Have you ever listened to yourself?

Have you ever listened to yourself?

The only thing more painful than listening to your own voice on a recording is watching yourself on video. (The latter always compels me to start a new fitness regime.)

Unfortunately, my voice can’t be improved by going to the gym or avoiding the dessert table. It takes more than that.

The good news, however, is that the voice can actually be improved—something not everyone knows or even thinks about. And it’s worth it, because having a clear, strong and resonant speaking voice can make a significant difference in the way you’re perceived by your colleagues and clients.

We are aware that many of the people we speak with on the phone have never met us, never will meet us and don’t really know us; yet they will form an opinion of us. They will decide whether we’re smart, competent or trustworthy—based only on how we sound. Those impressions will then affect how they treat us. Will they treat us with respect, or condescension? Will they trust us or or try to work around us? Will we be perceived as equals or will one of us be deemed an underling?

You are probably thinking I’m referring to the tone of your voice, the pitch, the sound. And, to some degree I am. But not exclusively. There are many facets to how you sound, and we can control nearly all of them.

In North America, we like voices that are lower. Just turn on the news at night and listen to the anchorperson. Their voice will be a little lower than the average. Studies show that we trust voices that are lower rather than higher. That instantly gives men a bit of an advantage, but not one that we women can’t overcome. As women, we certainly don’t want to sound like a man, and as men, you don’t want to sound like that actor from Everyone Loves Raymond, either.

Voice tips you can start using today

You can give your voice more resonance, make it deeper and trustworthy by breathing deeper in your diaphragm (lower tummy) rather than through your (upper) lungs. Take a deep breath now and let the air go down as far as it can go. Slowly push the breath out. Make it last as long as possible. Try that a few times.

Practice reading out loud using different voices and different pitches. If you have children or grandchildren, all the better. Make the story you are reading to them fun and interesting. The more you play with your voice, the more control you will develop.

Hum. Humming helps you build and maintain vocal control. It’s simple, and you can easily do this exercise several times a day—it will improve your mood, too.

When you’re speaking, stand up whenever you can (if it won’t be perceived as aggressive). When you’re recording your voice mail, you should always be standing. You will have better oxygen flow, you will use your diaphragm more effectively and you will sound more professional and resonant. Try speaking sitting and then standing—you’ll see the difference.

You don’t want your voice to sound young and immature. As much as we strive for youth as a society, we don’t want a youthful (immature sounding) voice. It makes us sound inexperienced and the assumption made by those who can’t see you will be that if you are too young, you don’t know what you are doing.

Logically we know that isn’t true, but perception is reality in this case. If your voice is too youthful sounding, make sure that you do everything else I suggest here to improve your voice. Think of the actress Annie Potts (from Ghostbusters). She’ll never be a Merle Streep, strictly because of the way she sounds. Do you want people to think that you could never been an executive, a high-end professional because of the way you sound? Work on it.

You also need to be aware of what you are saying. Word choice can certainly make a difference in the perception someone has of you. Listen to your voice mail. Do you sound professional, educated, and friendly?

Hi. You’ve reached the personal voicemail of Rhonda Scharf at ON THE RIGHT TRACK Training & Consulting. I’m sorry I can’t come to the phone right now, I’m either on the other line or away from my desk at the moment, but leave me your name and phone number and I will call you right back.

Does this sound like your outgoing voicemail message? If so, then you’re giving your callers a bad impression, because this is an example of a poor outgoing message.

Let’s look at it more closely. You’re either on the other line or away from your desk? Duh. Are you breathing today? Are you wearing clothes? You don’t have to tell me the obvious.

You’ll call me back right away? What does that mean? Should I wait right here, because as soon as I hang up the phone you’ll be calling me?

Tell people what to expect, or quite frankly you will send a message that you are unreliable. Even if you call two hours later, you didn’t do what you said you would, did you?

You’re sorry you can’t come to the phone? Really? Don’t waste your time and the caller’s by being sorry for something you can’t control. This is a meaningless phrase.

Yes, I am being picky here, but why wouldn’t you want your voice-mail message to be as good as it can be? It doesn’t take much more time to come up with a better outgoing message.

Better yet, feel free to use something like this:

Thank you for calling Rhonda Scharf at ON THE RIGHT TRACK. Today is Thursday April 19 and I am in the office until 5 p.m. today. I return all calls the same business day. Have a great day!

While you’re saying the last line, you’re smiling; and of course, you’ve been standing while you recorded the entire message.

Be aware of your tone, of your pitch and of your word choice.

Listen to your voice mail. Listen to meetings where you participated. Listen to yourself when you are recorded. Be critical. Ask yourself if you are sending the message you want to be received.

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