To get a job or start a business you probably spend a lot of time perfecting your resume, personal description of strengths, your handshake and your pitch. You likely had a professional head shot taken for your website, or put effort into creating one that would make you look your best on LinkedIn or Facebook.

But what about your voice?  Have you considered that as soon as you open your mouth to speak, people are paying more attention to your voice than to your face, the way you dress or what you are saying?

Your voice is one of the most important parts of who you are, and learning to use it consciously will improve the impact you have on your listeners, clients and colleagues. Here are a few tips on using your voice strategically to help you be more effective in your work.

Strategy 1: Say my name, say my name…

To most people, nothing is lovelier than the sound of their own names. Make sure that when you introduce yourself, you take the time to say your name slowly, carefully and with pride. Give people a clue to help them remember your name. You might even spell it out for them. My youngest daughter’s name is Zohreh and from the time she was little, she would introduce herself by saying, “My name is pronounced Zo, rhymes with Toe, and Ray like a sting ray – you say it: Zo-Ray.” Everyone remembered her name and pronounced it correctly.

This is more important than you think.  At almost every event I am at, and at 90% of job interviews where I am on the hiring side, the person speaking to me rushes through his or her name, often mumbling it. If the person I am being introduced to is from another country, he or she is even more likely to rush through the name, in an embarrassed an apologetic manner, as if they disliked their own name. This certainly does not make a good first impression!

If people don’t hear your name, and can’t remember how to say it, they likely will not remember you. Take the time to say your name slowly and carefully. Speak it with pride and show others that your name is not only worth saying but saying correctly.

My little sister was six years old on her first day of school.  When the teacher did the role call, she came to my sister’s name and had trouble pronouncing it.  She said, “Is that Nel – Neld – Nelda? Is that your name?” My sister said proudly, “Yes, my name is Nelda!” The little boy in front of her turned around and said, “Nelda? That’s an ugly name!” and my sister promptly punched him in the nose retorting, “Nelda is a beautiful name and don’t you forget it!”

Although I would not advise punching people under such circumstances, I’m sure nobody in that class mispronounced Nelda’s name or made fun of it again after that dramatic scenario. Remember my little sister, stand tall, and be proud of your name.

If you are a team leader or a manager, take the time to make sure everyone on your team knows everyone’s names and can pronounce them. I have been on many work teams where introductions were either not done or done so quickly I could not retain all the new names. A conscious emphasis on names shows the group that you value each individual and that everyone’s name is important.

Strategy 2: Say it with feeling!

Now that the name issue is settled, take some alone time to practice varying the speed, pitch and volume of your speech just to see what effect you can have. If you can, record yourself.  Either way you’ll start to see how effectively you use these voice tools to get and keep the attention of your listeners. After all, if you have no expression in your speech and rush through it, or if you overdo it and use too many pauses or too slow of a cadence, you will lose people and they won’t remember much if any of what you said.

Try practicing with this phrase below.  See if you can use only your voice’s speed, pitch and volume to help your listeners understand the emphasis indicated in parenthesis:

  • “I didn’t tell her you left the lights on.” (Somebody else told her)
  • “I didn’t tell her you left the lights on.” (I emphatically did not)
  • “I didn’t tell her left the lights on.” (I implied it)
  • “I didn’t tell her you left the lights on.” (I told someone else)
  • “I didn’t tell her you left the lights on.” (I told her someone else did)
  • “I didn’t tell her you left the lights on.” (I told her you left the bathroom a mess, if the lights were on, that is another issue)
  • “I didn’t tell her you left the light on.” (I told her you were the last person in the room, nothing about the lights)

Most people do not consciously practice the emphasis in their speech and it is so important for getting the effect you are trying to achieve. When you start to become conscious of speech pitch, speed, volume and emphasis, you will likely notice that you also automatically start to add pauses or additional silence after words you want to highlight.  Which brings us to our third strategy…

Strategy 3: The power of silence

To learn how to use silence to the greatest effect, you only need to look as far as your local comedy club.  Comedians are masters at using silence effectively. For extra laughs, they often combine it with facial expressions to further accentuate what the silence is implying. If you can combine strategic emphasis and moments of silence after the things you want people to really pay attention to, you are already far ahead of your competition!

Try it with this:

  • “You can’t possibly (pause) believe that.”
  • “You can’t possibly believe (pause) that.”
  • “You can’t possibly believe that (pause).”

Let’s look at another way to use silence to make our speech more effective. When someone asks you a question or makes a comment, wait for what is called a “pregnant pause” before answering. All attention will be on you because everyone will want to know when you are going to respond. Making the audience wait up to 3 seconds can be very significant because they will hang on your every word for the next couple of minutes after that silence.

I remember once being at a round table discussion with about 30 people in the room. The speaker had just asked a question and chosen me to answer it. I knew what I wanted to say, and I really wanted to influence the opinion of the group, so I started by saying, “Consider this (pause),” and waited three full seconds before stating my opinion. When I finished my couple of sentences afterwards, the room burst into applause! I honestly don’t think that what I had to say was so earth shattering, but I do know that my dramatic pause had exactly the effect I had hoped.

Strategy 4: Embrace your accent!

In conclusion, as I started this post with an emphasis on saying your name and being proud of it, I would like to end it by saying how important it is to embrace and love your accent. Everyone has an accent, but they only figure it out when they go somewhere that people have accents that are different from their own. If your accent is something people have trouble understanding, there are probably a few small things you can do to enhance your speech clarity with the help of a speech coach. BUT, people will love your accent if you yourself are proud of it.

There is a CBC radio announcer whose radio name is Baba. He has a very thick East Indian accent and the people who listen to his show just love it. Baba uses his accent consciously to his advantage, makes the occasional joke about it: “Doesn’t the name of that song sound better with an Indian accent? Of course it does!”

A friend of mine who was applying for a job and asked for a little coaching was surprised when I told her that her Cameroonian accent was likely a stumbling block to getting hired. She said to me, “But I’m not the one with the accent, they are!” and of course she was right, because everyone has an accent!

I mentioned in a past blog post that I suggested she use her accent to her advantage by starting the job interview with the phrase, “You probably noticed my accent, I’m from Cameroon. My accent has not stopped me from being a star accountant or from excelling at any of my job duties.” After that, none of the interview panel paid attention to her accent: they saw and heard her and were introduced to her many qualities.  Because my friend had the courage to name the thing the interviewers were all thinking about and then direct them to her skills, they followed her lead. They even said they very much enjoyed the interview afterwards.

Consider first that we all have accents.  Consider second that when we use our accents strategically, when we help others see us for the qualities we all have and not just as an accent, or when we show such pride in our unique voice that others want to listen to us more because of it, we will be more effective in all aspects of our work lives.

Now, here are today’s effective speech action items you can start using right away:

  1. Practice saying your name slowly and with pride.
  2. Consciously use emphasis and variations of speed and volume – especially at the very beginning of something you want to say and at the end when you want people to remember what you said.
  3. Add a pause after an important word and watch everyone really take notice.
  4. Love your accent! Help others love it too by just being proud of your voice.

READY FOR MORE?

  • How to present yourself so people move from being distracted by accent to focusing on your qualifications
  • What parts of Canadian speech are most important for clear and understandable pronunciation – and strategies to practice them
  • Why presenting yourself with confidence is a must – and how to do it even when you are nervous

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HEADS UP: We will be launching our new Supervisory Leadership course in February…sneak preview… it’s all about sharpening your people management skills!