Our voice is a remarkable instrument. But how often do we use it to our advantage? Earlier this week, I was invited by Ruth Armstrong to give my second talk with Women in Banking and Finance (WiBF). Hosted by Citi’s Sarah Bennett (Citi Women London), the talk covered how we can sound confident (when it’s the last thing we feel) and how to voice our values to sound measured and professional, (instead of irritated or defensive).
Did you know that how we think affects how we speak?
This is because the vagus nerve, which is the major nerve that runs all the way from the brain to the lower intestine, has little branches that reach out, affecting the larynx (commonly called the voice box). What goes on in our brains - what we’re thinking - leaks out through our voice. Stress, medication, menopause and even dehydration can all negatively affect how we sound. If our voices ‘crack’ or ‘wobble’ in high-stakes moments, it can undermine the confidence we have in ourselves, as well as others’ perception of our competence and their confidence in us.
How to push back and challenge effectively
Citi is currently encouraging staff to ask ‘Why me?’, ‘Why this?’ and ‘Why now?’ before agreeing to attend a meeting. Meetings typically add to workloads, stretch intellectual, emotional and physical resources, and take us away from doing actual work. Asking these questions in audible, confident, warm tones is a great way to politely and respectfully question the purpose, frequency and length of whoever is convening them to think more carefully about your and their own use of that precious asset - time.
Listening to your own voice
During my WiBF talk, I encouraged participants to record and listen back to their own voices, speaking key messages that they’d like to communicate, not only in presentations but in everyday conversations with colleagues, friends and family. Recording affords the opportunity to experiment with Speed, Pitch, Intonation, Loudness and Tone; listening back to raise awareness of vocal habits and choices.
Five tips to help you speak your own message
Here are my top tips to help you overcome hesitation and share your wisdom, values, preferences and opinions with confidence, strength and warmth.
1. Breath is fuel for the voice
Breathing efficiently and effectively has numerous benefits and it all starts with posture. Open the body through the shoulders, with the back tall, and release tension so the ribcage can expand and contract allowing the lungs to fill with air.
2. Hydration is key
Stress and tension are among several factors that can cause dryness in the throat, and cracks and wobbles in the voice. Drinking lots of water and swallowing will lubricate the vocal folds, rather than throat-clearing which may aggravate them.
3. Warm up the voice
In order to produce a clear, confident sound, the vocal cords need to be making contact along the length of the edges. Simple yet effective, just as we would warm up the muscles before a workout, we can warm up the voice by gently humming.
4. Vocal energy and the importance of being audible
Speaking very quietly, mumbling and tailing off mid-sentence can make it hard for others to understand what we’re saying. Instead, improve your articulation and imagine your words flying through the air like arrows towards a bullseye.
5. Punctuating as we would a sentence
Talking fast to get whatever you're saying over with sounds quite different to talking fast because you’re excited and/or knowledgeable. Either way, slowing down can help you and your listener/s. One way of doing this is to take a breath where a comma might be, and a longer one where a full stop might fall.
I greatly enjoyed my time with WiBF and, hopefully, I’ve left the audience – as well as my readers – with some valuable tips on using their voice to make their mark.