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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 Wonderfully Uncommon Reasons To Form Better Habits

As we race away into 2018, consider these very personal and fundamental bonuses to making and sticking to your resolutions.

Entrepreneur

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Eat healthier. Exercise more. Be more productive. Read faster. Be friendlier. Sleep better.

Welcome to the New Year, a time when people set resolutions to form better habits and lead better lives.

Understandably, a lot of the articles, videos and other resources about starting off the New Year focus on which habits are best and the steps you need to take to achieve them. They outline the goals, plans and actions we need to make our resolutions a reality.

If you’re looking for 10 tips on how to lose 100 pounds in 90 days, then this article isn’t for you. Instead, why not consider some of the underlying and lesser-talked about benefits of kicking bad habits and forming better ones this year.

1. Challenging your norms

Why is it that you sneak sweets and junk food so often? How come you’re always so tired in the morning? Why can’t you get your butt to the gym?

Related: 7 Motivational Habits That Drive Millionaires

If your answer for poor habits is “That’s just the way I am/the way things are” then you’re probably underestimating yourself. Stop. Think about your actions and why you’ve taken them perpetually over time. You might learn a lot.

Take personal finance advisor and entrepreneur Ramit Sethi for example. When he stopped to analyse himself and why he wasn’t going to the gym, he realised something simple that he’d never considered previously: His closet was in a different room, separate from his bedroom. Instead of getting up in the cold to put on clothes, it was easier to just stay in bed.

“Once I realised this, I folded my clothes and shoes the night before. When I woke up the next morning, I would roll over and see my gym clothes sitting on the floor. The result? My gym attendance soared by over 300%.”

Forming a new habit is your chance to examine your life — or at least one important aspect of it — and figure out why you’ve been making the decisions that lead to the habits you want or need to change.

2. Taking control

We don’t have to be the sum of randomised actions and results, based simply on moral and civil codes. It’s up to each one of us individually to take control of our actions and maximise the results.

It’s the same in business. There’s nothing you do without careful research and consideration in order to maximise productivity, profits, etc.

You’re your own boss. You control your thoughts and actions; these things aren’t up to chance. Having the ability to make significant changes to your life is empowering, so long as you seize the opportunity.

Take control. Be the entrepreneur of yourself, 100 percent.

Related: 7 Bad Workplace Habits Millennials Need To Stop Making

3. Achieving clearer self-awareness

Some people say it takes only 21 days to form a new habit. Others say that just isn’t true. However long it takes, habit formation is a personal journey; one that requires desire, motivation, dedication, perseverance and change.

Habit formation takes you out of your comfort zone, to a place of self-discovery. If you’re getting into shape, how far can you push yourself physically? If you’re trying to eat better, how much temptation can you withstand?

Figure out what was required to succeed or why it was that you failed. Either way, you can obtain a clearer sense of your personal limits and, hopefully, how to achieve your goals — and sustain them — within your constraints.

As Benjamin Franklin said, “Your net worth to the world is usually determined by what remains after your bad habits are subtracted from your good ones.” Not only to the world, but to yourself as well.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Self Development

How To Build A Disruptive Attitude

What does it mean to navigate a disruptive world and succeed in a market – place that is changing faster than it’s ever changed before?

Nadine Todd

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What do you need to know to be a success? What resources and support do you need? How do you need to feel and think to be a success in a disrupted world?

According to Malcolm Gladwell, who spoke at the 2017 BCX Disrupt Summit, you need three key things to succeed in a disrupted world: Resources, knowledge and the right attitude.

The First step towards innovation and disruption is your mind. Your attitude.

For Gladwell, Malcolm McLean is the single biggest disruptor of the 20th century, in that he implemented containerised shipping. Without this fundamental shift in the way we ship cargo, the modern, connected world as we know it today would not exist.

Crucially, McLean did not invent containerised shipping, but no one had been able to make it work before a trucker from Ohio came along, and got irritated by how long he had to wait at the docks to offload his cargo (roughly 24 hours).

Related: How to Build Your Network Like a Super Connector

But McLean had an idea and he presented it at a conference of maritime shippers in Amsterdam. They laughed him off the stage. Normally, when we are treated with this type of derision, we get discouraged and give up. McLean didn’t do that. He possessed a fundamental trait that all entrepreneurs need: He didn’t require the approval of others to do what he believed was right. Entrepreneurs are open, creative, and see solutions to problems that others don’t; they are also — crucially — highly conscientious, which means they follow through on an idea in a detailed, disciplined way.

This is rare. You get creative people, and conscientious people, but it’s not easy to find both traits in the same person. Add to that the third trait of disagreeableness, in that they do not have to follow established norms, and you have a real game-changer.

McLean didn’t look at the problem as a shipper did. He came from an entirely new angle, and not only found a way to make containerised shipping possible, but affordable too.

Ikea is a similar example. In a nutshell, Ikea is furniture shipped flat from Poland. Ingvar Kamprad pursued outsourcing on an aggressive level, had an extraordinary amount of creativity in solving problems, and was very conscientious. Consider how difficult it would have been to build a world-class manufacturing plant in Poland in 1961. The country was a post-WW2 mess, in the grip of Soviet Russia, known for shoddy workmanship and actively hostile to free enterprise.

And then Kamprad waltzed in from Sweden and pulled off the impossible because of his single-minded grit and attention to detail. He is the epitome of conscientiousness and obsessiveness.

Now consider Steve Jobs.

By the 1970s, Xerox was the most important tech company in the world. They were the richest, most innovative and profitable company, and they invested in a state-of-the-art R&D centre and filled it with 100 of the most brilliant computer scientists from around the world, and told them to be brilliant.

And they were. As per Xerox’s request, they reinvented the office. They invented the laser printer, the world’s first word processing programme, interfaces — and the list continues.

And then a 23-year-old Steve Jobs visited the centre. At that stage, his company was making traditional kit computers out of a garage. He was blown away by what he saw at Xerox Park and all the incredible things they were doing — particularly when he was shown the mouse and interface the Xerox team had developed for personal computers. He immediately saw how icons and a mouse changed everything. This was the future of computing.

Related: 10 Innovators On What They Learned From Steve Jobs

Leading the charge

Here’s why Apple is the world’s biggest tech company four decades later, and Xerox is not: While the Xerox team understood they had changed computing forever, there was no urgency to be the first to market.

Jobs left that day, immediately told his team to stop what they were doing, because it would soon be obsolete anyway, and started working on a new product based on what Xerox had developed.

His team told him he was nuts — they’d spent millions on what they were doing. Jobs said it didn’t matter. It was obsolete. He didn’t have more resources. He didn’t have smarter guys. He didn’t even have a wiser and better vision.

But he was in a hurry. And he was able to execute on his vision.

If you can get your mindset right, you can gather the resources and knowledge that you need to be successful. Learn as much as you can. Be open to new ideas. And if something is soon going to be obsolete, walk away. Find the next big thing. Because you’re either being disrupted, or you’re the disruptor. Which would you like to be?

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Self Development

Time Is The Ultimate Success, Not Money

Don’t use your time to make more money, use your money to make more time.

Steve Eakin

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Why do we work so much? I know the answer is “money,” but why? Yes, we need to cover our cost of living – your true basics like food, clothes and shelter. But after that, what are we working for?

The short answer is luxury. We want to get our hands on some luxury.

For some, that’s cars, watches, boats and all of the other flashy things we see scrolling through Instagram. For others, it’s art or travel. Everyone has their own definition of luxury.

But that shouldn’t be the reason for our lifetime of toil. It should be for time. You see, time is the true measure of success – the real currency of an entrepreneur.

We work our lives away to buy objects of luxury instead of enjoying the luxury of our time on earth. We should be yearning for free time to do what we wantnot what we must. We should want time to do the things we like, not the things we dislike. Forget the desk job. Forget cleaning the house. Forget mowing the lawn or cooking dinner. If you don’t like it, the luxury of having extra money should eliminate it from your life.

This isn’t a rant promoting unadulterated laziness. I’m a firm believer in work, especially deep work in your creative pursuits and hard labour in your physical pursuits. I’m also a firm believer in not doing what you hate.

Related: 7 Rules To Master Your Start-Up Success This Year

For my own creative enjoyment, I enjoy writing – both words and code. That’s my deep work, and no matter how much money I have, I’ll never outsource that. In the physical world, I enjoy lifting weights, fighting and doing yard work. Those are things that I won’t be cutting down anytime soon. Since I enjoy those things, my time isn’t better spent eliminating them from my life. But certain aspects of them can certainly go.

I love weight training, but I hate planning my workouts. It takes me too long to figure it all out. Thankfully, that’s a problem that money solved in my life. I have an amazing trainer who sets it all up for me, giving me my time back. I love writing, but I hate publishing my work. Thankfully, you can hire a content manager (or team) to handle that. Prime examples of money buying my ultimate luxury – time. Time that can be better spent doing things that either make me more money, which I can use to unlock more free time, or that I enjoy, like reading or hanging out on a beach with my family.

Maybe I want to tighten up my Jiu Jitsu game. Maybe I want to create a cool bonsai tree. Maybe I want to learn to play chess or learn a some new tech that could advance me in the professional world. Maybe I just want to sit on my ass and read or play a video game or watch some mindless tv for an hour every now and again. These are things that we work for.

Freedom versus the slavery of materialism

Only after you’ve unlocked your free time is it even worth pursuing the material. Fancy cars aren’t my style, so why would I waste money that could be used unlocking my freedom, on a cool car? Unless you truly enjoy driving cars (which I do,) washing cars (which I don’t,) fixing cars (meh) and everything else that comes along with it, you’re spending your time to make money to buy something you don’t truly love. That’s backwards.

Related: 3 Questions To Guide You To Success In 2018

Love to travel, but only get one week long vacation a year? Go somewhere for a month or two. When you’re not working a full-time job, you’ll have the time to explore new ways of making a living if you want more months like that.

Do you really love exotic cars and want a Ferrari, but you’re just settling on the Mercedes? Take that money, buy some more time, and spend it building a business that makes you the money instead of your boss. Instead of that Benz, put that money into buying more time. That’s now what defines you as successful.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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