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Self Development

Improve Your Voice, Improve Your Prospects

Communication is fundamental to success in business and in life. And yes, theories and methodologies are important, but let’s get down to basics.

Monique Verduyn

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Your voice counts for 38% of the effectiveness of every communication message, with body language making up 55% and words a mere 7%. That’s according to research conducted by UCLA professor Albert Mehrabian. Benjamin Disraeli, twice prime minister of the United Kingdom, already knew that in the 19th century.

He once said “there is no greater index of character so sure as the voice.” George Bernard Shaw echoed this sentiment in Pygmalion (filmed as My Fair Lady), in which professor of phonetics Henry Higgins makes a bet that he can train a scruffy Cockney flower seller, Eliza Doolittle, to pass for a duchess at a high-society garden party by teaching her to assume a veneer of gentility, the most important element of which is impeccable speech.

By changing her voice, he aims to change her very personality.

More recently, public figures like Barack Obama and talk show queen Oprah Winfrey, and our own Nelson Mandela, have used the power of their voices to persuade and charm millions. They have that rare ability to make people feel special just by how they speak.

Local business leaders too, like Zwelakhe Sisulu, Dolly Mokgatle, Wendy Luhabe and Adrian Gore, have understood the significance of having a commanding voice. That’s because leaders spend 80% of their time communicating with others – from clients to staff, investors, partners and the media.  The mark of a good leader is the ability to make the listener feel as if he or she is the most important person in the room.

“The voice impacts our lives and everything we do,” says Monique Rissen-Harrisberg, founder of The Voice Clinic and one of South Africa’s foremost specialists in voice, communication and public speaking. “If you have a small little voice, people will think you have a small brain, and little potential. Conversely, if you have a big, powerful voice, they think you’re a strong, intelligent person. It’s as basic as that.”

The voice has also become more critical than ever, because there’s so much competition. Cellphones, Facebook, Twitter, instant messaging, email – everyone is vying for people’s attention and you have to work even harder to ensure you are not ignored.

“That’s key for business owners, particularly those who are starting out and have nothing to go on other than their communication skills,” Rissen-Harrisberg says. “When you have no brand, no track record and no experience, all you have is the gift of the gab.”

Entrepreneurs know this well. They are constantly in a position where they have to influence others – whether they are pitching an idea, cold calling, presenting to clients, networking, negotiating with partners and suppliers, or motivating and leading their employees. These activities can cause great stress and even fear, and the consequences can be harmful to the business, and themselves.

How the voice works

“Stress has a very negative effect on how we speak,” says Rissen-Harrisberg. “When we breathe in, what should happen is that the diaphragm which stretches across the stomach needs to move down.  However, when people get nervous or tense – before they are about to present their business plan or deliver a speech – they only breathe into the top third of their lungs. Effectively, they cut off their oxygen supply and they stop breathing.”

You’ll spot the signs – quiet, monotonous voices; lots of ums and ahs, people who don’t know what to do with their hands while they are speaking so they fiddle with their watches or put their hands in their pockets only to take them out again.

It’s a physiological response that will be familiar to anyone who has ever felt nervous about talking. The adrenalin starts to pump, the body goes into a state of fear as it would if you were in a jungle and you saw a tiger. Your immediate response would be to shoot it, or get the hell out of there.

“What you need to do to communicate well, is learn how to control your fear response by learning how to breathe into the base of your lungs, just like actors and singers do. It’s called intercostal diaphragmatic breathing.  Once you’ve learnt how to do that, the air comes up and it vibrates through the vocal chords and becomes a voice.  Of course, the moment there’s stress or tension, the chords tighten and when that happens, the voice becomes strained and can be horribly high-pitched. Again, you need to learn to relax the vocal chords, and speak a little slower so that the voice can drop in pitch, giving you a deeper, lower and more resonant sound.”

And here’s another interesting point – if you want to project power and credibility, whether you are male or female – the lower your pitch the better. That’s because resonance conveys confidence and strength. But back to the movement of the voice.

Once it has passed through the vocal chords, it bounces around inside the head, the jaw opens and the sound comes out. And this is another moment when things can go wrong. “If your jaw is tense, which is what happens to most people when they are stressed, the mouth closes and the sound that emanates is dry and monotonous.

That’s why people who are not used to presenting – like those in finance, for example – may sound very flat. The way to overcome that is to work on loosening up the jaw and rounding your vowel sounds so that your voice can become more varied and easier to listen to.”

Finding Your Power

Rissen-Harrisberg is passionate about getting people to understand how powerful their voices really are, and to activate that power. She says it belongs to absolutely everybody, even those who don’t believe it. “Most of us use only 30% of our vocal potential.

The goal should be to use about 80% at least. Oprah is probably using 90% of hers, which gives her a rich, textured voice and the power to command the entire world. We automatically believe that she is vibrant, warm, loving and friendly, because that’s how she sounds.”

“It’s especially important for A-type personalities (workaholics who are competitive and perfectionist and often have clenched jaws) like business leaders and entrepreneurs to appreciate the importance of how they speak, and to also understand that it’s less important to focus on perfection than it is to convey who you really are. People tend to focus so much on not making a fool of themselves and saying the right thing at the right time, that they’ve forgotten how to be human beings.”

The result is that communication does not happen, she says. People become so stressed that they are convinced they cannot cope with the demands of their work, that they are unable to project themselves, and that they simply cannot make themselves heard.

Where to begin?

Awareness is a great starting point if you want to improve your voice. Most of us aren’t even conscious of how we sound. And again, this is not about speaking in public; it’s about making a life choice because we communicate all the time.

“Start to listen to yourself and you will hear what other people are hearing. Record your voice, play it back and decide whether you like what it sounds like. Do you mumble? Is it too high-pitched? Do you speak too fast? A lot of bad habits are just the result of stress and the inability to breathe correctly. But only once you know what you sound like, will you be able to make some changes,” says Rissen-Harrisberg.

Making improvements is largely about finding your voice. “Many people think they are introverts, or that it’s too hard for them to speak, or that they lack confidence. Because they don’t believe in themselves, they doubt and criticise themselves and far too much negative self-talk happens. Fixing that includes getting back in touch with your spontaneity and learning to take up more space.”

Taking up space includes looking at the way you sit or stand. Women in particular tend to take up as little space as they can because they have been so conditioned by society to make themselves small. The downside of not occupying space is that you make yourself appear less significant, less important.

“People come to me and say ‘people don’t take me seriously’ or ‘they don’t listen to me’ and it’s because they have made themselves small – no-one has done it to them. And as a result, they can’t sell themselves, persuade people or be assertive. Spread yourself out, and take up space vocally and through your body language; be expansive.”

Investors don’t buy the business plan, she cautions. They buy the person, and people need to realise that in this day and age, if you’re choosing to buy something from someone, it’s usually because you like them.

Any good salesperson who’s trying to sell a product, manage a team or list their company on the stock exchange, needs to know how to establish a rapport with their purchaser, their client, their colleague, their subordinate – and they can’t if they are unable to communicate. Then they wonder why they fail.

Rissen-Harrisberg says the principle goes way beyond developing the voice. “What is important is ongoing personal development, of which that is just one component. The best investment you can make is investing in developing yourself as a person. Self-development gives you an enormous amount of confidence, and when you have knowledge, it’s so much easier to master technical factors such as your voice. The result is that you improve your life, and your bank balance.”

Rehearsal is a great way to develop your vocal skills and empower yourself. Are you cold calling? Write a script and practice it like an actor would. Record yourself and listen to how you sound. If you have to give a talk, or address your staff, get a friend or a trusted colleague to listen to you and provide feedback.

Be aware of what your body language and gestures are projecting. Use the space around you in a way that shows confidence, and remember to smile often and easily.

Monique Rissen-Harrisberg is the founder and CEO of The Voice Clinic, which she started in 1988. She has trained many top CEOs, blue-chip company representatives, media presenters, professional speakers, government spokespeople and high-profile public figures. She is also the author of Make Yourself Heard: How To Talk, Act And Dress Your Way To Success, published by Zebra Press.

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.

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Self Development

3 Questions To Guide You To Success In 2018

Most of the goals we set have some external component to it. Some component that we cannot control. Yet, we act like we can.

Erik Kruger

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3 Questions To Guide You To Success In 2018

Goal setting as a concept makes perfect sense. At the most basic level you decide on the destination and then plot the way to get there. But as with many things, we like to overcomplicate that which should be simple.

Before you know it, you end up with 2 big goals in 15 different areas of your life and 100 micro goals that will help you reach your 30 big goals.

Complicating something simple. Some of the biggest obstacles to people in reaching their goals are:

  • The overestimate the effort it will take to achieve those goals
  • They want to go from 0-100km/h in the blink of an eye
  • Life is dynamic and static goals often do not make sense
  • They get so entrenched in the day to day running of things that goals get pushed aside.

What if instead of goals, we just focused on giving our best every day?

Of course, you still want to have an indication of where you are going.

But, if you are giving your 100% every day then you can forego the micro goals for a better way of calibrating your compass… using questions.

Related: Goal Setting Guide

I suggest you ask yourself these three questions regularly:

1. What does better look like?

The question at the heart of development and incremental improvement. This question allows you some creative space in which you can imagine a better future.

  • What does better health look like?
  • What does a better business look like?
  • What does better customer service look like?
  • What does better leadership look like?

By reflecting on this question, you materialise the gap between where you are and where you could be. Now, the only thing that is left is to align your daily actions with the better future you imagined.

2. What can I control?

Borrowed from Stoicism this question highlights the power of decision in your life. Epictetus said we should always be asking ourselves: “Is this something that is, or is not, in my control?”

Once you ask this of yourself regularly you will feel more in control of your life and more in control of your business.

Why?

Because your focus is solely on the things that you can influence. It restores the belief that you can actually impact the world around you in a meaningful way.

3. Was I impeccable with my actions today?

One inherent flaw with goal setting is that the goal setter often feels judged. As if we need more of that. In addition to the constant negative self-talk we have to endure we now have an additional source of judgement – whether we reached our goals or not.

As we discovered in question #2 We cannot control everything. Most of the goals we set have some external component to it. Some component that we cannot control. Yet, we act like we can.

So, instead of judging yourself, commit to giving your best every single day.

Related: The Tim Ferriss Approach to Setting Goals: Rig the Game so You Win


Accountability

What I love most about these questions is that they provide a built-in layer of accountability. Use them every day.

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Self Development

To Be Successful Stay Far Away From These 7 Types of Toxic People

You need a network of talented people, not toxic personalities who undermine you.

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Surrounding yourself with prospective mentors is an excellent way to build lifelong success. When Steve Jobs founded Apple, he learned from colleagues like Steve Wozniak about what it took to build computer hardware. And he learned from early investors like Mike Markkula about what it took to build a successful company and market a product. Now imagine if Jobs had surrounded himself with toxic personalities instead. It is likely that he would not have been able to create a company that is on course to be valued at $1 trillion.

If you interact with people who demonstrate questionable behaviour, you’re more likely to model that behaviour yourself or to become stressed as a result. At the very least, you will be missing out on the opportunity to network with more successful and inspiring individuals.

This article will review seven personality types that should be eliminated from your life in order to build your most successful self. Once these people are gone, you can work on building a network of people who influence you positively.

1. Micromanagers

According to a report by NPR, micromanagement is one of the biggest factors associated with employee dissatisfaction, lowered motivation and lack of professional creativity. To be successful, you must learn to solve problems independently. Micromanaging can make it difficult to develop these skills.

Related: Keep An Eye Out For Toxic Employees

2. Short-term thinkers

If you surround yourself with short-term thinkers, it will be difficult to know if an idea is destined for long-term success. Those who are narrow-minded may be more likely to dismiss one of your ideas because it will take time to develop into a meaningful success.

Take the creation of Airbnb as an example. The company was founded in 2008. At the time the “sharing economy” did not exist, and hotel chains like Starwood and Hilton dominated the lodging market. A short-term thinker would have criticised an idea like Airbnb.

In order for the company to be successful, Airbnb would need to change people’s attitudes and expectations about travel. They would need to encourage people to be comfortable staying with strangers, and they would need to find ways to mitigate possible liability should something tragic happen during a customer’s stay.

Well-respected venture capitalists decided to pass on Airbnb because of these short-term concerns. The Airbnb founders were only able to find success once they connected with people who were comfortable thinking long term.

3. Pessimists

pessimistsPessimism is not always a bad trait; at times it can help entrepreneurs to recognize certain pitfalls that might otherwise be overlooked. However, a steady diet of pessimism is toxic when it comes to taking big professional risks.

As David Armor, an assistant professor of psychology at Yale University, says, “An entrepreneur starting up a company, for example, might drive himself to work 18-hour days for months and even years because he optimistically believes that there will be a big payoff for him at the end.” Conversely, a pessimistic attitude would make it difficult to tolerate such a prolonged stressful situation.

For those interested in taking on stressful professional situations, pessimistic people should be avoided in most cases.

Related: Tips on how to Survive and Thrive in a Toxic Workplace

4. Selfish people

Relationships that contribute to success are mutually beneficial. This dynamic cannot exist when dealing with selfish people. As a result, it is best to eliminate selfish people from your life in order to make room for more giving relationships.

A recent study found that a job applicant who is referred by an existing employee is 15 times more likely to be hired than someone who applies via a job board. If you befriend a selfish person, you probably can’t rely on them to introduce you to new career opportunities. However, forming connections with someone who is altruistic could give you a professional leg up.

5. Risk-averse personalities

Business success is about making informed decisions by weighing risks and rewards. If you are surrounded by people who over-index on possible risks while ignoring the possible rewards, it will be challenging to identify good business opportunities.

Take Amazon as an example. In 2014 Amazon launched a smartphone called the Fire Phone. In the end, the phone was not successful. Following the unsuccessful launch of the Fire Phone, risk-averse people might have avoided developing another piece of computer hardware.

But instead, Amazon correctly assessed the opportunity for an in-home smart speaker, and launched the Amazon Echo just one year later. Today, Echo has 75 percent of the smart-speaker market in the United States.

6. Unmotivated individuals

People who lack motivation or work ethic set a bad example for those interested in working diligently to become a professional success. There is no worse colleague than someone who simply does the bare minimum to get by.

Rather than associate yourself with people who cut corners or avoid hard work, try to surround yourself with people who are motivated to succeed. Collaborating with people who have a healthy drive for success can instill an extra dose of motivation in you.

Related: 3 Strategies for Dealing With Toxic People

7. Spendthrifts

Financial responsibility is a critically important quality to develop if you want to become successful. Warren Buffet is perhaps the supreme example of a financially responsible and successful person.

Buffet is the third wealthiest person in the world, worth nearly $80 billion. But despite his professional success, Buffet does not spend his money on flashy cars or large homes. In fact, Buffet still lives in the modest home in Omaha, Nebraska, that he purchased in 1958.

Those who associate with spendthrifts may be more motivated to make irresponsible financial decisions in order to fit in. At the very least, it will be harder to associate with people who make good financial choices, as these personalities are frequently diametrically opposed.

Conclusion

Business is all about who you know. From landing a new job to launching a new company, your network will enable or prevent future professional success. When developing a network of talented people, it is best to avoid toxic personalities who could set a bad example or demotivate you.

Be sure to avoid people who are micromanagers and short-term thinkers, as they can make it difficult to think autonomously. Risk-averse individuals or pessimists may cause you to think twice about great business ideas, and spendthrifts or selfish people may hamper your ability to grow. Last but not least, stay away from unmotivated individuals, as your success is dependent on your willingness to work diligently in order to succeed.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Self Development

Are You Seeing What You Want And Not What Is Actually There? Take This Simple Test

Do you see what’s really there, or what you expect to see?

Nadine Todd

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Without looking at your watch, think about what it looks like. Are the numbers Roman Numerals? If the answer is yes, picture the number four. Now write down the symbol that your second hand will be pointing at, at 4am or 4pm each day.

Was it this: IV?

If you made that assumption, you’re forgiven. Known as the Roman Numeral Clock study, this simple experiment has become a hallmark showcasing how often we assume we know what something looks like, or what someone did or said. We often don’t see what’s in front of us, because we don’t look. We expect something to be what we think it is.

Related: Why You Should Be Unreasonable With Your Expectations

On all Roman Numeral watches, the number four looks like this: IIII

This is based on ancient sundials. Popular theory says it’s because IV was the symbol of Jupiter, and it was considered bad luck or sacrilegious to be on a sundial.

Whatever the reason, tradition has maintained it.

And we have a nifty experiment to prove we don’t always pay attention to our surroundings.

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