Want People to Listen Better When You Speak?

What causes you to pay close attention to one person and space out on another person?  How do you figure out who to give your business to, who to vote for, or who to pursue a friendship with?  Of course you talk to them, find out what they stand for, compare that to what matters to you. Maybe you check out their social media presence, find out what other people think, and so on. Those things all play a part in making such decisions. But there’s another factor as well, something we may not even consciously be aware of.

Imagine you’re on the phone with a contractor you’re considering hiring to renovate your kitchen. The conversation goes well, the person seems knowledgeable, his estimate is reasonable. And yet, you hang up the phone thinking, “He seems like a real know it all. He was talking down to me.”

So you call another person, someone with almost identical qualifications and a similar estimate.  As you end your call, you think, “I can work with him. He had my best interests at heart.”

What made the difference? Chances are, it was a difference in voice.

Most of us want to be listened to, taken seriously, given an opportunity to communicate. And yet we may inadvertently be messing up our chances simply by the quality of our voice.

More than words or body language, voice is the most powerful tool of communication. And yet, it’s something people often assume is a given, rather than something that can be developed.

As a leader, being able to capture and hold attention is an important capability. Unless you get someone’s attention, you’re not going to get your point across in a memorable way. And remember, people generally need their attention “rebooted” roughly every ten minutes or else they drift away.

The greatest orators knew how to capture and hold attention but it’s something we all can learn. There are many ways to do this, including storytelling and metaphor. Here, I want to emphasize the use of the voice and, in particular, vocal variety. What is vocal variety? Until recently, I didn’t have a clue. But I have been working with a voice coach who has taught me a great deal about using one’s voice in an intentional way.

Simply put, vocal variety refers to variations in the sounds created by speaking. Examples include variations in speed, volume, pitch and more. According to Toastmasters, the premier leadership and communication association,” an effective vocal variety speech is a speech where you convey your emotions through your voice to your audience.” Good vocal variety captures and holds people’s attention, conveys a conversational quality, and expresses meaning through speech.  Click here for a link to an informative video describing the fundamentals of vocal variety made by my voice coach, Tracy Goodwin.

In addition to capturing and holding attention, we need to make sure we’re conveying our intentions in a way that matches our words. Knowingly or not, through our voice we convey what we’re thinking even if it’s different from the words we’re using. And listeners pick up on that, often unconsciously. They can sense the disconnect and feel uneasy even if they can’t articulate the cause.  

For example, while practicing to do a recent webinar, I sent an audio clip to Tracy. After listening to a segment, she asked, “What were you thinking that caused all those hesitations and ‘ums’?” Initially I had no idea but suddenly I realized I was bored!  While my words said, “This is a very important framework that can help you be a better supervisor,” my voice was conveying a lack of enthusiasm that was inconsistent with the words.

The good news is that voice is something we can develop. Even if we’re not actors and news broadcasters, there are some simple (and not so simple) techniques to increase vocal variety and bring our words and voice tone into greater alignment.

In my next post, I’ll share some of my experiences working with a voice coach. Meanwhile, if you’re interested in this topic—and as a leader, I really hope you are—take a look at Tracy’s website. She’s been fantastic to work with.