‘It’s not what you say… It’s how you say it.’ The title of the 2004 hard-core underground rap album by late American rap artist Mac Dre.
It’s an album which many of us will no doubt be able to recall at an instant but for those less familiar with the genre, it is the message in the title that is of importance to this article rather than the music itself.
The phrase is nothing new, of course, and has been uttered many times. There are books with the same title, endless quotes on Google and numerous articles with the words being attributed to some speaker or other.
Undoubtedly there is something in this. It is easy to sway people in one direction or another with a stirring vocal cadence but that can, in many cases, be disingenuous. If we were to take this literally then for the most part we could all get away with saying not much of any substance at all but just do so with a certain flourish. This, however, is not the case – it most definitely is ‘what we say’ but those words and that message can be won or lost by how we say it.
So, given that the words we use are important, how can we engage our voice to instil confidence in others without having to spend hours lying on our back, clutching our ribcage and humming excessively in order to develop the kind of vocal function which would not be out of place in the RSC?
The human voice is an extremely sensitive and powerful instrument and we all have the capacity to use it more effectively.
Speak with confidence
Everyone says that but what does it actually mean? It means believing in what you say and giving it the same conviction that you would when you are talking about whatever it is that you are most passionate about. In such circumstances we tend not to hesitate, stumble or speak in a manner that can at best be described as beige.
If it is good to see someone, let that be reflected in your voice. If it is very important that we are inspired by you, let that be reflected in your voice. If it is going to be a tough few months for your team but together you will get through it, then that too should be reflected in your voice. Whatever you are saying to others in a situation where you need to instil confidence then you need to genuinely believe the words that are coming out of your mouth.
Be calm and measured when speaking
Even if inside you are feeling anything but calm and measured. We react to the way in which other people speak and often take our lead from their tone.
Imagine buckling up your seatbelt whilst taxiing towards the runway only to hear the pilot talking about the flight ahead in a voice that gave every impression of mild panic.
Take a deep breath, relax and speak slowly and you will find that your voice sounds more resonant and deliberate.
Don’t be afraid of a little variety here and there
This does not mean that you have to become a voice-over artist but do remember that we all respond well to voices that have some modulation in them.
Take a short piece of text from a Roald Dahl story (it doesn’t have to be Dahl, of course, but where better to start?) and record yourself reading it out loud as if to a group of children, i.e. with enthusiasm.
Listen to it and then use similar, or slightly toned down, variety in your voice with a second piece of text, this time from a rather less imaginative source (compliance springs to mind) and notice how much more engaging you sound.
Mac Dre would have had no impact at all were he not to instil confidence in his audience through the creative use his voice. Don’t deliver your next update on compliance (or similar) through the medium of rap – that would be unexpected – but do think about how you can enliven your voice to enliven your topic.
Luan de Burgh of the de Burgh Group is a professional public speaker and presentation coach.