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.
Don’t Victimise Your Mind: The 6 Keys To Develop Yourself And Your Business
This writing offers six keys to self and business development.
“Plan your work and work your plan” – Ann-Marie Heidingsfelder
Considering the plethora of permutations within the self and business development fields it is truly hard to develop yourself and your business. The good news; however, is that it is possible for all to achieve fulfilment and sustainable business success should we consciously choose to and act on our choice with a mountain of good old-fashioned ‘grit’ to underpin our efforts.
This writing offers six keys to self and business development:
1. Find your purpose
It is highly probable that a number of readers might roll their eyes when they read again that they have to find their purpose and brand such a suggestion as cliché. Well the thing with clichés are that they are mostly true but they require investigation and reflection beyond surface judgements and thoughts in order to have true practical meaning in your life.
Finding your purpose for yourself personally and for your business means that you attach a lot of positive and transformative meaning to what you are doing. This meaning transcends yourself and adds value to society. Having sincere purpose is a source of inspiration and can get you through severe challenging times.
2. ‘Stack’ your inspirations
I prefer the term inspiration over the use of the word motivation. Motivation is as fickle as your will power and is finite. True inspiration mainly fuelled by a strong and enduring sense of purpose has the power to help you overcome the most challenging circumstances.
For the purposes of enduring success and fulfilment you need to connect the dots between whatever inspires you which will create a powerful and symbiotic effect that will give more meaning, confidence and improved results to what you are doing.
In practical terms this means to:
- Listen to music daily if music inspires you.
- Workout daily if well-being is a source of inspiration to you.
- Read the work of others daily if knowledge inspires you.
- Sing in the shower if your own singing inspires you.
- Meditate daily if seeking within for answers inspires you.
- Sleep deeply and at least six to eight hours if deep rest inspires you.
- Look at images of great works of art if art inspires you.
- Daily look at your written Vision and goals.
- If dancing inspires you dance every day.
The above are just a few examples of what might inspire you. You need to ‘stack as many inspirations’ as possible in one day in order to experience a great day.
3. Unlearn the victim mentality
The victim mentality presupposes an inclination towards a life of excuses and justifications however valid or invalid they appear to be. Several ancient teachers have taught us to look deeper into our own trials and tribulations and shift the paradigm of suffering them to honestly learn from them and become stronger as a result:
“I take pleasure in my infirmities” – St Paul
“The wound is where the light seeps in” – Jalal ud din Rumi
Reflect on the challenges in your life purely from a learning perspective and stop assigning blame to others or even yourself. Changed behaviour is the only true apology. Past guilt and less than desirable past results can weigh us down within a state of fear and anxiety within the present moment.
Direct your energy towards actionable solutions to challenges as opposed to diluting your finite energy reserves by overthinking on past negativity.
4. Unlearn the desire to always be right
Do not get stuck in the perpetual cycle of frustration caused by you thinking that everybody thinks or should think like you. Yes, you are mostly right but only within the realms of your own perspective.
Be open to other alternatives, truly listen to opinions and learn from others. Instead of holding on to an opposing view for the sake of defending your ego and the desire to be right attempt to ‘connect the dots’ between opposing philosophies and find the common ground between them. This attitude builds relationships and slowly but surely builds bridges between enemies.
5. Unlearn your need to ‘do something in order to get something in order to be something’
For most an expectation is to do well at school, then university, find a great job and build a family. All of this has to be done to truly be someone in society. A key and paradigm shifting realisation for me in life was that ‘you don’t get what you want but what you are’ – This means that you attract both your empowering beliefs and your limitations of who you are to yourself not what you want.
Therefore if you want more love in your life, first be more loving. If you want more money first truly develop an abundance mentality and not only pay lip service to the idea of abundance.
6. Take swift and confident action, daily
Procrastination is the top enemy to success. Overthinking leads to more anxiety. Yes think but do it rapidly and effectively by asking and answering key questions such as:
- Will this serve my purpose?
- Will this be worth it?
- What are the potential risks and what can I immediately do to counter act them?
- Does this resonate with me and does it align with my values and mission?
- How can I build capacity for this?
If I am unsure I should immediately take action on quickly finding out more and then execute. Procrastination reduces productivity by a great deal and builds your level of anxiety.
How To Leverage Your Skills To Start A Side Business
Start a service-based business with knowledge you have acquired over the years.
According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2016 report, more than 25 million Americans have initiated entrepreneurial ventures. Being an entrepreneur is synonymous with being a risk taker, and one of the best ways to minimise this risk is by starting on the side, from home. In fact, according to the same report, more than half of U.S. entrepreneurs start and operate their businesses from home.
Many aspiring entrepreneurs fail to start a business due to lack of funds and business knowledge. The truth is, in most cases, none of that is required. Entrepreneurs get rewarded for solving people’s problems exactly the way employees get paid for their services. Starting a business is about creating value by solving problems and addressing needs, therefore, capturing an opportunity to serve others and getting compensated for your work is entrepreneurship in its purest form.
Especially for service-based businesses, this does not require a website, marketing campaign, business plan, round of investment funding or any other assets but your existing skills, knowledge and a laptop.
In my experience mentoring entrepreneurs with different backgrounds and visions, I found that most aspiring entrepreneurs worry too much about their 100th customer when they haven’t even acquired their first. Most entrepreneurs worry about growth stages before building a foundation.
This article shares three simple steps to help you clear your thoughts and focus only on the activities that matter in the beginning of a business venture.
1. Define your service
The key is to stick to your area of expertise. While you may have plans to start a thriving business with many products, services and customer segments, thinking too big too soon will have failing consequences. The challenges entrepreneurs face trying to run before they walk is overwhelming, and this causes failure.
What is it that you do today? This will be your service. If you were hired to do a job, chances are you are good at what you do. If you are a social media marketer, other companies need your services and consulting. The same applies to project managers, designers, programmers, teachers, engineers, researchers, assistants, scientists, coaches, speakers, etc.
Grab a piece of paper and write down your solution – “I offer X.” Before defining your ideal customer, start by writing down your service. It’s fine if your solution is as general as, “I offer social media, consulting, accounting or research services.”
Defining your ideal customer in the next step will help you become more specific and targeted.
2. Define your ideal customer
Service providers are often challenged with the ideal customer definition. This is understandable because virtually speaking, using some of the services mentioned earlier, many companies of different sizes need project management, design, programming, teaching and coaching services. Focusing on the ideal customer doesn’t just save time and money in finding and serving the customer but more importantly, it helps in the outcome of your contribution and your results. An ideal customer is “ideal” because you know how to help them get results. They need people like you.
The ideal customer definition process starts exactly like service definition. Start with the company that trusted you to do a job — your existing or previous employer. Chances are, many similar companies need your help and expertise. You may want to avoid serving your employer’s competitors, however, using them and their needs as a benchmark will quickly help you identify similar companies in different categories or industries.
No matter how competitive your space is, the barriers to acquiring the first customers will still be much lower than learning a new skill to serve customers in less competitive industries. Stick to your background. Especially in the beginning, focus on customer segments with the least players. The bigger the company, the longer the sales cycle. In this case, even if your experience is in helping Fortune 500 companies scale, you may want to focus on smaller companies with similar profiles and help them grow as big as your current or previous employers.
Your value proposition combines service and ideal customer definition. I help [ideal customer] with [your service], and I do it differently or uniquely by [how are you different].
For example, I help professionals leverage their skills to launch service-based businesses by providing them with a clear roadmap to paying customers, and I do it uniquely through a tested and proven framework that aims to minimise costs and reduce time to acquisition while bringing clarity and trust in the entrepreneur’s journey.
3. Define your acquisition channel
This step is simply about connecting the first two steps. In other words, how do you convey your service to your ideal customer? Use this as a rule of thumb. Your first customers are hand picked. Yes, social media, SEO, funnels, affiliate marketing and all other marketing strategies can help, but you must get your hands dirty to close your first customers quickly.
When you start and don’t have proof or case studies, people will invest in you, therefore, presenting and selling yourself is your best bet. From experience, here are the two best channels to accomplish this goal.
- Cold emailing, including using the power and network of LinkedIn. Drafting a personalised email or message that goes directly to your potential customer’s inbox is one of the best ways to grab their attention, especially when you are addressing businesses. Keep your message short, mention an interesting fact about their industry, comment on one of their recent posts or accomplishments, and present your services and how it can help them drive results.
- In-person events, especially smaller conferences, meet-ups or social events. Defining your acquisition channels is essentially about finding a way to signal your availability to your ideal customer. Local and national events are a great way to build personal relationships that can soon turn into business partnerships. Spend time developing and nurturing relationships and the rest will follow naturally.
Finally, and above all, the world needs your skills and expertise, and people are ready to compensate you for your contribution. We are all entrepreneurs in one way or another. Entrepreneurship is about creating value through solutions. You do that already, so it’s about time you capture other opportunities on the side or full-time.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
5 Healthy Habits Businesses Should Adopt In 2019
Here are five beneficial habits your business should adopt in 2019.
When we think of adopting healthy habits, we usually think in terms of our bodies or our personal lives. But as an entrepreneur, shouldn’t you be adopting healthy habits for your business too? After all, like our bodies, businesses perform better – and are better able to withstand the occasional storm – when they’re functioning at an optimal level. So how does the concept of “health” translate in a small business context? Here are five beneficial habits your business should adopt in 2019:
1. Streamline your cash flow
You can have all the impressive clients you want, but if they’re not paying you on time (or at all), your cash flow will suffer – making it very hard for your business to function. Similarly, if you don’t strategically keep money in your business (for example by only paying bills when you need to), you can also run into trouble. Since cash flow is so important to a healthy business, take a high-level view of the money that’s coming in and the funds going out on a regular basis. Then, make sure that the two work in tandem, so that your bottom line stays as stable as possible.
2. Apply the KonMari method
Author and organising consultant Marie Kondo has exploded in popularity in recent years, and her 2011 book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” has been published in 30 countries. In a nutshell, the KonMari method is all about keeping only those things that spark joy in your life – whether it’s clothes, books or furniture. The result, Kondo believes, is a happier, calmer, more contented life.
You could apply this principle to business too. For example, which clients are more trouble than they’re worth – and conversely, which ones give you joy that you could find more ways to work with? Or, what services does your business provide that your heart’s really not into – and which ones are you passionate about? This mindset could apply to almost any business context, from a branding refresh to streamlining your service offering, or even just clearing the clutter from your office.
3. Use tech to get organised
Admin tasks can often be overlooked in a small business, because employees are typically wearing so many different hats: they’re salespeople, account managers, the HR department and more. But if you let the admin slip, your business can suffer, and this can spill over into your dealings with customers. Luckily these days, there’s lots of tech available to help you with almost every aspect of business administration, from invoicing and budgeting, to timesheets and project management. Most of these are available at a minimal cost (or even free), so they don’t require a huge outlay. Making this small investment can pay for itself many times over in helping your business run more smoothly.
4. Get the pipeline rolling
The key to keeping your business healthy is to keep the momentum going, which means keeping the flow of new customers. Even if you’re in a comfortable position right now, you never know what’s around the corner in terms of your industry, new competitors or the economy in general. That’s why it’s important to keep stoking your sales pipeline by looking for new leads all the time. Be proactive: go to networking events, ask to be introduced to companies you want to work with, or even just try and upsell to existing clients.
5. Keep your people healthy
When it comes to the health of yourself and your employees, the personal and business worlds definitely merge. After all, if you or your employees are constantly sick, they can’t be giving their best to your business. Several medical schemes, such as Fedhealth, have a medical aid offering specifically for corporates and their employees. Besides helping to lower absentee rates and improve productivity, you’ll also boost employee morale by the improved benefits you’re offering.
By adopting just a few healthy habits within your business, you’ll make sure that in the long run, it’s as successful as it can be. It works the other way too: A successful business will have a positive impact on you as the business owner – you’ll enjoy going to work and be happier in general, which will go a long way to keeping you healthy too.
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