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Your Especially Powerful Voice

As a business presenter, you obviously want to cultivate the most effective voice you possibly can.  Doesn’t this make sense?  So that you might communicate most effectively?

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

Well, some people don’t think so. If you don’t want to accept this advice, then don’t. Leave yourself at a disadvantage vis-à-vis others who are more flexible and less precious. If you see this state of affairs as perfectly fine, then leave your voice unmodified. Celebrate your certitude and stop reading now.

And in doing so, surrender incredible competitive advantage to others with less precious attitude.

But if you open yourself to the possibility of improvement, then read on.

Weak and Raspy?

A weak, raspy voice calls out weakness. It erodes the image of confidence that you want to project.

You have several options to deal with this. You surely have the option to accept your voice as-is. You can accept it as the willy-nilly product of years of neglect and nonchalance. You can enshrine that product as somehow “natural” and superior to a voice that is well-trained to communicate clearly.

Again, if you bristle at the notion that you should “change” your voice to suit the ear, then don’t change it. It’s that simple.

But if you want to improve, then the time to start improving is right this second, and you can do so by training.  Presentation Master Grenville Kleiser observed in 1935 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.”

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

First, we want to rid your voice of the chronic crack and rasp.  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.”

Second, we want to deepen your voice. Why? Like it or not, deeper voices are perceived as more credible. 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.

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

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 is simply the reality we’re dealt. If you want to devote your life fighting for “voice equality,” you have my support. If, on the other hand, you want to deepen your voice so that you gain personal competitive advantage, then let us analyze what the deep-voice reality means to us.

It means that a deeper 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. And when you decide to act on it, it adds to your personal competitive advantage.

If your voice is already deep, congratulations and move along. If not, and you’d like to add some depth, have a look at the next section.

Two Basic Changes

Let’s start by acknowledging that there are many things you can do 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 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 and responds to the proven techniques developed over centuries.

This site has no such ambition of transforming you into Barack Obama. Rather, I want to help you quickly and effortlessly to make the major changes necessary to dramatically improve your voice for business presentations. To 1) make you aware of major flaws and 2) to correct these flaws, if you have them.

The quality of business presentations is generally so low in the United States that even minor improvements in your voice technique and quality yield major returns in personal competitive advantage.

What about my voice?  Professor Ridgley’s voice?

Am I satisfied with it? Do I consider it “resonant” and top-notch? No, not by a long shot. And so I work on it . . .

I begin each day with resonating exercises in the privacy of my home, where no one can hear me run my not-so-deep register. I stretch and develop my vocal cords. Daily, I attempt to deepen my voice, to increase its resonance and pleasant qualities. And so should you.

Begone Crack and Rasp!

The goal is to rid ourselves of the crack and rasp and to deepen the voice. We can achieve both of these goals with a single exercise. The goal of exercises is to move your voice down a bit in its routine pitch. Sure, you’ll vary your pitch during your talks. Sometimes you speak higher and sometimes lower, sometimes faster, sometimes slower. But we want to move the “average” pitch down as much as we reasonably can. At the same time, the same exercise helps us push more air across the vocal cords and eliminates the crack and rasp.

This exercise requires that you be somewhat familiar with the voice of James Earl Jones – the voice of Darth Vader in the original Star Wars Trilogy from the 1970s and early 1980s. I do this exercise myself, and I conduct it en masse in my classes when I detect that students are expressing themselves less than enthusiastically. You, however, will do this exercise alone.

Find a place where no one can hear you or see you. This is to get you into a stress-free mind-set. Of course, you shouldn’t worry what other people think of you, but just in case . . . move to a private area where you can express yourself freely. And loudly.

Now, envision yourself as Darth Vader. And say this, in your best Darth Vader voice:

“I feel especially powerful today!”

It’s okay. Go ahead and say it.

“I feel especially powerful today!”

Say it loudly, but not with your voice box. You do not want to strain your vocal chords. Stay under control and focus on using your chest as a resonating chamber. Push air from your abdomen. Say it in various ways. Say it with your voice emanating from your chest. Boom it out. Deepen your voice as much as possible and picture it coming from deep inside your chest, from the deepest recesses of your very heart. Unleash the beast within you, clearly and forcefully. Project your voice.

“I feel especially powerful today!”

These are power words. The words are no mistake, nor are they random. And it is not a joke. If you think it’s a joke and “not worth my time,” then move along. Others will learn, and they will be pleased that you abandon the task and drop by the wayside. The competition thins.

Power words.  Power words spoken honestly and with gusto help you to slough off the muck of your daily life. Power words scrape the barnacles from your internal compass. Like a Brillo pad, they scrub away the affectations and the hesitations that infest your inner core.

Power words, powerfully spoken. Power words shatter this crust.

Athletes use power words often, to invest themselves with confidence at crucial times in a contest. With these power words, you invest yourself with energy and confidence. With power words, you tap your inner chi, the strength that is generated within you. Too many external events in our lives can sap our strength and energy . . . our very life force. You can rejuvenate that strength. You can draw energy from others.

Several weeks of this simple exercise and you will feel your voice changing, gaining smoothness and depth.

Is this the only thing you can do to improve your voice? No, of course not. You can work with a voice coach to improve your voice’s quality in a number of ways. But most of us will never meet a voice coach, let alone work with one. In the absence of a coach we can make these minor adjustments that pay incredibly large dividends to us as presenters.  And to ask you again a crucial question, doesn’t it make sense to cultivate the most effective voice you possibly can?  So that you might communicate most effectively?

Put another way, doesn’t it make sense to become the clearest, most elegant, especially powerful presenter you can, when so much of your success hinges upon it?