Voice recognition: The way you speak could be holding you back

Michael Dodd
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President Obama Delivers His Last State Of The Union Address To Joint Session Of Congress
Obama speaks slowly, allowing his audience to absorb the gravity of what he's saying (Source: Getty)

It isn't just what you say that counts, it’s also the way you say it.

Whether you’re answering questions from the boss or presenting to potential clients, using your voice more effectively is a learnable skill. Indeed, we can change the way we sound to appear more credible, persuasive and promotable.

Think of a time when you heard an announcement in a language you didn’t understand. Perhaps it was at a train station abroad or on a foreign flight. I bet you formed a view about the announcer – whether you liked them, believed them and would trust them. As you didn’t understand exactly what was being said, your view must have been shaped by how they sounded.

It’s the same when you communicate with someone who does speak your language, though the formation of judgements is subconscious. How you say things can have a massive effect on whether your ideas are valued, your plans accepted and your promotion approved.

Read more: How can I get over my fear of public speaking?

It’s not a matter of ditching your accent. It’s about adjusting your pitch, pace, pausing and intonation. Here are four tips to put you on the right path.

Go slow to maximise impact

Speaking more slowly than most people’s usual pace helps underscore the significance of what you have to say, and ensures that your listeners have sufficient time to properly absorb its meaning.

Listen to how slowly the highly persuasive Barack Obama speaks when he is trying to make an important point. It makes him seem more profound, and gives his audience time to absorb the gravity of what he’s saying.

Take a deep breath

When you’re about to start talking take a deep, slow breath.

Draw in the air from your diaphragm, not shallowly from your nose and throat. To practice, put your hand on your navel and instigate the breath from here. You’ll feel instantly refreshed; it’s an exhilarating way to make your point with a positive mindset.

Starting your answer with your lungs full allows you to go for a long time without needing to gasp for additional air. Excessive breathiness can signal that you’re under pressure. When you make a profound point, pause to let it sink in, and take that opportunity to take another slow, deep breath.

Emphasise qualifiers

Try to get the emphasis right in every part of a sentence. The secret is to put emphasis on the “qualifiers”. These are describing words, such as adjectives and adverbs.

If you’re discussing red, green and yellow apples, it sounds better to emphasise the qualifiers as a means of differentiating them, rather than the noun – “apples” – which you’re describing.

Read more: Tips for public speaking from political party conferences

Surprisingly, this emphasis is not typically achieved by simply saying these adjectives louder. Rather, it’s a matter of saying them slightly slower and in a different tone than the rest of the sentence.

Take your voice down at the end of a sentence

The biggest key to sounding impressive is to get the right pitch at the end of each sentence. Unless you’re asking a question, beware the danger of letting your voice drift upwards at the end. This makes you sound uncertain and insecure.

It’s a most unfortunate Aussie export which has taken hold in parts of Britain. On behalf of Australia, I apologise to the world for it – and regard it as my duty to fix it. When you ensure your voice goes down at the end of each sentence, it makes you sound so much more authoritative.

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