Winston Churchill said there are 3 types of speeches:
- The one you practice giving.
- The one you imagine yourself giving, and
- The one you actually give.
How many times have you presented and you think to yourself, I’m gonna have this voice that commands the room that makes everybody sit up and listen? Then what actually happens is your voice cracks and quivers, it goes into a high register, you speak too quickly and you walk out of the presentation and you think — What just happened?
Today on Moxie Talk, I’m going to share 5 vocal qualities and what can happen when fear affects our voice and the antidotes.
Vocal Executive Presence
Hey everyone, welcome to Moxie Talk where we help you share your voice, find your message, and lead with confidence. Today we’re talking about how fear affects our voice.
We have all heard about executive presence which is our ability to lead— how people perceive us as leaders especially when we’re presenting.
Here, we’re talking about vocal executive presence, which really means, How does your voice amplify or undermine your message of leadership?
I’ll give you an example that maybe will make this more real to you.
Imagine two speakers with the exact same content. One speaker speaks slow, they mumble, they speak really quietly, there’s no vocal variety and the other speaker enunciates, has vocal variety, projects their voice, and exudes warmth and confidence.
Which speaker are you going to listen to?
Clearly, the second but how many presentations have we sat through that sound like the first? The problem is the first speaker lacks what we call vocal executive presence.
Some vocal qualities that can really undermine our vocal executive presence are:
- Speaking too fast.
- Quivering voices.
- Speaking too quietly or too softly.
All of these affect people’s perception of us as leaders. The problem is when we get nervous, when we start to feel fear around our presentation, unfortunately, all of these vocal qualities raise their ugly head.
I’m going to share 5 vocal qualities that are really affected by fear and how to overcome them so that you can have the voice that you imagined in your presentations.
1. Stop Your Voice Shaking/Cracking
So we’re going to start with the one that happens to a lot of people which is your voice quivers or cracks when you get up to give a presentation. I know how horrible this is! You feel really powerless because you don’t know when it’s going to happen, you don’t know if it’s going to happen.
When it does happen, it’s like your whole presentation just downward spirals, right? Because you’re thinking about — Oh my gosh! I can’t believe my voice quivered. That’s not how I imagined it coming out. That’s not what I wanted to happen. It’s a really kind of awful thing to not know how to counteract quivering voices.
Well, I’ve got an exercise for you that I think will really help, not only help boost your confidence so that you feel confident that you are in control of your voice, but also make sure that you have the tool, to make sure your voice never quivers again.
I set it up like that because the exercise is ridiculous. This is not something I would give to you if I thought that it didn’t have a huge impact.
The reason our voice quivers—let me just back up and talk about the why for a second—The reason our voice quivers is that our vocal cords are actually called Vocal Folds. They open and close and when they open and close that’s what makes a sound. The air coming through our vocal folds is what makes sounds.
Your vocal folds don’t know the difference between a threat of you giving a presentation or the threat of you drowning. When your vocal folds sense that there is something threatening happening to you, they close because their actual anatomical reason for existence is to keep water from going into your lungs, to keep you from drowning.
There’s your lizard brain thinking, Oh my gosh! I’m so scared, this is terrifying, and your vocal cords go, We better shut! There’s a threat, and when they shut you can’t get enough air out, and then your voice quivers.
What I’m going to teach you to do is to help your vocal cords relax, you’re going to tell them, Hey, it’s cool! nothing going on here, I got this, I don’t need to quiver.
Here’s what we’re going to do and I warned you this is ridiculous. You are going to make the sound that a ghost makes, and I want you to make the sound that a ghost makes when you were a little kid and you had that idea of ghost sounds.
To make sure that you’re doing this correctly, I want you to put one finger about two inches from your mouth so you’re going to make sure you feel the air coming out on that finger, okay?
Now when you inhale you’re going to inhale all this good air and then you’re going to exhale and you’re going to make the ghost sound so it should sound something like this — Wuuuuuuuuuuu-uuuk.
And the louder you make your ghost sound, the more you’re going to relax your vocal cords and the more air you’re going to push out, so that’s really great. Like this again, one more time breathe in — Wuuuuuuuuuuu-uuuk.
I told you it was ridiculous. You saw that the last time I made the ghost sound it was a little bit louder. That’s pushing more air through my vocal cords and it’s really helping them to relax.
Now in order for this to work, you’ve got to do it between 5 to 10 times. Please, not in front of your audience, do it somewhere quietly. Find a place to do this and really help your vocal cords to go into what we call rest and digest. Relax so that they don’t shut and your voice doesn’t quiver.
That is the first technique that will help you overcome a vocal quality that’s really common to us when we are feeling fear.
2&3. Give Your Voice More Power & Volume
Next on this list is, Voices going into a high register, or what we call our head voice which sounds something like this or a quiet soft voice.
I know for a lot of women, unfortunately, our voice is going into a high register. This doesn’t happen to men, it happens to women. It is something that happens to our voices in particular. And I know again that this can make you feel extremely powerless.
We’ve all been in situations where we’re presenting, we’re presenting to a high-stakes audience, we want to make an amazing first impression and our voices get really high and it sucks. It is not the impression we wanted to make. What we actually need to do is
Learn to breathe through your diaphragm.
That is the key to bringing our voice down and register. It’s also the key to help you if your voice is too quiet, if you’ve been told that you can’t be heard in the back of the room.
Next blog on Moxie Talk, we take a deep dive into diaphragmatic breathing. I’m going to break it down for you. I’m going to go into the science of it, into the anatomy of it why it works, how it works.
For now, I’m just going to introduce the idea of
Balloon breathing or Belly breathing.
Even though this is actually using your diaphragm, a lot of us call this balloon breathing or belly breathing because if you could imagine a balloon in your belly, and if you’re watching this at home — I want you to actually put your hand on the place in your body that is rising and falling. Just take a few deep breaths right now.
Don’t force it, just take a few deep breaths and really feel yourself breathing and put your hand on that place in your body that’s rising and falling. You can feel that when you inhale, if you’re doing this right- your belly pushes out and your balloon fills up with air. When you exhale, your belly goes in towards your belly button and all that air comes out of your balloon. This is why we call it balloon breathing or belly breathing.
If this is difficult for you, if you feel that you’re doing like this and you’re still taking chest breaths which a lot of us do sometimes—it’s really difficult to get that stubborn diaphragm to actually work—because for years we’ve been told to suck it in, to make it strong, to be skinny, right?
If this is super difficult for you, No worries! lay down on your back. It’s really easy to drop into diaphragmatic breathing when you’re on your back. Most of us just do it naturally so no harm, no foul, nobody can see you here. Get down on your back lay down and just listen to the sound of my voice.
Now you’re going to put your hand on your belly, you’re going to breathe in, fill up that balloon, and then on your exhale, you’re going to let all that air out and you’re going to speak because we always speak on exhale.
Doing this breathing from your diaphragm will naturally bring your voice down and register and naturally project your voice so that it goes farther, it has more volume, it has more power because the only way to get a louder voice—other than shouting, which no one likes—is to breathe through your diaphragm, is to push more air out your vocal cords.
So this is the key and for most of us, it’s just a matter of practicing. We have to get in the right mindset that we’re going to bring our voice down and register and we’re going to make our voice project to the back of the room—these days it’s a virtual room—and then we need to take that big deep breath in, and then on your exhale let all that air out.
I do an exercise with my clients and this is a song lyric from the Rolling Stones. And the lyric is, Hey you over there get off of my cloud. So just listen to my voice and I’m going to demonstrate this, okay? First I’m going to do it not breathing so you guys can hear the before and after, right? And I have definitely been guilty of this—please do not think I’m some perfect vocal artist who always projects her voice and commands the room because I’m not.
So this is what it sounds like holding my breath, Hey you over there get off of my cloud. You can hear it’s kind of tinny and soft and in a high register, right?
If I breathe in from my diaphragm and speak, it should sound like this: Hey you over there get off of my cloud. That is the voice that we call your true voice because that is the power that you actually have in your voice. That is the voice that tells people, I better sit down, shut up, and listen to this girl.
That’s really the key to overcoming 2 and 3 which is high register or soft, quiet voices.
4. Pace To Avoid Speaking Too Fast
Number four on our list is pacing. By which I mean people that speak too fast because they get nervous. In my experience, clients speak too fast for a combination of reasons, and let me know if this is yours, if you are somebody that has been told you speak too fast.
Reason number 1
Your whole MO for getting on the stage is to get off the stage. So if you speak faster, then you can get off the stage quicker. That’s a reason I hear a lot, right? Out of nerves.
Reason number 2
The other reason is you’ve crammed way too much content into this presentation and you have a time limit so you’re going to speak really fast you can get all the content in and you don’t run out of time. That just means you need to take out some of the content which we’re not going to talk about today but that is a reason.
Reason number 3
When you get nervous that is your vocal habit. You just start to speak up you know speak quicker whether you’re in an argument with your spouse or something is scary to you and, you know, in your personal life, or you’re giving a presentation.
The reason I want to talk about this one is not how it affects you this time, but how it affects your audience. When you start to speak super quickly, your audience tunes out, it’s like, overwhelm! It is too much coming too fast and their brains say, Uh, uh… I can’t take this, I’m just gonna shut down.
The key is to make sure we put the brakes on and we don’t speak that fast. I’ve never had any luck telling a client to slow down. I could tell you to slow down until the cows come home and it doesn’t work. But what does work is to
Build in pauses
Pauses are natural breaks for you to slow down and for your audience to catch up. This is a way of lessening the processing load for your audience as well. It’s as simple as when you practice, decide places you want to pause, and if you’re not practicing, this is another problem that we’ll talk about in another blog.
If you do practice and you have talking points or you have scripted it out or you have some bullets write a “P” next to where you want to pause or put a slash “/” or a reminder for yourself that this is when I’m going to put on the brakes, I’m going to slow down and I’m going to let my audience catch up.
While you’re pausing guess what I’m going to tell you to do?
It’s a natural place to take a nice breath into your diaphragm, let it out, center yourself, ground yourself, and keep going. Pausing is really the key to slowing you down so that your audience doesn’t tune out.
5. Preventing Mumbling
Last but not least I want to talk about mumbling. Mumbling is a habit some of us just have in general but a lot of us start mumbling when we get nervous.
Why? because when you get nervous and your body senses a threat everything in your body gets smaller including your mouth. Everything starts to go in. I like to say great leaders never mumble.
If there is a leader that you respect, whether they’re a political leader or a speaker or somebody in your community, I can almost guarantee you if you were to watch a video of them and you were to turn off the sound, you would notice that their mouths are really opening. They’re really enunciating because great leaders never mumble. It gives the perception of the passion of purpose and of authority.
What is the key to making sure that you don’t mumble?
Part of it is the mindset. You just have to tell yourself, I am going to open my mouth wider than I do in everyday life because that is the kind of mouth movement and enunciation I need to make sure I’m not mumbling, so part of it is a mindset.
The other part is physical. Not mumbling is a combination of stretching and strengthening. We have a tongue twister that I like to use with my clients which is:
My Mouth Makes Many Mobile Movements
So that sentence is great for enunciation because that’s what we’re trying to do. If you can practice that sentence and practice opening your mouth wider than you do in everyday life not
You shouldn’t look weird, it shouldn’t be like “MY MOUTH MAKES MANY MOBILE MOVEMENTS,” because that’s a weird presentation nobody wants that—but just really open more than you normally would and hit all of your sounds. I can guarantee you you’re not going to mumble.
There you go—the antidotes to quivering voices, to high register, to quiet voices, to fast voices, and to mumbling. I hope that you practice all these techniques and give presentations that command the room.
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