Our voices carry emotion, energy, vitality, and joy — they are a unique and powerful part of our identity and say more about us than we might imagine.
If you have any doubt regarding the power and influence of the voice, picture yourself sitting in a plane preparing for takeoff when the pilot makes the first announcement. Imagine how you might feel if you were to hear a nervous, shaky, stammering pilot telling you to “sit back, relax, and have a nice trip.”
The only instrument a pilot has to send calm assurance to the passengers is that brief announcement. Calm, measured, warm — it’s all been practiced so that the passengers relax. “It’s best to have mastery over something so vitally important,” says Gina Barnett, speaking coach for the Obama Foundation and the TED Talk Mainstage.
Something else to keep in mind: as our world becomes increasingly reliant on non-face-to-face communication, vocal mastery will only become more essential. Your voice is your signature.
To hone your skills, try these tiny practices from Gina’s book, Play the Part: Master Body Signals to Connect and Communicate for Business Success.
Start by Listening
Try This: Tune In
Turn on the radio, close your eyes, and really listen hard as you tune in to the announcer’s pace, volume, tone, and pitch. Notice how a broadcaster will use variations of all of these elements to indicate what’s most critical, the end of one segment, and the beginning of another. Focus on how he or she puts volume and emphasis on key words to indicate what should be noticed or remembered.
Try This: Stressful or Soothing
Next time you’re sitting on a park bench, at a cafe, or in a restaurant, close your eyes and notice the voices of those around you. Which ones make you feel agitated or stressed and which calm you down? Do you see a pattern?
Free Up Your Voice
Try This: Wet Dog Talking
Like a dog shaking off water, shake all over while speaking your name, address, and phone number or singing a simple tune like “Happy Birthday.” Notice how the voice quivers and shakes as well. Why is that? It is impossible to separate the voice from the body, and it’s essential that the body be as relaxed and centered as possible for the best vocal production.
Try This: The Lazy Lips Workout
If you notice that you mumble or have an abundance of filler sounds or repeated habit words, the best way to correct this is to slow the pace by enunciating more fully. Read aloud very slowly, enunciating in a very exaggerated way the beginning, middle, and end sounds of each word. Do this for one or two minutes a night, which is about all the lips and mouth will be able to tolerate. This is akin to weight lifting for the lips and mouth and is exhausting, but it works like magic! We all tend to have very lazy lips!
Gina Barnett works globally as an executive communications consultant, focusing on the profound effects of embodied presence and communication style on professional, and personal, success. She has worked with thought leaders in science, health care, finance, the arts, marketing, advertising, and technology. A coach, trainer, and workshop leader, since 2006, Gina has also been speaker coach for the TED MainStage Conference, helping speakers prepare for their talks. Gina is currently working with presenters at the Obama Foundation.