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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

Fear As Foe And Friend: How To Master This Important Relationship

Our beliefs direct our behaviour and decision making. To conquer you fears, face them.

Erik Kruger

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There is a story that I love. It goes something like this: A long time ago a man was sitting in a bar in Damascus having a beer. As he finished his last sip he looked over to the corner and staring back at him was Death. The man froze. It was widely known that the day you see death is the day you die.

A few seconds later the man regained composure and ran out of the bar. Without looking back he jumped on a horse and rode as quickly and as far away as he could. Later that day he arrived in a town called Samarra.

The man checked into a motel, rushed up to his room, locked the door, and as he turned around, sitting in the corner was Death. Noting the man’s surprise, Death said to him, “You think that you’re surprised? Just imagine how surprised I was this morning when I saw you in the bar in Damascus knowing that I had an appointment with you here, tonight, in Samarra.”

This is a story about the inevitability of death. No matter how hard we try, it’s the fate that we cannot escape. However, that’s not the focus of this article.

Facing your fears

Instead, consider the way the man reacted to death. More specifically, how he reacted to fear. That’s something I’m sure you can relate to.

The life of an entrepreneur is filled with fear. The fear of failure, the fear of losing it all, the fear of judgement, the fear of rejection, the list goes on. We can never eliminate these fears. Trust me, I’ve worked with the best and they still struggle with many of these fears. The thing about entrepreneurs at the top of their game is that they are better at dealing with fear.

Related: 8 TED Talks To Help You Overcome Your Fear Of Failure

Imagine if instead of running away, the man in our story decided to embrace his fear. Imagine he calmly (while shaking inside) walked over to death and asked him why he was staring at him. Death might have told him about their inevitable appointment. The man could have left the bar to get his affairs in order. He could have had a final meal with family and friends. He could have gone for a last swim in the ocean. And then, when the time was right, met death as an old friend.

Does that not sound like a much better approach than to run away and hide? But how you can embrace fear? The answer to that is simple but by no means easy. Dealing with fear is all about the context and meaning we assign to it.

Unpacking context

When you’re working in your office, how scared are you of being bitten by a shark? Fear is very much dependent on the context. In many instances we have (some) control over context.

So, how can you control your context or environment? What can you do to actively decrease the fear becoming manifested? Fear of public speaking? Control the context by preparing well, getting coaching, dressing well, being ready. Fear of rejection? Control the context by understanding your prospect well, being prepared, showing up early so that you aren’t rushed, being friendly and welcoming.

Finding meaning

This is always one of my favourite areas to play in as coach. It has to do with the meaning we assign to situations in our lives. More simply put, the beliefs that we have and how they direct our behaviour and decision-making.

Back to our shark example, and this time you find yourself in the ocean. How worried are you now about a shark attack? Much more. However, next to you is a shark expert frolicking around. Happy as can be. How worried is he about the shark attack? Not at all. Why? Because he understands shark behaviour, he knows the statistics and miniscule chances of a shark attack occurring. Same context, different beliefs, resulting in different levels of fear.

This means that another way of dealing with fear is to examine the belief you have that creates the fear. Perhaps it’s an outdated or untested belief. The only way you will know is by looking at it.

Through the fear

Fear is a dark passenger. Ready to tell you stories of doom and gloom. Ready to make you forget about the big dreams that you have. But it does not have to be. You journey. Your rules.

Learn to master your feelings and the approach that you take towards the challenges and risks in your life, and you will not only feel lighter, but able to embrace fear as an old friend without becoming consumed by it.

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Self Development

Peak Performance: Multiply Personal And Team Business Performance

Anyone can be a ‘Peak Performer’ and that includes you!

Dirk Coetsee

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‘Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection‘ – Mark Twain

As a Peak Performance coach my purpose is to make others successful, fulfilled and happy

The universal Principles of Peak Performance applies to Entrepreneurs, career orientated individuals, business teams, sports teams and individual performers such as public speakers and musicians.

Do you want to learn how to multiply your performance as an entrepreneur, career orientated individual, musician, public speaker, or sportsperson and reach the peak of your industry or sport? If you answered yes to the aforementioned question, then this article is meant for you.

The outputs of ‘Peak Performance’ coaching varies due to its universal application but includes multiplying profits and productivity, drastically increase team performance in business or in sport , and dramatically improve your performance as an artist, musician, or individual sports person.

A Peak Performance is described by psychologydictionary.org as:

“A performance at the best level of a person’s physical and cognitive abilities’

  • Which leads me to the ancient Chinese philosophical concept of ‘wu-wei’ meaning ‘effortless-effort’. It is truly awe inspiring to bare witness to an entrepreneur or athlete delivering a supreme performance with joy emanating from their being as proof of them being in a ‘peak mental state’.

‘Peak performance is not only about achieving a wonderful result it is also about experiencing the joy bubbling from your heart as you let go of all your fears , doubts and procrastination and just enjoy the moment as a soulful experience’.

Related: Peak Performance: How Do I Build A Culture Of Sustainable Growth?

Those entrepreneurs or performers that have not released the peer pressure, doubts and fears that circumvent their thinking and feelings place limitations on the fulfilment , happiness and joy that they could have experienced should they have let go of all ‘mental baggage’ that they carry. One of the keys to unlock your potential is to leave your past baggage behind as you go through the door of positive change and development.

This article will highlight three prominent barriers to your ultimate ‘Peak Performance’ yet will reveal three key principles that when consistently applied will empower you towards unleashing your potential and become a ‘Peak Performer’ in any area of your life.

1. Barrier to Peak Performance: Limiting beliefs

When you entertain such limiting beliefs as ‘I am not worthy’, ‘I do not possess the resources to succeed’, ‘I am not intelligent enough’, it will limit your performance within any area of your life within which you entertain those beliefs.

Some top sport performers believe that only the seriously talented can be at the top and that talent means you do not have to work hard. For sure it is possible to reach the top based on superior talent alone but you will not be a sustainable success. Those with the potent combination of talent, mental strength and the willing ness to work hard will eventually catch up and dramatically outperform those with the limiting belief that my talent alone is enough.

2. Barrier to Peak Performance: Procrastination

If you are a serial procrastinator as an entrepreneur by the time you have actually executed a decision the ‘Peak Performer’ has already executed, failed and corrected his/her mistakes several times and is outperforming you.

3. Barrier to Peak Performance: Perfectionism

“Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection” – Mark Twain

Perfectionists often suffer from a fixed mind-set which is revealed thoroughly when the face glaring imperfections. This fixed mind-set dictates that perfectionists will rather walk away from the situation than aim to continuously improve which is a key driver to Peak performance. It is perfectly ok to fail as long as you apply the learnings of the failure and grow.

Be open to the fact that more often than not you are going to face imperfect conditions and timing in business, bad weather and facility conditions in sport, and ups and downs in any career.  The discipline and willingness to continuously work hard even for small improvements removes the focus on perfectionism to learning and growing continuously.

The above three barriers to ‘Peak Performance’ are very prominent ones but not the only ones that you will have to break through on your journey towards being a ‘Peak Performer’.

When you google who was the mentor of Nelson Mandela Oliver Tambo’s’ name will pop up. Tony Robbins had a mentor. Ray Dalio has been coached by Tony Robbins in return. And that brings the good news – you can be coached or mentored to break through the barriers that limits your performance.

Related: The Anatomy Of Peak Performance

The key questions here are:

“Are you coachable?” and “Do you want success and happiness badly enough?”

1. Empowering belief towards Peak Performance: Purpose

Clarity of purpose is a key driver towards ‘Peak Performance’. Purpose is ‘your why’, that very good reason why you do what you do. Two entrepreneurs of equal intelligence, resources, talent and skill start a venture within the same industry, whom will outperform the other?

The one does not really love the industry and is not truly inspired by what he is doing, the other has a real sense of Purpose and truly loves the industry. Logic dictates that the one with the real sense of purpose will more easily overcome obstacles and will truly be inspired towards Peak Performance.

The fine print to Purpose is that Purpose is a powerful belief but yet is just a belief. Underpinning purpose you must consistently do what is required to actualise your purpose and do so with patience and discipline.

2. Empowering belief towards Peak Performance: Peak mental state

We all know from personal experience that when you are de-motivated and negative thoughts dominate your mind that a very good performance is unlikely to result from that state.

You can train yourself or be trained to almost always be in a peak mental state where you are anchored in positive beliefs and in strong positive emotions about those beliefs. From this state a Peak performance is much more likely.

3. Empowering belief: Take immediate, consistent and disciplined action

When we feel overwhelmed we either do nothing or very little in general. We also tend to procrastinate when we are unsure of the course of action we should be taking or when we doubt our abilities. When we know exactly what our purpose is we do know what our priorities are and once we are sure of our priorities when know how to allocate the right amount of time to our activities that serves our purpose.

We all feel overwhelmed and or fearful at some point. The key here is to still take action in the face of being overwhelmed and fearful. When overwhelmed and fearful a critical question to ask yourself is: What is the smallest and easiest thing I can do right now to start improving the situation? Once you have taken action it creates momentum and it gives you confidence to take the next action required.

Use your fears and doubts as triggers to take action. Small actions at first to train yourself and to give you more confidence to gradually take bolder steps. The Navy seals in general are not fearless human beings they were just trained to use their fears as ‘triggers’ to take action and this is possible for everyone.

Here is an empowering belief for you:

Anyone can be a ‘Peak Performer’ and that includes you!

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Self Development

Research: The Power Of Meditation That Will Blow Your Mind

How transcendental meditation can improve your life and help you achieve the highest levels of success. Don’t believe us? Keep reading and find out

Nicole Crampton

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If I told you a group of meditators could stop a war, eradicate violence, reduce infant mortality and increase primary school attendance rates – would you believe me?

This exact scenario happened in our neighbouring country Mozambique. In 1992, the civil war that lasted 15 years came to an end. Joachim Chissano the leader of the winning forces took control of the country, instead of enacting revenge on the rebel forces, he promised there would be no prosecution or punishment.

He even went so far as to offer them half of the positions in the Mozambican army, and he gave them a chance to gain power through political means. Two years later, Mozambique’s had her first ever multiparty election, Chissano and the former rebel leader were up against each other in the polls.

After winning, he focused on reducing poverty to establish lasting peace. Between 1997 and 2003, 3 million people, out of a population of 20 million, were rescued from extreme poverty. This led to a 35% decrease in infant mortality and a 65% increase in the number of children attending primary school.

The following sections will help you on your journey to find your personal “woosah”:

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