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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+.

Self Development

The 5 Gut-Check Questions Confronting Entrepreneurs Every Day

The day you forget why you began is the day you’re done.

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https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/314209

Entrepreneurs make an astounding number of decisions daily. They are faced with choosing which opportunities to move on and must solve problems big and small.

By setting up a framework of questions to ask yourself daily, you’ll give yourself some markers to help guide you through these difficult situations. Knowing where you stand on these questions will empower you to make good choices that ultimately lead you to your desired outcome. It will give you a deeper understanding of your motivations and your feelings about your business, and can help you clarify future plans.

Here are five powerful questions all entrepreneurs should ask themselves daily to ensure they are consistently moving toward their goals and making the best decisions for themselves and their business. Ask yourself these questions with an honest and open mind, and see where they take you.

1. Why are you doing this?

What makes this one little question so powerful is that it forces you to examine your desires and impulses, and helps you chart how those motivations change over time. It forces you to look at things from a different perspective. Asking yourself this question every day reaffirms your ambitions and the mindset behind why you are doing what you’re doing. If you don’t know why, you’re in trouble!

Related: Entrepreneurship Is All About Overcoming Obstacles

Asking this question opens the door to a plethora of other questions that will give you food for thought. What is the reason for launching your business? Why are you passionate about doing this? Are you the right person to run this business? These answers may change over time. At first it may seem difficult to truly nail down the “why” behind your motivations. Maybe there are competing interests that are driving you. But when you really think about it and drill down into this question, there’s probably a simple answer. Just be sure you’re being truthful with yourself.

Why you do something also gives rise to the question: what do you hope to achieve? You need to know what your end game looks like, and what success means to you. Is it about attaining a certain level of wealth? Is it about being the top in your market? Is it about earning respect? Are you looking to rule the world (or at least a niche market), or are you simply hoping to earn a living doing something you love?

Start your day by asking yourself this question and see where your answer takes you. By spending a few minutes pondering this, you’ll gain clarity that will help you steer your career in the direction you want it to go.

2. What is your company’s purpose?

purposeSee if you can answer this question in a single sentence. A good place to start is with your mission statement: what are the formal aims, goals and values of your company or organisation? This should be clear and concise – it should get to the heart of what your business is about.

Your company’s purpose is the foundation that all else is built on. It should have enough flexibility to grow and allow for change, but be specific enough to be meaningful and relevant. Ultimately, this question should help you understand what the heck you’re really doing here.

This question should be at the forefront of your mind when making important decisions. Ask yourself whether this new venture or idea would reinforce or logically contribute to your company’s overall purpose. Are you staying true to your calling?

That’s not to say that your purpose can’t change over time. However, if it does, the change should be purposeful and executed with care. Thinking about this will help you identify your long-term business goals and may lead to bigger questions, such as: What do you want your company to mean to your customers, what is your company’s place in world and what is its ideal market?

3. Where is your business at right now?

The goal with this question is to take both an analytical and emotional assessment of your business. This is a chance for you to take a hard look at where your company sits. Is it on the right track? What seems amiss? What is going right and how can that be reproduced throughout your business?

It’s also important to acknowledge your emotions and to be mindful of how you are feeling about your business. What is your gut instinct saying? Are you feeling anxious or excited about the business? Whether you are having negative emotions or positive ones, it’s important to recognise what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling that way.

This will give you a chance to better understand your mental state and how that may be influencing your decision making. It’s also about understanding what kind of vibe you are putting out. Are you feeling clear-minded and balanced? Or are you feeling off-kilter and out of sorts?

Being in tune with your emotions and having a clear view of what’s going on with your business will ensure you’re on an even keel. It will help you avoid overreacting or under-reacting to situations.

Related: Attention Black Entrepreneurs: Start-Up Funding From Government Grants & Funds

4. What lessons are you learning?

Every entrepreneur faces an uphill battle to achieve success. Every day you should be learning and growing, and the best way to do this is through a great deal of reflection on the lessons that present themselves each day.

Ask yourself whether you’re learning from your mistakes. Failure is a part of every entrepreneur’s journey. The question is, will your mistakes allow you to learn and grow? If not, you’re liable to fall into the same pitfalls and missteps. Conversely, are you learning when to jump at an opportunity and when to let it go? This is the ultimate lesson every entrepreneur is trying to learn, and it’s never an easy one.

The next time you’re weighing whether or not to take a risk, try asking yourself: “When I’m 80, will I feel sorry if I hadn’t gone for it?” Jeff Bezos does this as a way to crystallise whether he will regret not taking action on something. In the big picture, it’s often what we fail to do that we see as our biggest mistakes in life.

5. What’s next?

If you ask yourself one question every day, this should be it. As an entrepreneur, you always need to be anticipating what’s next. You need to anticipate what’s coming down the road and formulate a plan to take it on. This is the question that forces you to look up from that pile of work on your desk and think about the big picture and next steps for your business.

What strategies will you need as you keep pushing your business into the future? What trends or shifting interests are coming up that may affect your business? How will new technology impact the way you manage the company?

Disruption will happen in every market because change is inevitable. Businesses that survive see that wave coming and start making adjustments early on. So, in a way, change is predictable because it will always come. Innovation and ingenuity will always be the key to success – and those who seize opportunity will ride the crest of the next wave.

So when you ask yourself “What’s next?” make sure you have your blinders off and are looking at things with a curious and open mind. Make sure you’re staying open to new ideas and embracing creative solutions. Keeping looking for the “wow” factor.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Self Development

5 Inspiring Quotes From Madiba To Stir You Into Action On Mandela Day

In honour of Mandela Day, here are 5 of Nelson Mandela’s most inspiring quotes.

Casandra Visser

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Bouncing Back

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“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”

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Self Development

25 Bad Words That Make Other People Feel Inferior

If the harshest thing you have to say about someone is partly true, say the other part.

John Rampton

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Did you know that in every language, there are more negative words than positive ones? It seems we need lots of words to describe our negative feelings, but we’re content with a handful of positive ones.

For instance, researchers have found that most cultures have words for seven basic emotions: Joy, fear, anger, sadness, disgust, shame and guilt.

That’s one positive emotion, and six negative

It’s no wonder so many of us have a hard time keeping our negative comments in check. Over the past six months I’ve been working on the verbal language that I’ve been using that I don’t even realize hurts others and in some cases makes them feel inferior. I even noticed that I’ve used a couple on my personal and business website. This is a “no-no” that I needed to fix.

This post will list 25 negative words you should avoid…so that you stop hurting, belittling and intimidating those around you!

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