Do you make a great first impression? Did you know it takes 12 revisits to correct a negative one?
Think of how carefully we choose what we're going to wear for a meeting, a job interview, a date, even joining a new garden club, book club, golf club… (and it's not just women who go through several wardrobe changes!). We know that clothes make an impression.
Your voice could ruin all that effort at "hello," according to Robyn Hatcher, a voice, speech, and presentations coach, and head of SpeakEtc. "People form an opinion about us within the first 2 seconds of meeting."
I met Hatcher at a seminar about a year ago and was impressed with her no-nonsense approach to making your voice heard. She's so passionate on the subject, she says, because "I see how people undermine themselves! So much time and energy gets wasted."
One concern she has is complacency about the voice, especially when it's something that, with a little effort, can be fixed. "It's like getting definition in your bicep," she says. "A little exercise goes a long way."
We launched into a discussion of some of the problems and what you can do about them.
10 Common Traps —- Tips to make your voice an impressive asset:
1. The high-pitched voice: This is a common trap for women, especially when they get angry. Michelle Pfeiffer has a telling scene in the Amy Heckerling film, I Could Never Be Your Woman, where Paul Rudd and Jon Lovitz roll their eyes when she goes into an emotional screech. You certainly don't want that reaction — at you, or behind your back. But it's not just an over-emotional state. A colleague of mine feels like her eardrums have split after a day of dealing with all the young women she works with. What to do: This takes some discipline, says Hatcher. "Working from your diaphragm will immediately help lower your voice. Yoga can help. Getting in touch with your breathing." There are 3 resonators, she explains: nasal cavity, vocal chords, and chest. Make sure you're running on all 3 cylinders. "Let out an easy sigh, like you're really exhausted. Feel that muscle That's the muscle you want to connect with to come from the strength of your voice."
2. Too breathy: I fall into this sometimes and thought it was because as a former smoker, I just couldn't get enough air. But it's also anxiety that people won't stick around to listen, which translates into tension from rushing. "So you're always in catch-up mode, trying to get air in," Hatcher explains. What to do: "Give yourself the leeway to breathe; take a pause. You're not going to lose anyone in 4 seconds, and it might make them pay attention more closely. It also gives the listener a chance to absorb what you've said and maybe ask a question."
3. Low talkers: Seinfeld made this syndrome famous. Remember how irritated it made everyone? That's not the effect you want. What to do: Diaphragmatic push-ups, says Hatcher. A deep sigh, like in #1, then pump the breath: "Huh-huh-huh."
4. Baby voice: Women have a hard time asking for what they want and the little-girl voice works well a lot of the time. Plus, there's a perceived safety in it because it's non-sexual and non-threatening. But it's jarring to hear a grown woman with it (I've even heard men use it). What to do: "Here, you have to make a conscious choice to try another approach," notes Hatcher. Use the diaphragmatic breathing from #1, then practice speaking in a more authoritative tone with people you feel safe and comfortable with, or as Pam Sherman says (tip #1), with total strangers who don't know you.
5. Sibilant S: How do you tell someone they have one? I ask Hatcher. It's almost like having broccoli in your teeth — embarrassing, but wouldn't you want to know about the sharp, almost razor-like whistle when you speak any word with an "s".
Start with the positive, and move to the informative if they're receptive: 'Did you know that 38% of our communication is conveyed through the sound of our voice? And on the phone [who isn't on cellphones almost constantly these days?] the voice accounts for 84% of our message'!"
What do to: This requires some tongue exercises (can't be a bad thing, right?) "Put a wine cork length-wise between teeth, with the tip of your tongue at the bottom of the cork. And get a napkin, there's a tendency to drool," she laughs. "This opens up the back of your throat. [When you speak] feel your tongue working differently." She also suggests drilling tongue-twisters: "She sells sea shells…"
6. Up-speaking: More common for young women, but can carry over into your later years, this is ending every sentence as though it's a question. What to do: "Think of a period at the end of the sentence as a ball and chain, anchoring you down."
7. Drop-speaking: More common for men. "They start out strong and then trail off later in the sentence, ending up in a sort of muffle. Men also traditionally connect better with their diaphragms, so they forget to project." If you've lost interest in what you're saying, your audience will too, Hatcher warns. What to do: "Keep the energy up. Remember that speaking is about giving. Check that you're connecting all the way through."
Hatcher brought up the complacency aspect again here. "Men will often drop-speak to downplay. 'Oh yeah I just signed that million dollar deal...' And trail off. Or women: 'Oh yeah I just won this award, but…' Because they don't want to sound like they're bragging. That is a lack of valuing your own life. And it's an insult to your listeners — assuming they're going to be jealous," Hatcher notes.
And then I had a little eureka: it's trying to control your listener's response!
8. Over-compensating: Often a result of underconfidence and a concern that you're not getting your passion across, this is coming across too loud or strong. An easy trap, believe me, and a friend of mine just fell in it on a job interview. Communication is a 2-sided issue, Hatcher reminds me: technical passion & emotional passion. What to do: "I teach my clients to pick up on emotional cues. Mirroring helps; dial it back if you need to and echo the energy you're getting." She also has clients work on speeches where both passions are required, such as Peter Finch's speech from the movie Network or Katharine Hepburn's from Adam's Rib.
9. Begging & whining (also could be called under-compensating): This is also a confidence issue, and can often stem from the focus being on yourself, rather than what it is you want to say. What to do: Hatcher suggests acting "as if" — "if you're nervous, don't go in as yourself." At the WIE Symposium, Diane von Furstenberg said, "Fake it till you make it — everyone does."
10. Listen!: To others, of course — an integral part of speaking. But also to yourself. Record or videotape yourself speaking, Hatcher suggests — she does this with all her clients. That way you can identify whether you end your sentences in a question or a muffle, or have the dreaded sibilant S.
The eyes may be the windows to your soul, but Hatcher says
The voice is the window to your heart."
Remember to be gentle with yourself. Because there can be fear around change, she says. This is a work in progress. It's like a wardrobe change. "You don't have to wear the new clothes every day, or everywhere you go, but eventually it will become a permanent part of your wardrobe."
For more tools & information on finding your voice, go to www.SpeakEtc.com
Let's hear you!