I recently had several phone conversations with high-powered leaders - all of whom sounded like high-powered leaders. It wasn't just what they said (not a word wasted), but also how they said it. Not a frog in their collective throats. Rather than hemming and hawing, umming and erring, each of these leaders, from diverse industries and disciplines, spoke in a strong, confident voice.
If you're an introvert, despite the advantages of quietly contemplating your thoughts before sharing them, you are missing opportunities to get heard if you don't speak in your best voice. Three prominent introverts I interviewed for my book, Self-Promotion for Introverts® - Warren Buffett, Ken Frazier, president and CEO of Merck, and Michele Wucker, president of the World Policy Institute - all pace themselves when they speak, "punch" important words for emphasis, and vary the tone of their voices to keep their audiences' attention.
"Introverts have a tendency to speak more slowly and quietly," shared Katharine Myers, coguardian and trustee of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® Trust, in my book. She added, "As a result, we can feel that we've said something and no one has heard it or acknowledged it. It can make us feel invisible."
Since invisibility isn't an option, especially if you're an aspiring or current leader, it pays to invest in your voice. Unless your voice already enhances rather than detracts from what you say, improve your vocal delivery by taking classes or private lessons. If you have a more serious challenge, like a stutter or a lisp, then consult with a speech pathologist.
You can spend your life learning to improve your voice. Of course, you don't have to have a voice like James Earl Jones to sound like a self-assured leader and an expert at what you do. The following tips will help you tune up your voice to polish your presence.
- Relax and get grounded. Nothing good comes from speaking when you're tense, distracted, or upset. Take a deep breath and gather your thoughts-particularly before addressing someone you perceive as more powerful than you. If you're an introvert, step away from the fray before an important meeting or presentation.
- Balance a book on your head - of course, not during important meetings and speeches! Remember to sit or stand up straight. You'll sound and look better. For some exercises to help you improve your posture, check out "The Importance of Posture and Relaxation for Good Voice Production," by Maggie Hall on BNET.
- Do a "sound check" not only before giving a speech but also before making an important phone call to ensure you've gotten past any vocal cotton balls. A quick, "Testing one, two, three" out loud and a sip of water can do wonders.
- Project your voice at meetings and presentations to ensure you'll reach the person furthest away from you.
- Pause. If you're an introvert, pauses will give you time to reflect and formulate your next thought and your audience time to consider the points you've made.
- Modulate your voice. If you tend to get nervous at certain meetings or when giving a presentation, one of the telltales signs is speaking in a monotone. Counter that by making an effort to vary the tone and pace of your delivery.
- Enunciate. Mumblers beware. Speak clearly so that your audiences can understand what you've said without guessing.
- Speak at your natural pitch. When you're nervous, your pitch may go up. Also, since you're probably not a Valley girl, avoid "upspeak"-making a statement sound like a question. To learn more about why you should prevent this one verbal habit that will make you sound like you're worth half your salary, see "Upspeak" by Chris Peterson, Ph.D., for Psychology Today.
- Critique your outgoing voice mail message. Does the recorded voice your colleagues, clients, and prospective employers hear before they leave you a message match the professional image you would like to project? If not, make a new recording.
- Get videotaped to see how well your body language and facial expressions match your tone of voice and your message.
For more tips to help you present yourself with confidence, see my story, "How to Find Your Inner Cary Grant."
Excerpt adapted from Nancy Ancowitz, Self-Promotion for Introverts®: The Quiet Guide to Getting Ahead, McGraw-Hill, 2009, pp. 165-166.
Hat tip to Tina Fey on the term Bossypants.
© Copyright 2011 Nancy Ancowitz