Several of our recent blogs have focused on the importance of your voice during radio interviews, but it’s not just when talking to the media that it is important to use your voice well. Here our presentation expert Sue Carruthers lets us into the secret of the six Ps – and how these can increase your influence.
I was collecting money for charity a couple of weeks ago. I’ve not done it for a while and was very conscious of our economic woes and the likely impact on people feeling able and willing to put their hands into their pockets to spare a few coins.
So I came to be thinking about passion – and how I could come across with passion and conviction as I stood waiting for those doors to open.
I experimented. With five roads to cover, I had plenty of opportunity to try out different options covering all of the core aspects of communication – what I said (content), how I said it (voice) and what messages my body language conveyed. The conclusion was very clear. It’s all in the voice. Not what we say but how we say it. And how much we say before we pause to hear the response.
So what are the core elements of voice? And how can we make them work to our advantage?
I like to think of it as the 6 Ps – pace, pitch, power, pronunciation, passion and, perhaps the most powerful of all – pause. They are all interlinked so it’s hard to give “rules “about how to use your voice well. However there are some things to bear in mind.
1 & 2. Faster pace and higher pitch conveys excitement and slower pace and lower pitch conveys gravitas and seriousness. As you may remember from the film ”The Iron Lady”, Margaret Thatcher had voice coaching to lower the pitch of her voice in order to be taken more seriously. Ask yourself, where is your natural pitch and pace? Pace is easier to change than pitch if you need to adjust!
3. Power (volume) is one of the hardest to judge as we hear our own voice very differently to how others hear us. If in any doubt ask for feedback or record yourself and listen that way.
If you do need to make yourself heard, move your whole self closer to the audience. Don’t lift your chin or push you face forward, which is what you might think will help, as this can strain the larynx and has the opposite effect, making your voice sound thin. Remember too that you don’t need to shout to be heard. Lowering the pitch and volume of your voice can be used to draw your audience in. And variety in volume is the key to keeping attention.
4. Pronunciation is all about the clarity with which we speak. Ask yourself if you open your mouth wide enough to be heard? Are you missing the consonants off the ends of words or trailing away at the end of your sentences? Audiences find it hard to process words or sentences that lose their endings.
Be careful about inflection at the end of your sentences. Use upward inflection when you want to open discussion or ask a question and downward inflection when there is no debate.
When talking about pronunciation on my courses, I am often asked about accents and I usually like to “ask the audience” as it’s quite a personal topic. The general view is that accents make the voice more interesting and are part of our uniqueness. Just be aware of the peculiarities of your accent – if it’s fast or tends to blur words together then it’s a good idea to slow down or chunk up your words more if you are talking to people outside of your local area.
5. Passion is another take on emphasis – anyone who has genuine passion about their subject will automatically emphasise key words. Monotone is one of the biggest giveaways of someone who is over –rehearsed or has said the words too many times (cold callers this is one for you to be aware of!). So add emphasis (and vary the volume and pace) – to show passion even if you don’t feel it.
6. Many of us feel uncomfortable with pausing as we think it implies we don’t know what we’re talking about or have forgotten something – but in fact quite the opposite is usually the case. It takes real confidence not to fill the silence! The people we are talking to need pauses to take on board what we have said and have time to process it properly. So although a pause may feel really long to us, it is vital if we are to get a real connection to what we say. And I’m not alone in thinking this. I was working recently with a partner in a global professional services firm and he said that one of the (many) things that differentiated highly successful people in his organisation was their ability to put their case across and then keep quiet and wait. So, in an organisation that sells expert knowledge, one of the secrets of success appears to be that less is more!
Research also consistently shows that body language (what our audience sees) is a crucial determinant of how passionately we come across and whether we get listened to. But in my case as I stood on those doorsteps I am sure it was my vocal spirit that made the difference. Can I be sure? Of course not. But I do know we collected more than last year – so there must be more than a grain of truth in it!