When you have an interview to prepare for, you probably spend a lot of time planning what to say and what to wear. But do you ever spend any time practicing how you will sound?
They way you answer questions is just as important as what you say, says Renee Grant-Williams, professional voice coach and author of Voice Power - Using Your Voice to Captivate, Persuade, and Command Attention (AMACOM). "People judge us by three things: how we look, what we say and how we say it," she says. She points out that while many people cringe when they hear their recorded voices played back to them, most just accept their voical fate. "Imagine if we felt that way about the way we looked?" she says. "We'd be out there doing something about it."
Grant-Williams says that there are two major aspects about your voice that you can change: the tone and quality, as well as how you deliver your words. Here are some of her tips to make you sound more like the professional you are in your next big interview.
Tone and Quality
According to Grant-Williams, the problem most people have with the tone and quality of their voices comes from breathing incorrectly. Most people, she says, take air only into their chest cavities, filling up the space up around their shoulders. This is what she calls "shallow breathing." Grant-Williams suggests switching to "passive breathing." She says that instead of sucking in air, you need to just open up and let the air fall into your lower abdomen. "Imagine a tube going straight down your throat that ends in a little air sack at your lower abdomen area."
Here's how it works. First, make sure you're breathing through your mouth, instead of your nose. Second, squeeze the air out of your body using your lower abdominal muscles. To let air in again, "let your lower abdominal muscles relax as you loosen your jaw and open your throat, as if you were yawning." The trick is to open up your throat and let the air fall into your lungs, like water running through an open drain. Next, squeeze the air back out again using the same lower abdominal muscles.
Why is it important to breathe in this way? Grant-Williams says that when you breathe using your upper body, your air gets pinched off and makes your voice sound shallow and weak. "You convey a greater sense of commitment when you use your whole body to speak," she says. "When you breathe shallow, you sound shallow."
Fixing Your Delivery
You can also improve the way you sound by changing how you present your words. Grant-Williams says your delivery is like your own special effects department. "You need to make good use of color, delivery and surprise, rhythm, timing, volume and the rise and fall of pitch in your voice." Learning to use these voice tools will get you on your way to a great delivery:
Silence can be a very powerful tool. In fact, says Grant-Williams, "the space you put between your thoughts can be as powerful as the thoughts themselves." Learn how to use pauses to make a point, let others digest what you have just said or create anticipation for what you are going to say next. Also, it is important to say what you want, and then shut up. After all, she says, "Have you ever heard anyone say 'He was the strong, chatty type'?"
Altering the pace of your speech is another way to keep listeners interested. You can speed up one phrase, but then try to slow down for another. If you want you listeners to pay attention to an important point, speed up your dialogue, pause before the key point and then slow down while delivering it.
3. Color, Volume and Pitch
Have you ever been in a lecture where the professor spoke in a monotone voice? You might not remember it because you quickly fell asleep. Altering the sound, volume and pitch of your voice can change the meaning of what you are saying. For example, letting your voice rise at the end of a phrase signals that something important is coming.
4. Emphasizing Consonants
Use the consonants in key words to indicate importance. For example, saying "We had a rrrrreally great quarter," sounds more dramatic than "We had a really great quarter." Just think of Tony the Tiger's famous mantra - "They're grrrrrreat!"
Renee Grant-Williams is a well-known voice coach and president of ProVoice. You can find more of her tips in her book, "Voice Power," or on her Web site, www.myvoicecoach.com.
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