceedingly sensitive about changing their methods of speech for fear it will bring upon them the ridicule of their families and friends. . . . Charm and grace and beauty will come only when speech is unconscious – not while you have to think of every word and tone.  If a thing is right, there can be no question of affectation.  It is a greater affectation to do the wrong merely to pander to the less cultured tastes of others.  If you know a thing is right, do it.  If you have not this ideal and this courage, then it will waste your time to study correct speech. ”

What is your voice but a means of communication?

Does it have purposes other than speaking or singing?

Other than communicating?

And if we consider this carefully, it’s easy to see that clear communication depends upon the timbre of your voice.

It does matter what others think of your voice, since you use it to communicate, and it is others who receive your messages.  Doesn’t it make sense, then, to cultivate the most effective voice you possibly can?  So that you might communicate most effectively in especially powerful business presentations?

Put another way, doesn’t it make sense to eliminate what is unpleasant, ineffectual, shrill, and dissonant from your voice, if possible?

For more on developing personal competitive advantage with an especially powerful business presentation voice, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

List-Talk . . . a Bad Presentation Habit

List-Talk: Bad Presentation Habit
Don’t Deliver Your Presentation as if Read from a List

Everyone knows about the atrocious speech pathology called Uptalk, but there’s another speech pattern that sounds much like uptalk and can be a more insidious bad presentation habit.

Let’s call it List-Talk.

Both pathologies must be fixed to lift your presentation skill to a professional level.

Here’s the difference between the two pathologies, both of which can sabotage your presentation.

No Need for Self-Sabotage

First, Uptalk.

Uptalk is the bad speech habit of inflecting the voice up at the end of each sentence, as if each sentence were a question.

Uptalk is usually a 24-7 transgression.  If you do it . .  you do it all the time.

Uptalk is breezy, addle-pated, and weak.  With uptalk, you sound air-headed, uncertain, ditzy.  Whiny and pleading.  Someone who doesn’t care.

You could fix uptalk easily, if you wanted to.

But at this point, if you’re still doing it, you probably don’t want to fix it.

Now look at a parallel speech pattern that sounds similar to uptalk.  This pattern appears only on special occasions.

List-Talk only shows up when it can hurt you.

Break this Bad Presentation Habit  Now

What is List-Talk?

You engage in List-Talk only when you deliver your business presentation.

Exactly when it does you the most damage.

List-Speak is the lilting presentation voice we sometimes assume when we give a presentation.  It’s a form of “presentation voice.”  Presentation Voice is an artifice some people unconsciously adopt when speaking to a group in a formal situation.

Especially when we’re attuned to reading slides instead of simply telling our story.

List-Talk creeps in.  It replaces direct, declarative sentences.

Bad Presentation Habit
List-Talk can drive an audience crazy

List-Talk offers the lilting upswing of the voice at the end of sentences.

As if you’re reading from a mental list.

Each sentence needlessly telegraphs that there’s more to come, that you’ve not yet completed a thought.

Again.  And again.

And this goes on endlessly, until you finish the last point from your slide.  Only then do you mercifully let your voice drop in completion . . .

. . . only to have it go up again as the next slide materializes.

This pathology is linked to your slide.  But it’s not the slide’s fault.

It’s not the fault of PowerPoint.

It’s your fault.

It’s 100 percent your fault.

Fix List-Talk Now

Is anything wrong with List-Talk?

No, not unless your audience enjoys the experience of listening to someone obviously not in possession of the facts . . . because this is the impression given.

What causes it?

Nothing more than tendency to read from your slides.  This is a bad presentation habit heinous in its own right, but more than that, when you read from your slides, your voice goes into List-Talk mode.

You inflect UP at the end of every POINT.  You move from BULLET POINT to BULLET POINT.  The slide itself drags you ALONG.

This lilting presentation voice takes HOLD OF YOU, and you aren’t even aware of what you’re DOING.

Unharness yourself from the visual behind you, and free yourself to speak in declarative sentences.

Drop your voice at the end of each declarative sentence.

Speak with finality as you complete the thought.  As a hammer clanking down upon an anvil.

With confidence and presence.  Just as you do in routine conversation.

Your daily conversations, after all, don’t consist of lists.  Your sentences don’t consist of stating facts and opinions as if numbered on a list.

Break the bad presentation habit of List-Talk right now.

And consult the Complete Guide to Business Presentations for more wisdom on delivering especially powerful business presentations.

Develop Your Powerful Presentation Voice

powerful presentation voice
Do you have a case of Bad Voice?

If given a choice, would you embrace the opportunity to develop a powerful presentation voice?

Or would you demur to take a stand for “natural” voices?  Whatever the hell that is.

Rather than a mere provocation, the question is real and addresses one of the most pervasive problems in business presenting today.

It’s a problem that goes unrecognized and, as such, remains a debilitating burden for many people who could otherwise be superb speakers.

Your voice.

We tend to think that our voices are off-limits when it comes to changing, let alone improving.

We believe our voice is “natural” when, in fact, it is likely the product of undisciplined and random influences – parents, peers, television, celebrities, radio, occasional mimicry.

Voices Often Develop Chaotically

Many influences in our culture have, in the last decade or so, urged on us a plaintive, world-weary whine as voice-of-choice.  Thus, voice becomes a matter of style – not just in the slang we choose to use, but in the way our voices sound when we use that slang.

So what’s a “bad voice?”

Do you swallow your voice in the back of your throat so that you produce a nasal twang?  Is it pinched?  Do you use your chest as the resonating chamber it ought to be to produce a powerful presentation voice, or does your voice emanate from your throat alone?

High-pitched.  Small.  Weak.  Unpleasant.  Pinched.  Nasal.  Raspy.

Ugh.

Especially Powerful
Listen to the people around you

Next time you stand in line at the convenience store, listen to the people around you.

Focus on the voices.

Listen for the trapped nasal sound, the whine of precious self-indulgence.

Or the sound of air rasping across vocal cords.  A voice that has no force.  No depth.  A voice you could swat away as you would backhand a fly.

A voice from reality television.  A cartoon voice.  The opposite of a powerful presentation voice.

Cartoon Voice

The cartoon voice is more prevalent than you might imagine.  Many reasonably-known celebrities have cartoon voices, and they usually dwell in the wasteland of daytime television.

You know exemplars of the squeaky, whiney cartoon voice are people who appear to have achieved a degree of questionable fame for all of the wrong reasons:  a group of people calling themselves “Kardashians.”

Their voices are barely serviceable for even routine communication and embody all that is wrong with regard to delivering powerful presentations.

They exhibit habitual pathologies of the worst sort.

And yet people mimic them.

Lots of people.

But . . . my voice is “natural!”

If you want to become a good speaker, but you do not accept that you can and should improve your voice, it means that you are much like an un-coachable football player.  Oh, you want to become a superb football player, but you refuse to listen to the coach.

He tells you to develop your muscles and coordination in the gym, but you refuse.

Instead, you respond that your body’s musculature is “natural.”  You believe that you can become a great football player without “cheating” with weight training or cardio conditioning.  Or by modifying your “natural” physique by exercising and building your muscles and coordination.

I’m sure you see the absurdity in this.

The same is true when it comes to your voice.  Voice is an extremely personal attribute, and people don’t take criticism lightly, perhaps viewing it as a self-esteem issue or an attack on personhood.  It’s not.

An Especially Powerful Presentation Voice

Don’t bristle at the notion that you should change your voice.

This is naiveté and vanity and ego masquerading as a noble stand for who-knows what.

This is a self-imposed handicap and an excuse for inaction.  You hold yourself back for no good reason.  It’s also a manifestation of fear.

Clare Tree Major identified this fear almost a century ago in college students of her time:

“People are exceedingly sensitive about changing their methods of speech for fear it will bring upon them the ridicule of their families and friends. . . . Charm and grace and beauty will come only when speech is unconscious – not while you have to think of every word and tone. If a thing is right there can be no question of affectation. It is a greater affectation to do the wrong merely to pander to the less cultured tastes of others. If you know a thing is right, do it. If you have not this ideal and this courage, then it will waste your time to study correct speech. ”

What is your voice but a means of communication?

Does it have purposes other than speaking or singing?  Other than communicating?  And if we consider this carefully, it’s easy to see that clear communication depends upon the timbre of your voice.

It does matter what others think of your voice, since you use it to communicate, and it is others who receive your messages.  Doesn’t it make sense, then, to cultivate the most effective voice you possibly can?  So that you might communicate most effectively?

So that you might develop a personal competitive advantage?

Put another way, doesn’t it make sense to eliminate what is unpleasant, ineffectual, shrill, and dissonant from your voice, if possible?

For more on developing an especially powerful presentation voice, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Secret #2 – Your Presentation Voice

Your Presentation Voice
An Especially Powerful Presentation Voice

Your presentation voice is one key to an especially powerful business presentation . . . or a disastrous one.

Your voice and your appearance are the constants that pervade your presentation from start to finish.

Voice is one of the seven dimensions along which we measure the Power Presenter, and a strong, clear, confident voice is one of the seven secrets of powerful presenting.

Paradoxically, we take our voices for granted.

Because we do, this nonchalant attitude can undermine us and destroy all of our hard work.

But you can become quite a good speaker, a presenter whose voice exudes confidence and is welcomed by the ear.  Speaking Master Grenville Kleiser tells us that:

“If nature has not endowed you with a good speaking voice, you can do much toward acquiring one. The organs of speech can be trained, like any other part of the body, by assiduous attention and practice.”[1]

You can do many things to improve your presentation voice – your articulation, your power and range, your force and tone.

If you decide that you want to move to an advanced level of presentations and are drawn to improve your voice’s quality through study and practice, many books and videos and recordings are published each year to help you along.

Much of the best writing on voice improvement was produced in the years when public speaking was considered an art – between 1840 and 1940 – and the advice contained therein are about as universal and timeless as it gets.

The reality is that the human voice is the same now as it was 100 years ago (2,000 years ago) and responds to the proven techniques developed over centuries.

Ready to Change your Presentation Voice

It’s time to recognize that your voice is not a sacred artifact, nor is it some precious extension of your very being.

It’s an instrument with which you communicate.  You can sharpen your communication skills by developing a powerful presentation voice.  And because most people are oblivious of their own voices, simply thinking of your voice in this way will improve its quality.

Working to improve it with the exercise will improve its quality dramatically.

Let’s consider here just two things you can do to improve your voice.  Nothing extreme at all.  And actually quite fun, if you approach it the right way.

Presentation voice
But . . . I love my presentation voice

We have two goals.

First, we want to rid your voice of the chronic crack and rasp.  It’s called vocal fry when it’s done intentionally to imitate reality TV personalities.  That crack and rasp is a symptom of meekness – no confidence.  Do you have this crack and rasp?  If not, congratulations and let’s move along.  But if you do . . .

“In addition to relaxing the throat muscles, the speaker should make a special effort to vocalize every particle of breath passing over the vocal cords.  There should be no wheezy leakage of air.”[2]

Push air across your vocal chords and complete your sentences.  Don’t trail off at the end of every sentence with a croaking sound like folks on Disney Channel.

Second, we want to deepen your voice.  Why?  Like it or not, deeper voices are perceived as more credible.[3]  A Stanford University study, one among many, gives the nod to deeper voices:

Our studies show that directions from a female voice are perceived as less accurate than those from a male voice, even when the voices are reading the exact same directions.  Deepness helps, too.  It implies size, height and authority.  Deeper voices are more credible.[4]

Now, should things be this way?  Is it “fair” that deeper voices have some kind of advantage?

Deeper Presentation Voice?  That’s not fair!

It’s no less fair than that some people are taller than others or larger or faster or rate perfect scores on the SAT.  It’s neither fair, nor unfair.  It’s simply the reality we’re dealt.  If you want to devote your life to fighting for “voice equality,” you have my support.  Have at it, and Godspeed.

If, on the other hand, you want to deepen your voice a bit so that you gain personal competitive advantage, then let us analyze what the deep-voice reality means to us.

It means that a deeper presentation voice is more desirable for presenting, regardless of who presents, male or female.  Now, the very fact that you are armed with that information empowers you.

When you decide to act on it, it adds to your personal competitive advantage.

Many simple and effective exercises exist to deepen and enrich your voice.

A simple awareness of your own voice-cracking should be enough to remedy that issue.  Record your voice, and listen critically.  A personal coach can help, or even a trusted confidante as concerned with voice as much as you.  Listen to each other, coach each other, and work together to achieve an improved voice.

No, your voice is not a sacrosanct.  Voice is the second secret – the second dimension along which speakers are assessed.

Work to improve your presentation voice and you’re on your way to an especially powerful presentation style.


[1] Grenville Kleiser, “How to Speak Well,” in Radio Broadcasting (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1935) , 42-43.

[2] George Rowland Collins, Platform Speaking (New York and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1923), 33.

[3] Suter, J. K. (2003). Der Eindruck vom Ausdruck–Einfluss paraverbaler Kommunikation auf die Wahrnehmung von Nachrichtensprechenden [The impression of expression – the influence of paraverbal communication on the perception of newsreaders]. Unpublished master’s thesis. University of Bern, Switzerland.

[4] Anne Eisenberg, “Mars and Venus, On the Net : Gender Stereotypes Prevail,” (The New York Times, 2000), http://www-personal.umich.edu/~rfrost/courses/SI110/readings/Cyberculture/Eisenberg.pdf

Especially Powerful Voice

Powerful Voice for Competitive Advantage
Especially Powerful Voice

Not many of us readily accept suggestions on how to improve ourselves, particularly when it comes to highly personal aspects of our very being that impact our presentations.

For instance . . .

Your voice.

There’s nothing sacrosanct or “natural” about your speaking voice.  Your voice is the product of many years of development from numerous influences, many of which you may be unaware of.

Develop an Especially Powerful Voice

Why not evaluate your voice today?  See if it gets the presentation job done for you.

Does your voice crack?  Does it whine?  Do you perform a Kim Kardashian vocal fry at the end of every sentence?  Does it tic up at the end of every sentence for no good reason?

Do you lard your conversation with nonsensical filler such as “whatever,” “umm,” “totally,” and “like” hundreds of times per day?

Why not change for the better?

It’s time to recognize that your voice is not a sacred artifact, nor is it some precious extension of your very being.  It is an instrument with which you communicate.

You can sharpen your communication skills by improving your voice.  Simply thinking of your voice in this way will improve its quality. Working to improve it will improve its quality dramatically and build your voice into an especially powerful skill for personal competitive advantage.

Let’s consider here several things you can do to improve your voice. Nothing extreme at all.  Have a look . . .

Don’t Be a Business Presentation Snipper!

Presentation snippers

I often hear business presentation sentence snippers.

Snippers have a verbal tic – they snip the ends of sentences during a business presentation.

You’ve probably heard these presentation snippers, too – they pinch the ends of sentences.

This is an unfortunate verbal tic.  Tics can drag us down.

And it’s the elimination of these verbal tics that separate great speakers from good speakers.

Don’t Be a Snipper!

If you are looking for tangible evidence of individual tics and habits that bring speakers down to the level of, well . . . to the level of sounding amateurish, this is one of those clear cases.

The phenomenon that I speak of is the staccato voicing of the last word of a sentence.

Sometimes the voice drops, just like that of a child reading sentences from a story book.  Each sentence is a great accomplishment, and the child celebrates by dropping the voice and snipping the last word.

As if each sentence is a story in itself.

Snip your sentences?For whatever reason, many folks who speak from a script or who read aloud become snippers.  They cut the last word of a sentence short.  As if in a race to get to the next sentence.

As if each sentence stands alone, unconnected to the sentences to follow.

One good source of bad speaking technique is to listen to commercials that feature “everyday people” giving testimonials.

Folks become snippers when they read from a script or speak memorized passages.

Tune in to this.

Make it a habit to listen closely to speakers you admire, but also the speakers who, for whatever reason, you do not like.  Ask yourself why you like one speaker and not another.

Why all the Snipping?

Why do people snip their sentences?  I don’t know.  Perhaps it’s an unconscious desire to voice the period at the end of a sentence?

Perhaps it’s to get a quicker breath to start the next sentence, so that there is a little silence as possible between sentences?

You can acquire an additional patina of professionalism by simply not doing this.  Refuse to snip.  Refuse to be a snipper.

Give full voice to every word in your sentence.  Especially the last one.  Don’t draw it out unnaturally, but certainly don’t snip it off.

Regardless, I believe that it’s incredibly important to the speaker who wishes to become a great presenter to be aware of the pathology.

But you may not agree.

This may seem unimportant to you.  Do you scoff at this?  Are you a snipper and believe that it’s something too small, too unimportant to consider?  Are you unaware whether you do this or not, and do not care one way or the other?

If so, then you handicap yourself with a bad habit whose cumulative effect over the course of any single presentation yields an impression on the audience.  That this is an amateur speaker.

If so, then continue down that path.  Good luck and Godspeed!

But your audience will be the ultimate arbiter, and it will judge you.

As with so many of the tics and habits and quirks of bad public speaking, the audience may not recognize them individually.  But they know that they’re in the presence of the mundane and of the average.

If you wish to improve your business presenting in ways great and small . . .   If you want to correct repetitive tics that drag you down, like barnacles slowing a ship, then listen to yourself.

And correct the problem.

For more on identifying and correcting bad habits, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Stop Uptalk for Presentation Credibility

Uptalk Girl -- Stop Uptalk
Stop Uptalk!

Stop Uptalk.

That’s it.

It’s just that simple to gain substantial credibility from virtually any audience.

Yes, you can stop uptalk for presentation credibility . . . but given the prevalence of this ugly vocal habit, it’s apparently not easy to give up.

Foregoing other bad habits might be easier . . .

Stop chewing tobacco.

Stop Thursday and Friday Happy Hour.  Give up refined sugar and white bread.  Go organic.  Become vegan.

All well and good, but none of those things will help your presentation credibility.  Few behavior changes can do you as much good as stopping Uptalk.

Stop Uptalk.

The Uptalk Pathology

Uptalk is the maddening rise of inflection at the end of declarative sentences that transforms simple statements into an endless stream of questioning uncertainty.

As if the speaker is contantly asking for validation.  Looking for others to nod in agreement.  Yes, maddening . . . and it infests everyone exposed to this voice with doubt, unease, and irritation.

It screams amateur when used in formal presentations, a time when we most want and need to be taken seriously.

Uptalk cries out:  “I don’t know what I’m talking about here.  I just memorized a series of sentences and I’m spitting them out now in this stupid presentation.  I’m not invested in this exercise at all.”

Uptalk radiates weakness and uncertainty and doubt.

Uptalk conveys the mood of unfinished business, as if something more is yet to come.  A steady drumbeat of questioning non-questions.

You create a tense atmosphere with Uptalking that is almost demonic in its effect.  This tic infests your audience with an unidentifiable uneasiness.

At its worst, your audience wants to cover ears and cry “make it stop!”   . . . but they aren’t quite sure at what they should vent their fury.

Uptalk  =  “I don’t know what I’m talking about”

In certain places abroad, this tic is known as the Australian Questioning Intonation, popular among young Australians.  The Brits are less generous in their assessment of this barbarism, calling it the “moronic interrogative,” a term coined by comedian Rory McGrath.

In United States popular culture, listen for uptalk in any popular youth-oriented television show.

Reality television females, as a breed, seem unable to express themselves in any other way.  Their lives appear as one big query.

But you can fix this.

In fact, you can gain an especially powerful competitive advantage simply by eliminating this pathology.  If you speak with straightforward declarative sentences, with confidence and conviction, your personal presence gains power, and this power increases the more it is contrasted with the hosts of questioning babblers around you who seem unsure of anything.

For many young speakers, Uptalk is the only roadblock standing between them and a major step up in presentation power.

So Stop Uptalk!

And recognizing that you have this awful habit is halfway to correcting it.

Evaluate your own speech to identify the up-tic.

Then come to grips with it, and, you know . . .

Eliminate it.  Totally.

For a wealth of energizing instruction on exactly how to craft especially powerful presentations and stop uptalk, have a look at The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

How to Improve Your Presentation Voice

You can improve your presentation voice
You can work to improve your presentation voice

Do you bristle when folks suggest that you might improve yourself in some way . . . such as how you might improve your presentation voice?

This is a natural reaction when it comes to highly personal aspects of our personality and behavior.

We bristle.

We reject coaching in certain areas.

Perhaps you kneejerk that “There’s nothing wrong with my ——–!”

Of course, it’s much easier to accept a substandard status quo than it is to opt for improvement.

One example of such an area of improvement is your business presentation voice.

Choose!

To get to the point where we can improve the speaking voice, we first must accept that there’s nothing sacred, sacrosanct, or “natural” about your speaking voice.

Your voice is the product of many years of development from numerous influences.  Many of these influences might well have been unconscious acquisitions.  Perhaps adaptations of which you may be unaware.

Why not evaluate your voice today?

Film your presentation, then watch with critical eye and listen with critical ear.  Listen with an ear to how to improve your presentation voice.

See if it gets the presentation job done for you.  Does it?

Does your voice crack?  Does it whine?

Do you perform a Kim Kardashian vocal fry at the end of every sentence?  Does it tic up at the end of every sentence with a bad case of uptalk, turning your sentences all into questions?

Do you lard your conversation with nonsensical filler such as “whatever,” “umm,” “totally,” and “like” hundreds of times per day?

If you are then pleased with all of this, then carry on.  Or choose to improve the communicative power of your voice.

Why not change for the better?

Improve Your Presentation Voice

It’s time to recognize that your voice is not a sacred artifact, nor is it some precious extension of your very being.  It’s an instrument with which you communicate.

You can sharpen your communication skills by improving your voice.

Simply thinking of your voice in this way will improve its quality. Working to improve it will improve its quality dramatically and build your voice into an especially powerful skill for personal competitive advantage.

Let’s consider here several things you can do to improve your voice.

Nothing extreme at all.  Have a look . . .

For more on how to improve your presentation voice, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Improve Your Speaking Voice

Improve your speaking voice for powerful presentations
Improve your speaking voice for powerful presentations

You can improve your speaking voice to become a first-rate business presenter, but you must first accept that you can and should improve it.

Some folks get skittish and think the voice they have now is somehow “natural” and should not be tinkered with.

No, your voice isn’t  “natural” in any meaningful sense.  In fact, its qualities are likely the result of years of chaotic development and influence from many factors.

Why not seize control of that development process and begin to improve  your speaking voice today?

Improve Your Speaking Voice

Face it – some voices sound good and others sound bad.  And all sorts of voices fit in-between.

Here are some of the most awful and yet ubiquitous problems that plague speakers.

Let’s call them “verbal tics.”  They are nothing more than bad habits born of  unconscious neglect and chaotic voice development over years of influence from sources as disparate as television, radio, parents, and peers.

They eat away at your credibility.  Recognize them as corrosive factors that leech your presentations of their power.  They are easily corrected.

Here are four deal-breaking verbal tics . . .

Vocal Fry – This unfortunate verbal gaffe comes at the end of sentences and is caused by squeezing out insufficient air to inflate the final word of the sentence.  The result is a grinding or grating sound on the last word.

Primarily a phenomenon that affects females, its most famous male purveyor is President Bill Clinton, whose grating voice with its Arkansas accent became a trademark.  Clinton was so incredibly good along the six other dimensions by which we adjudge great speaking that he turned his vocal fry into an advantage and part of his universally recognizable persona.

This tic is likely a manifestation of 1970s “valley girl” talk or “Valspeak.”  Vocal Fry is manifested by a creaking and grating on the last word or syllable.

It actually appears to be a fashionable way to speak in some circles, pinching off the last word of a sentence into a grating, grinding fade.  As if a  frog is croaking in the throat.  As if someone has thrown sand into the voice box.

When combined with “cartoon voice,” it can reach unbearable scale for an audience.

Verbal Down-tic – This is also called the “falling line.”  This is an unfortunate speaking habit of inflecting the voice downward at the end of every sentence, letting the air rush from the lungs in a fading expulsion, as if each sentence is a labor.

The last syllables of a word are lost in breath.  The effect is of exhaustion, depression, resignation, even of impending doom.

The Verbal Down-tic leeches energy from the room.  It deflates the audience.  In your talk, you have too many things that must go right than needlessly to create a gloom in the room.

Verbal Sing-Song – The voice bobs and weaves artificially, as if the person is imitating what they think a speaker ought to sound like.  Who knows what inspires people to talk this way, usually only in public speaking or presenting.

It’s an affectation, and if you find yourself affecting a style or odd mannerism because you think you ought to, it’s probably wrong.

Uptalk – This heinous affectation is also called the “rising line” or the “high rising terminal.”  Uptalk is an unfortunate habit of inflecting the voice upward at the end of every sentence, as if a question is being asked.  If you could choose only one thing to change to improve your speaking voice, this would be it.  Uptalk is so corrosive to credibility that correcting this one pathology can transform a weak presentation and how it is received by a skeptical audience.

It radiates weakness and uncertainty and conveys the mood of unfinished business, as if something more is yet to come.

Sentence after sentence in succession spoken as if questions.

You create a tense atmosphere with the verbal up-tic that is almost demonic in its effect.  This tic infests your audience with an unidentifiable uneasiness.

At its worst, your audience wants to cover ears and cry “make it stop!” but they aren’t quite sure at what they should vent their fury.

In certain places abroad, this tic is known as the Australian Questioning Intonation, popular among young Australians.  The Brits are less generous in their assessment of this barbarism, calling it the “moronic interrogative,” a term coined by comedian Rory McGrath.

Speech coach Susan Miller superbly describes these speech pathologies and offers remedies for both vocal fry and uptalk here.

These are the tics and gaffes that destroy our presenting.  Recognizing them is half-way to correcting them

For more tips to improve your speaking voice, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Stop the Presentation Warm Up!

Eliminate the presentation warm up Stop all that metaphorical throat-clearing at the start of your business presentation.

The presentation warm up.

You know exactly what I mean.

All that filler you pump into your business presentation at the beginning.

Somewhere, someone came up with the notion that you must “warm up” your audience before you launch into the meat of your talk.

A contrivance

Someone contrived the notion that you must thank everyone from your mother to the wait staff to the United States President.

Someone concocted the notion that you must praise the locale of your talk as if you’ve passed through the gates of paradise.

Forget all of that.

That’s nothing but throat clearing, and it’s done all for you, not your audience.  You’re warming yourself up to get over your nervousness.

You’re uttering meaningless platitudes that no one can call you on.  So you’re “safe.”

You think you’re safe, but you’re losing your audience, numbing them.  In their minds, they’re already folding their arms and yawning.

Stop the Presentation Warm Up!

Get to the point.

How?

Patricia Fripp is one of the nation’s finest executive and presentation coaches.  She offers especially powerful advice on launching your presentation:

Don’t be polite . . . get to the point.  [I told one client] “You’re polite . . . and that’s not a bad habit, but you don’t have much time.  They know who you are because you’ve been entertaining them.  They know where you are.  Make it about them.

“When you begin, why don’t you say:  ‘Welcome and thank you for the opportunity to host you.  In the next seven minutes, you are going to discover why the best decision you can make for your members and your association is to bring your convention to San Francisco and the Fairmont Hotel.’ . . . ”

You may argue that those polite opening comments are necessary because the audience is still settling down and not focused on you.  This may be true, but don’t let it be an excuse.  Go to the front of the room and wait until you have their attention, maintaining a strong, cheerful gaze and willing them to be silent.  If needed, state the opening phrase of your comments and then pause until all eyes are focused on you, awaiting the rest of the sentence.

I suggest you consult Patricia often as a source for no-nonsense presentation wisdom.  She’s in the National Speakers Association Hall of Fame for a reason.

And do consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting to resolve more speaking issues like the presentation warm up.

Presentation Power Posing: “I feel especially powerful today!”

Power Posing
Power Posing Yields Presentation Confidence

I don’t mean to be a pain to my long-suffering business students, but one power posing exercise that elicits more scorn than it deserves is called “Especially Powerful.”

It consists of everyone standing up and then striking a confident stance.  Feet are shoulder-width apart and arms outstretched to either side, palms turned upward.

Picture it.

This is a critical and powerful pose.

Power Posing Personified

Then visualize a slight tilt of the head up and, in unison and in the best tradition of the deep-voiced Darth Vader, everyone repeats after me . . . “I feel especially powerful today!”

Several times.

“I feel especially powerful today!”

I’m not satisfied until the room reverberates with the appropriate tone and volume, which indicate a robust embrace of the exercise and what we’re trying to accomplish.

Which is . . . what?

Why do I engage in what might appear gimmicky or cute?

First, I don’t do cute.  Second, the exercise achieves superb physiological goals that improve many characteristics associated with business presenting.

Voice . . . stance . . . posture . . . confidence . . . poise.

In short, much of what we call body language.  Power Posing.

Body Language
Power Posing
Power Posing Carries Gravitas

We hear in some circles that nonverbal communication – your body language – comprises more than 50 percent of your message.  Some studies contend that it comprises more than 70 percent.

For no other reason than this, we should be concerned with the messages we transmit with our posture, our expressions, our gestures.  Yes, body language is critical to conveying your message, and power posing is some of the most effective body language you can use.

But it is essential for another equally important reason.

It’s a reason not generally well-known or understood.  It’s a secret that I’ve use with my presentation students for years to invest them with confidence and new-found presentation power.  Its core idea stretches back well more than a century, to one of the world’s first theories of emotion: James-Lange Theory.

William James and the Danish physiologist Carl G. Lange developed the theory independently of each other in the 1880s.

Here’s a taste of the real thing from Mr. James himself:

“My theory … is that the bodily changes follow directly the perception of the exciting fact, and that our feeling of the same changes as they occur is the emotion.  Common sense says, we lose our fortune, are sorry and weep; we meet a bear, are frightened and run; we are insulted by a rival, are angry and strike.  The hypothesis here to be defended says that this order of sequence is incorrect … and that the more rational statement is that we feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we tremble …

Without the bodily states following on the perception, the latter would be purely cognitive in form, pale, colorless, destitute of emotional warmth.  We might then see the bear, and judge it best to run, receive the insult and deem it right to strike, but we should not actually feel afraid or angry.”

And if you aren’t satisfied with the narrative of a 19th Century social scientist you never heard of, then take the theory of Charles Darwin, who in 1872 was one of the first to speculate that your body posture can have an effect of generating emotions rather than simply reflecting them.

The free expression by outward signs of an emotion intensifies it.  On the other hand, the repression, as far as this is possible, of all outward signs softens our emotions . . . .  Even the simulation of an emotion tends to arouse it in our minds.

So how does this relate to powerful business presenting?

Every way you can think of.

We generally believe that our emotions affect our body language.  We ourselves have experienced the effects of stage fright.  Emotions influence the way you stand, the way you appear to your audience.  They influence what you say and how you say it.

So if we feel stage fright and lack of confidence, our body language telegraphs that.  Moreover, once we become conscious of the effects of our fears, they worsen, and we get caught in a downward spiral of cause-and-effect.

But what if we could reverse that cause-and-effect?  What if we could, say, strike a confident pose and suddenly find ourselves infused with confidence?

Impossible, eh?

But James-Lange Theory suggests that very thing, that you can reverse the process.

Turn Negative Energy into Positive with Power Posing

You can use your gestures, movement, posture, and expression to influence your emotions.  You can affect body language associated with the emotion you want to experience – namely, confidence – and so gain confidence.

Power Posing
Power Posing is a critical component of Confidence and Charisma

This means that we should lay the groundwork for our emotions to reflect our body language and our posture.  Consciously strike a pose that reflects the confident and powerful speaker you want to be.  This is power posing.

This may sound too easy and leave you asking “what’s the catch?”

No, there’s no catch.  And now that recent research has scientifically confirmed the dynamic I just described, the secret is out.

Several theories later and after many attempts to debunk James-Lange Theory, the most recent research at Harvard University and the Kellogg School of Management would seem to give Mr. James and Mr. Lange the proverbial last laugh.

A 2010 Harvard study substantiated James-Lange Theory and found that power posing substantially increases confidence in people who assume them while interacting with others.  The Kellogg study early this year yielded the same findings.

In short, the way you stand or sit either increases or decreases your confidence.  The study’s conclusion is unambiguous that power posing can actually imbue us with power.

Our results show that posing in high-power displays (as opposed to low-power displays) causes physiological, psychological, and behavioral changes consistent with the literature on the effects of power on power holders — elevation of the dominance hormone testosterone, reduction of the stress hormone cortisol, and increases in behaviorally demonstrated risk tolerance and feelings of power.

This finding holds tremendous significance for you if you want to imbue your presentations with power and yourself with professional presence.  In our 21st Century vernacular, power posing means you should stand the way you want to feel.

Power posing – “I feel especially powerful today!” – improves your entire presentation delivery in ways you’ve likely not imagined.

Power Posing can flood your system with testosterone and can suppress stress-related cortisol, so you actually do invest yourself with confidence and relieve the acute anxiety that presentations sometimes generate.

The lesson here is to affect the posture of confidence.  Square your shoulders.  Fix a determined look on your face.

Speak loudly and distinctly.

Extend your arms to either side and take up lots of space.

Seize the emotional energy flow and make it work for you.

And remember . . .

“I feel especially powerful today!”

For more especially powerful guidance on power posing, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

The Scourge of Cartoon Speaking Voice!

Cartoon voice is a pathology
Reality TV mimicry is a formula for Business Presentation Failure

No, I’ve never heard you speak or deliver a presentation, but judging from what I hear in the classroom, in the elevator, on the subway, and in the campus coffee shops, the odds are good that your speaking voice is pinched and smaller than it ought to be.

This results from many influences in our popular culture that, within the last decade or so, have urged on us a plaintive, world-weary whine as voice-of-choice.

High-pitched.  Small.  Weak.  Unpleasant.  Pinched.  Nasal.

Raspy.

A voice from reality television.

A cartoon voice.

Cartoon Speaking Voice

The cartoon speaking voice is more prevalent than you might imagine.

It is sometimes called the puberphonic voice, and this is not meant as a compliment.

Several reasonably-known celebrities have cartoon speaking voices, and they usually dwell in the wasteland of daytime television.

One cartoon voice belongs to someone called Kelly Ripa, who participates on a show called “Live with Regis and Kelly.”  This ABC Network television program, an abysmal daytime offering, serves up Ms. Ripa not for her voice, but for other attributes.

This show is worth watching, once, if only to hear Ms. Ripa’s slam-on-the-brakes whine.

Two other champions of the squeaky, whiney cartoon voice are people who appear to have achieved a degree of questionable fame for all of the wrong reasons:  Kim Kardashian and Meghan McCain, who appear on television for some reason unknown to all but the producers of the shows they inhabit.  Commonly called “divas,” their voices are barely serviceable for even routine communication.

Granted, these young women are not delivering business presentations, but their negative influence has infected an entire generation of young people who do deliver presentations.  They embody all that is wrong with regard to delivering powerful presentations.  If this sounds harsh, it is meant to be.  They exhibit habitual pathologies of the worst sort.

Where do these people learn to speak this way, in this self-doubting, self-referential, endlessly qualified grinding whine?

One culprit appears to be the Disney Channel, inculcating a new generation of young folks into the practice of moron-speak.  As well, numerous other popular young adult shows occupy the lowest rung of the speech food chain, passing on lessons in weak voice and poor diction.

Reality TV Infests Everything

Most anywhere, you can hear people who talk this way.  They surround us.

Next time you stand in line at the convenience store, listen to the people around you.  Focus on the voices.  Listen for the trapped nasal sound, the whine of precious self-indulgence.  Or the sound of a voice rasping across vocal cords at the end of every sentence.  A voice fry that has no force.  No depth.

A voice you could swat away as you would backhand a fly.

I often hear this cartoon speaking voice in the elevator as I commute between my office and classrooms.  Elevator conversations are often sourced from lazy, scratchy voices.  These voices are ratcheted tight in the voice box with barely enough air passed across the vocal cords.  What do I mean by this?

Let’s have an example.  Two young ladies entered my elevator the other day (any day, really), and one chattered to the other about her “boyfriend” and his despicable antics on “Facebook.”  It was heinous.

Cartoon Speaking Voice is a professional killer
Cartoon Speaking Voice goes with Uptalk

I shifted eyes to the owner of this raspy voice whose favorite word in the English language was quite evidently “like.”  Everything was “like” something else instead of actually it.  And apparently “totally” so.  Ya know?

“Like.  Like.  Like.  Totally!  Like.  Like.  Like.  Totally!  It was like . . . ummmm. . . okay . . . whatever.  Ya know what I mean?”

She fired them out in machine-gun fashion.  A verbal stutter and punctuation mark, apparently unsure of anything she was saying.  Her voice was a lab experiment of bad timbre.  It cracked and creaked along, word after squeaky word.

A pickup truck with a flat tire flopping along to the service station.

The air barely passed over her vocal cords, just enough to rattle a pile of dry sticks.  Not nearly enough air to vibrate and give pitch and tone.  No resonance came from the chest.  Her cartoon speaking voice rasped on the ears.

Every sentence spoken as a question.

Dum-Dums . . .

Two major problems surface here.  First, the cracking and grinding sound, which is at the very least, irritating.  Second, the primitive infestation of what I call “dum-dums.”

Dum-dums are moronic interjections slipped into  virtually every sentence like an infestation of termites.

“Like.  Totally!  Ya know?  Ummm.  Like.  Totally!  It was like, okay, you know . . . ya know?  Ummm.  Whatever.”

Dum-dums right off the Disney Channel.

Be honest and recognize that adults don’t speak like this.  And if you choose to speak like this, you will never be taken seriously by anyone of import considering whether to give you responsibility.  Cartoon voice peppered with Dum-dums gives the impression that you have nothing worthwhile to say, and so you fill empty air with dum-dums.

Dum-dums result from lazy thought and lazier speech.  It started on the west coast as an affectation called “Valley Speak” and has seeped into the popular culture as relentlessly as nicotine into the bloodstream.

Exaggeration?  No, it’s a voice you hear every day.

Listen for it.  Maybe it’s your voice.

Your Ticket to Failure or a Chance for Redemption

In the abstract, there is probably nothing wrong with any of this if your ambitions are of a lowest common denominator stripe.

If you’re guilty of this sort of thing, in everyday discourse you can probably get by with laziness, imprecision, and endless qualifying.  The problem arises when you move into the boardroom to express yourself in professional fashion to a group of, say, influential skeptics who wait to be impressed by the power of your ideas and how you express them.

Cartoon Speaking Voice infested with Dum-dum words – this debilitating pathological combination destroys all business presentations except one – a pitch for yet another moronic reality TV show.  You cannot deliver a credible business presentation speaking this way.  You are toast before you open your mouth.

Badly burned toast.

But the good news is that all of this is reasonably easy to correct – if you can accept that your voice and diction should be changed.

If you recognize that you have a Cartoon Speaking Voice and that you pepper your speech with dum-dums, ask yourself these questions:  Why do I talk like this?

Why can’t I utter a simple declarative sentence without inserting dum-dums along the way?  Why do all of my sentences sound like questions?  Do I really want and need to sound like this – a ditz – just because the people around me can’t express themselves except in staccato dum-dums with a cracking voice?

Sure, You Can Hang on to that Bad Voice!

Deciding to change one’s voice is a bold move that takes you out of your current cramped comfort zone.  But you don’t have to do it!

Nope, don’t change a thing!

If you recognize that you have a Cartoon Speaking Voice, and you are comfortable slathering your speech with Dum-Dums, and you see no reason to change just because someone recommends it, well then . . . keep on keepin’ on!  Sure, it’s okay for your inner circle of chatterers.  Relish it.  Hang onto it, and don’t even give a backward glance.

Let 1,000 dum-dums flourish!

But do so with the clear-eyed recognition that Dum-Dums make you sound like a moron.

You make a conscious choice.  Dum-Dums make you sound like a reality TV show lightweight unable to utter an original thought or even speak in complete sentences.  You sacrifice personal competitive advantage so that you can continue to . . . do what?

Recognize that if you want to succeed in an intensely competitive business climate, you should consider leaving Disney Channel behind.

When you want to be taken seriously in a business presentation . . . speak like an adult.

For more on improving your professional presence and rid yourself of cartoon speaking voice, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Develop your Business Presentation Voice

Business Presentation Voice
Develop Your Presentation Voice for Personal Competitive Advantage

Several months ago, I here asked the rhetorical question “Do you have a case of Bad Presentation Voice.”

Rather than mere provocation, the question addressed the issue of your presentation voice quality, one of the key issues in business presenting today.

 “Bad Voice” is a problem that goes largely unaddressed.  For many reasons.  Pride.  Ego.  Sensitivity.

As such, it remains a debilitating burden for many people who could otherwise be superb speakers.

Your Presentation Voice

Your voice can be a sensitive issues.

We tend to think that our voices are off-limits when it comes to changing, let alone improving.

We believe the voice is “natural” when, in fact, it’s likely the product of undisciplined and random influences – parents, peers, television, celebrities, radio, occasional mimicry.

The result can be awful.

Many influences in our culture have, in the last decade or so, urged on us a plaintive, world-weary whine as voice-of-choice.  Thus, voice becomes a matter of style – not just in the slang we choose to use, but in the way our voices sound when we use that slang.

So what’s a “Bad Presentationi Voice?”

Do you swallow your voice in the back of your throat so that you produce a nasal twang?  Is it pinched?

Do you use your chest as the resonating chamber it ought to be, or does your voice emanate from your throat alone?

High-pitched.  Small.  Weak.  Pinched.  Nasal.  Raspy.

Unpleasant.

Next time you stand in line at the convenience store, listen to the people around you.  Focus on the voices.  Listen for the trapped nasal sound, the whine of precious self-indulgence.

Or the sound of air rasping across vocal cords.  A voice that has no force.  No depth.  A voice you could swat away as you would backhand a fly.

A voice from reality television.  A cartoon voice.  A voice that can even hurt your social life.

Cartoon Presentation Voice

The cartoon voice is more prevalent than you might imagine.  Several reasonably-known celebrities have cartoon voices, and they usually dwell in the wasteland of daytime television.

Take this person called Kelly Ripa, who participates on a daytime television show.  This ABC Network television program, an abysmal offering, serves up Ms. Ripa not for her voice, but for other attributes.  This show is worth watching, once, if only to hear Ms. Ripa’s slam-on-the-brakes whine.

Two other champions of the squeaky, whiney cartoon voice are people who appear to have achieved questionable fame for all of the wrong reasons:  Kim Kardashian and Meghan McCain.  Their voices are barely serviceable for even routine communication.  They embody all that is wrong with regard to acquiring a powerful business presentation voice.

They exhibit habitual pathologies of the worst sort.

But . . . my voice is “natural!”

If you want to become a good speaker, but you do not accept that you can and should improve your voice, it means that you are much like an un-coachable football player.  Oh, you want to become a superb football player, but you refuse to listen to the coach.

He tells you to develop your muscles and coordination in the gym, but you refuse.

Business Presentation Voice
Develop a Powerful Business Presentation Voice for a Competitive Edge

Instead, you respond that your body’s musculature is “natural.”  You believe that you can become a great football player without “cheating” with weight training or cardio conditioning.  Or by modifying your “natural” physique by exercising and building your muscles and coordination.

I’m sure you see the absurdity in this.

The same is true when it comes to your presentation voice.  Voice is an extremely personal attribute, and people don’t take criticism lightly, perhaps viewing it as a self-esteem issue or an attack on personhood.  It’s not.

Don’t bristle at the notion that you should strive to develop a mellifluous and compelling presentation voice.  This is naiveté and vanity and ego masquerading as who-knows what.

It’s a self-imposed handicap and an excuse for inaction.  You hold yourself back.

It’s also a manifestation of fear.  Clare Tree Major observed this fear almost a century ago in college students of her time:

“People are exceedingly sensitive about changing their methods of speech for fear it will bring upon them the ridicule of their families and friends. . . . Charm and grace and beauty will come only when speech is unconscious – not while you have to think of every word and tone.  If a thing is right, there can be no question of affectation.  It is a greater affectation to do the wrong merely to pander to the less cultured tastes of others.  If you know a thing is right, do it.  If you have not this ideal and this courage, then it will waste your time to study correct speech. ”

What is your voice but a means of communication?  Does it have purposes other than speaking or singing?  Other than communicating?  And if we consider this carefully, it’s easy to see that clear communication depends upon the timbre of your voice.

It does matter what others think of your voice, since you use it to communicate, and it is others who receive your messages.  Doesn’t it make sense, then, to cultivate the most effective voice you possibly can?  So that you might communicate most effectively in especially powerful business presentations?

Put another way, doesn’t it make sense to eliminate what is unpleasant, ineffectual, shrill, and dissonant from your voice, if possible?

For more on developing an especially powerful business presentation voice, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Uptalk is not the Rage Virus, but . . .

Eliminate uptalk from your speaking style
Fix this one voice pathology of Uptalk and vault yourself into the upper echelon of folks who sound like they know what they’re talking about

While it does seem to be spreading like a virus, Uptalk does not spell the end of civilization.

No, the rapid spread of this debilitating voice pathology is not as alarming as, say, the spread of the Rage virus in the film 28 Days Later . . .

But . . .

Uptalk does show an incredible degradation of the language and of clear ideas, confidently expressed . . . especially in business presentations.

And as with most obstacles, there is an opportunity buried inside this one.

This infestation of uptalk offers you an valuable opportunity.  For this opportunity to work for you to its maximum, you must keep it to yourself so that the gulf and the contrast between you and them is as great as can be.

If you can overcome your own tendency toward uptalk, which is a hoi-polloi kind of thing, you will have lifted yourself above the horde of uptalking babblers that seems to increase daily.

You can do this by training yourself to speak with a forthright confidence.

The Uptalk Pathology

Uptalk is the maddening rise of inflection at the end of declarative sentences that transforms simple statements into an endless stream of questioning uncertainty.

As if the speaker is contantly asking for validation.  Looking for others to nod in agreement.

Yes, maddening . . . and it infests everyone exposed to this voice with doubt, unease, and irritation.  It screams amateur when used in formal presentations.

It cries out:  “I don’t know what I’m talking about here.  I just memorized a series of sentences and I’m spitting them out now in this stupid presentation.  I’m not invested in this exercise at all.”

Poet and social commentator Taylor Mali has this to say about this voice pathology . . .

 

 

Uptalk radiates weakness and uncertainty and doubt.  It conveys the mood of unfinished business, as if something more is yet to come.  A steady drumbeat of questioning non-questions.

You create a tense atmosphere with Uptalking that is almost demonic in its effect.  This tic infests your audience with an unidentifiable uneasiness.  At its worst, your audience wants to cover ears and cry “make it stop!”   . . . but they aren’t quite sure at what they should vent their fury.

Uptalk  =  “I don’t know what I’m talking about”

In certain places abroad, this tic is known as the Australian Questioning Intonation, popular among young Australians.  The Brits are less generous in their assessment of this barbarism, calling it the “moronic interrogative,” a term coined by comedian Rory McGrath.

In United States popular culture, listen for uptalk in any popular youth-oriented television show.

Reality television females, as a breed, seem unable to express themselves in any other way.  Their lives appear as one big query.

But you can fix this.

In fact, you can gain an especially powerful competitive advantage simply by eliminating this pathology.  If you speak with straightforward declarative sentences, with confidence and conviction, your personal presence gains power, and this power increases the more it is contrasted with the hosts of questioning babblers around you who seem unsure of anything.

For many young speakers, Uptalk is the only roadblock standing between them and a major step up in presentation power.

And recognizing that you have this awful habit is halfway to correcting it.

Evaluate your own speech to identify the up-tic.

Then come to grips with it, and, you know . . .

Eliminate it.  Totally.

For a wealth of energizing instruction on exactly how to craft especially powerful presentations without uptalk, have a look at The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

How to Develop a Powerful Presentation Voice

An especially powerful presentation voice
You can enhance your Business Presentations by developing your voice into an especially powerful instrument, the source of personal competitive advantage

A powerful presentation voice that is resonant, clear, and captivating can lift your business presentation into the province of “professional.”

That voice is yours for the asking and development.

So what constitutes a great speaking voice, a voice ready for prime-time presenting?  Just this . . .

A voice that is stable, sourced from the chest and not the voice box alone.

A voice that carries sentences to their conclusion and doesn’t grind and whine at the end of sentences as is the bad habit of today.

A voice that concludes each sentence decisively and doesn’t transform every declarative sentence into a question.  A voice deeper than yours is right now.  A depth that you can acquire with a bit of work.

A presentation voice that that achieves personal competitive advantage through its resonance and distinctiveness.

Acquire a Powerful Presentation Voice

You can do many things to improve your voice – your articulation, your power and range, your force and tone.  If you decide that you want to move to an advanced level of presentations, many books and videos and recordings are published each year to help you along.

Much of the best writing on voice improvement was produced in the years when public speaking was considered an art – between 1840 and 1940.  The advice contained therein is about as universal and timeless as it gets.

The reality is that the human voice is the same now as it was 100 years ago.  It responds to the proven techniques developed over centuries to develop your voice into an especially powerful tool for business presentation advantage.

Below, I suggest several sources for further improvement.  And, of course, you can always click here for the whole self-training package.

• Renee Grant-Williams, Voice Power: Using Your Voice to Captivate, Persuade, and Command Attention (2002)

• Jeffrey Jacobi, How to Say it with Your Voice (1996)

• Patsy Rodenburg, Power Presentation: Formal Speech in an Informal World (2009)

• Clare Tree Major, Your Personality and Your Speaking Voice (1920)

“You don’t catch hell because . . .”

Earlier, I related how Malcolm X did not do much throat-clearing at the beginning of his talks.

Instead, he thrust a metaphorical sword into his audience.

He drove deeply to the heart of the issue in just a few short sentences, tapping into listener sensitivities.

His initial “grabber” was not meant simply for shock or surprise like a cheap circus feat.  It was shock and surprise linked to the needs of his audience, directly relevant and intertwined closely – even spiritually – with his listeners.

Malcolm did not engage in academic circumlocutions, oblique arguments, or vague generalizations. He said things directly, with punch and verve, with color and power.

He shunned latinate words and phraseology and drove home his point with Anglo-Saxon directness – short, powerful, repetitive sentences, constructed of the sturdiest syllables.

And once he had audience attention, he kept it.

Holding the Audience in your Grasp

One technique he used to hold his audiences rapt was the offering a single point and then colorfully making that point by means of a repetitive technique called the anaphora. It’s a technique that you can use as well.  Here’s how it works.

A powerful and carefully selected phrase is utilized at the beginning of a succession of sentences.  With each repetition, the presentation builds to a climax to produce a powerful emotional effect.  In Malcolm’s example we’re about to see, he uses the anaphora skillfully to identify a point of commonality among those in his audience that he holds with them.

I previously offered an example of one of Malcolm’s speeches delivered in 1963.  Let’s revisit that talk, review the first couple of sentences, and then see how Malcolm uses the anaphora to powerful emotional effect.  The speech was called  Message to the Grass Roots, and he delivered it in Detroit.  Note how Malcolm begins his talk by immediately establishing intimacy with the audience.

We want to have just an off-the-cuff chat between you and me . . . us.  We want to talk right down to earth in a language that everybody here can easily understand.

We all agree tonight, all of the speakers have agreed, that America has a very serious problem.  Not only does America have a very serious problem, but our people have a very serious problem.

America’s problem is us. We’re her problem. The only reason she has a problem is she doesn’t want us here. And every time you look at yourself, be you black, brown, red or yellow, a so-called Negro, you represent a person who poses such a serious problem for America because you’re not wanted. Once you fact this as a fact, then you can start plotting a course that will make you appear intelligent, instead of unintelligent.

What comes next?

Now that Malcolm X has the full attention of his listeners, it’s time to make point # 1 – unity and commonality of purpose. He chooses the anaphora as his technique, and he does so masterfully. His phrase of choice is “You don’t catch hell because . . . ”

What you and I need to do is learn to forget our differences.  When we come together, we don’t come together as Baptists or Methodists.  You don’t catch hell because you’re a Baptist, and you don’t catch hell because you’re a Methodist.  You don’t catch hell because you’re a Methodist or Baptist, you don’t catch hell becasue you’re a Democrat or a Republican, you don’t catch hell because you’re a Mason or an Elk, and you sure don’t catch hell because you’re an American; because if you were an American, you wouldn’t catch hell.  You catch hell because you’re a black man.  You catch hell, all of us catch hell, for the same reason.

 Malcolm has established beyond all doubt that he shares a commonality with his listeners that is directly tied to the central thesis of his talk. He drives his point home with the anaphora:  “You don’t catch hell because . . . ”

He utilized the same theme, or trope, in the video below in this speech before another audience in 1964.  This time his anaphora was slightly different:  “We’re not brutalized because–”  And it is just as powerful with its mesmerizing effect. The entire video shows a master presenter in tune with his audience and in control of his message.

 

Malcolm’s delivery is masterful . . . his voice, his tone, his inflection, his humor, his posture, and his gestures combine with his rhetorical techniques to establish an incredible bond with his listeners.  You sense his control of the event.

So what does this have to do with you and with business presenting?

Just this.

A powerful and graceful speaker, Malcolm X utilized an entire battery of oratorical weapons.  He intuitively understood the oratorical methods developed over more than 2500 years, and he wielded them with grace and with power.  These techniques can be yours.  You need only understand them, their function, their effects, and practice them.

For instance, the anaphora of repetition.  You can use anaphora as a powerful technique to hammer home your most important points and to hold your audience in the midst of your presentation.

But you may Hesitate

You may protest that Malcolm X lived and struggled in a different place and time over issues far more important that you or I will ever face.  Yes, he did.  The stakes were incredibly high and, for him, became quite literally a matter of his death.  But regardless of the message, the techniques of powerful presenting remain the same.  They are verities handed to us over centuries.

And if you refuse to learn from our great legacy of master speakers, if you do not emulate them, who then will you learn from?  The CEO of Coca-Cola?  Hardly.

A cornucopia of especially powerful techniques is available to you.  You may not struggle for justice on an international platform, but this does not absolve you from crafting the most powerful presentation you possibly can using the techniques of the masters.

Surely while the emphasis and tone of your message changes with circumstance, but not the methods themselves.  The anaphora is one such technique you should incorporate into your repertoire.

Malcolm X used a multiplicity of techniques to engage his friends and to disarm his enemies.  You can use them, too, and we’ll look at them in future posts.

Uptalk Prisoner Liberated!

Eliminate uptalk in your presentationsToday, I link to an inspiring story, a story of a brave girl who, through courage and persistence, overcame her debilitating handicap – the business presentation pathology of Uptalk.

This testimony on conquering Uptalk  is too good not to share.

It relates to a young woman who recognized her own debilitating verbal pathology of Uptalk and committed herself to ovecoming it.

She corrected it. Bravo!

Uptalk Gives You a Clueless Aura

Uptalk is sometimes called, by the Brits, the “Moronic Interrogative.”

Anyone who has had my classes or read for any length of time my hectoring in this blog-space knows of my crusade against this crippling vocal trend.  Uptalk leeches all credibility from the speaker.

Sometimes called the “High rising line” or “Valley speak,” this crippling quirk confers upon the user a clueless aura of uncertainty.

This is perhaps the single biggest discriminator between mature, professional presenters and the thousands of amateurs who can’t even hear the plaintive whine in their own constantly questioning sentences.

There is a reason that powerful, confident speakers hold audiences rapt.  The strength of their oratory is its declarative nature.  You hear no constant plea for validation in their voices.  You hear no pathological valley girl uptalk.

I crusade against uptalk, but not only because of its destruction of otherwise good presentations.  Uptalk can mean professional suicide for young graduates.  The insidious thing is that the eager abuser of language, the self-victimizer, won’t even know what lost her or him the job.  Uptalk can drive job interviewers crazy.  Uptalk can drive presentation audiences crazy.

Uptalk is the line between a professional speaker and the utter amateur.  It’s completely within your power to cross that line.  The young woman in this story did.  Here’s a passage from her woman’s testimonial . . .

I wasn’t expecting a priest to equip me for life but he did.  It started on the first day of theology class in catholic high school in Pennsylvania.

My theology teacher was a blind priest.  In our discussion-based religion course, he identified students by the sound of their voices.  Like many high school girls, I was an uptalk offender.  When I talked out loud in class, everything had the spoken equivalent of an ellipsis or a question mark on the end of it.

Here’s the entire story.

Throwing off the shackles of Uptalk can be liberating.  To learn more on how to do it, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

 

Voice – The Secret Video

Not many of us readily accept coaching or suggestions of how to improve ourselves, particularly when it comes to highly personal aspects of our very being.  For instance . . .

Your voice.

There’s nothing sacred, sacrosanct, or “natural” about your speaking voice.  Your voice is the product of many years of development from numerous influences, many of which you may be unaware of.

Why not evaluate your voice today?  See if it gets the presentation job done for you.

Does your voice crack?  Does it whine?  Do you perform a Kim Kardashian vocal fry at the end of every sentence?  Does it tic up at the end of every sentence for no good reason?

Do you lard your conversation with nonsensical filler such as “whatever,” “umm,” “totally,” and “like” hundreds of times per day?

Why not change for the better?

Develop an Especially Powerful Voice

It’s time to recognize that your voice is not a sacred artifact, nor is it some precious extension of your very being.  It is an instrument with which you communicate.

You can sharpen your communication skills by improving your voice.  Simply thinking of your voice in this way will improve its quality. Working to improve it will improve its quality dramatically and build your voice into an especially powerful skill for personal competitive advantage.

Let’s consider here several things you can do to improve your voice. Nothing extreme at all.  Have a look . . .

Uptalk Undermines the Best Presentations

Uptalk can kill your professional reputation
Why handicap your business presentations with juvenile uptalk?

Uptalk is the most ubiquitous speech pathology afflicting folks under thirty.

Once it grips you, uptalking is reluctant to let go.

It’s maddening, and it infests everyone exposed to this voice with doubt, unease, and irritation.  It bellows amateur when used in formal presentations.

It cries out:  “I don’t know what I’m talking about here . . . I just memorized a series of sentences and I’m spitting them out now in this stupid presentation.”

If you have this affectation – and if you’re reading this, you probably do – promise yourself solemnly to rid yourself of this debilitating habit.

Quash Uptalk!

But recognize that it’s not that easy.  Students confide in me that they can hear themselves uptalking during presentations, sentence after questioning sentence.  But for some reason, they simply cannot stop.

So exactly what is this crippling Verbal Up-tic?

Uptalk is also called the “rising line” or the “high rising terminal.”

This is an unfortunate habit of inflecting the voice upward at the end of every sentence, as if a question is being asked.  It radiates weakness and uncertainty and doubt.

It conveys the mood of unfinished business, as if something more is yet to come.

Sentence after sentence in succession is spoken as if a series of questions.

Uptalk  =  “I have no idea what I’m talking about”

You create a tense atmosphere with uptalking that is almost demonic in its effect.  This tic infests your audience with an unidentifiable uneasiness, a general creepiness.

At its worst, your listeners want to cover ears and cry “make it stop!”   . . . but they aren’t quite sure at what they should vent their fury.

In certain places abroad, this tic is known as the Australian Questioning Intonation, popular among young Australians.  The Brits are less generous in their assessment of this barbarism.  They call it the “moronic interrogative,” a term coined by comedian Rory McGrath.

In United States popular culture, Meghan McCain, the daughter of Senator John McCain, has made a brisk living off her uptalk.  Listen for it in any interview you stumble upon or popular youth-oriented television show.  Disney Channel is a training camp for uptalk.

Reality television females, as a breed, seem unable to express themselves in any other way.  Their lives appear as one big query.

But you can fix it.  And recognizing that you have this awful habit is halfway to correcting it.  For many young speakers, uptalk is the only roadblock standing between them and a major step up in presentation power.

Evaluate your own speech to identify uptalk.  Then come to grips with it.

For more on presentation pathologies like uptalk and how to overcome them in especially powerful fashion, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Heinous Voices

On the issue of voice, there is much to be said . . . but much better than the written word are examples.

Particularly examples of bad voices.

Egregious voices.

Heinous voices.

Voices of persons in the public eye, who really ought to know better.

I encourage people to take control of their voices rather than allowing them to develop in a chaotic and undisciplined way, perhaps mimicking the ignorant elite.  Voice development is essential for the improvement of your business presentation delivery.

Here, I point out what makes a pleasant communicative voice and what makes for annoying, weak, distracting voices.

A voice that undermines your credibility without you being aware.

CAVEAT:   Heinous Voices . . .

Here I offer two examples from reasonably well-known personages.  Examples of heinous voices that irritate and grind upon the senses.  They offer textbook instruction on what not to do if you are presenting.

The first video features actress Demi Moore, who is afflicted with two glaring voice pathologies.

Her first issue is a verbal grind that sounds as if she needs to clear her throat of something thick and unpleasant.  Her voice gurgles and grinds along because she is not pushing enough air across her vocal cords to hold a steady, let alone mellifluous, tone.

Demi also is plagued with the infuriating verbal uptick – sometimes called the moronic interrogative – in which every declarative sentence is formed as a question, as if she isn’t sure of what she’s saying, as if she is seeking validation from you for everything she says.

The grinding and upticking go on interminably . . . truly painful to hear.  It begins at the 60-second mark . . .

 

 

This second example is a young lady by the name of Danica McKellar — an actress, author, and “mathematician.”  She is certainly not a public speaker, given her cartoon voice and her own verbal grind pathology.

She sounds suspiciously like a Disney Channel-trained former kid actor, possessed as she is with the tell-tale end-of-sentence rasp and shrill cartoon words sourced direct from a pea-sized voice-box.

 

 

If you find yourself afflicted with these pathologies, you can correct them with a few minor adjustments – push air across your vocal cords, use your chest as a resonating chamber, and stop inflecting your voice up at the end of each sentence.

With just a few changes, you can dramatically improve your presenting voice.