by Steve Adubato, PhD
When a carpenter builds a house, he must have a set of tools. When a golfer goes out to play 18 holes, hopefully he has the right clubs. And, when a great musician plays, he uses his instrument to create magic. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the same thing is true for the great communicators when it comes to using their voice.
According to Jill Gerken Wodnick, who has taught the art of public speaking to hundreds of students at Seton Hall Prep, "The voice is an instrument and a means of expression. The way that an instrument creates sound and music-say for instance a piano or flute-the voice has the ability to create pitch."
Consider what happens when your voice goes up at the end of a sentence, which is referred to as "up-speak." Your intent may be to make a clear and powerful statement. However, your audience may perceive that you are in fact asking a question and not sure about your feelings. When introducing yourself if you say, "I'm Steve Adubato?," with the tone of your voice rising, that's a lot different than saying, "I'm Steve Adubato," as a clear statement of fact.
Gerken Wodnick says that up-speak is particularly a problem for women who have been socialized to seek approval and not come across as too aggressive. Women and others who engage in up-speak run the risk of giving up their power and being seen as indecisive or weak.
The issue of how we use our voice is especially important in telephone communication, where there is no visual stimuli to create an impression. The voice is all we have and we live or die based on the receiver's perception of us through how we use our voice. Those involved in telephone sales are especially aware of this phenomenon.
Another vocal tool is pausing. The truly great public speakers like Mario Cuomo, Colin Powell and Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina understand that pausing in between sentences as well as within the body of a sentence is a powerful technique. When you pause, you create anticipation in your audience. It also allows you to collect your thoughts and add emphasis at certain times. Pausing as a vocal tool doesn't happen by accident. The great communicators say it is something they have learned to incorporate into their presentations through practice. Again, the voice is an instrument and mastering this instrument doesn't happen overnight.
And what about fluctuating your volume? Is that not using your voice as an instrument? Vocal variety communicates that you are truly connected to your words and the meaning behind them. No monotones here. When you are reading a story and you come across an exclamation point, some emphasis needs to be added. People often ask, how do I practice vocal variety? How do I get rid of my monotone delivery? You must become more aware of how you are using or not using your voice and make a commitment to take a risk-to allow yourself to raise and lower your volume when appropriate.
Finally, another vocal technique is to tap into your passion and what you feel when you are delivering a message. If and when you do that, vocal variety is more likely to follow in a natural, comfortable and conversational fashion. Think Louis Armstrong playing the trumpet. Get the picture?
The only way you can allow your voice to be the communication instrument it was meant to be is to see yourself as the musician, the carpenter or the golfer who connect to their tools on a deeper, more personal level. Try it, you'll be amazed at the music you can make.