How to Make the Most of Your Voice

Persuasive people, be they leaders, teachers, managers, or sales people, use their voices masterfully to make strong impressions on their listeners. The Oscar winning movie "The King's Speech" really captured how pivotal our ability to speak persuasively can be for our careers. Here are five practices that can help improve your speech and sales communication.

1. Articulate, articulate, articulate.
If you mumble or slur words, the important points you're trying to make can get lost. Worse, people will simply tune you out.  Mumbling may be a habit, may be something you are just not aware of, or it may be from being nervous.  These factors can be overcome.  The first step is to check - are you a mumbler!  Ask people who you can trust to give you some honest feedback.  The next step is to practice saying things more slowly and more clearly than usual.  At first this will be painful, because it is not your habit.  You must make a new habit though, so please stick with it.  As you become clearer you can speak a little faster than during the transition stage.

2. Vary your tone.
Nothing numbs listeners more than somebody who speaks in a monotone. Project your voice clearly and strongly. Learn to use pitch for variation and accent your power words. This helps keep the audience involved.  Pick out some key words you are going to use, and make a point of hitting those words with emphasis.  This could be done by adding or subtracting volume.  Contrast is what you are searching for.  Using pauses is also effective in breaking up your content, as the silence creates a contrast between pieces of information, and your audience has some thinking time and so a greater chance of following what you are saying.

3. Use the right tempo.
Don't speak in a slow, drawn-out manner and don't talk so quickly, that no one can follow the flow. The speed of speech affects how both you personally and your message are interpreted. Too slow - maybe you don't sound smart, too fast - maybe you don't sound trustworthy.  Talk fast when you wish to convey excitement or urgency. Slow down when you want your words to sink in.  The key is variety by choice for emphasis.

4. Control your volume.
Project your voice so people can hear you easily. Raise and lower your voice when you want to underline certain words or concepts.  Think of a classical music piece you may recall or have heard lately - lots of highs and lows, grabbing our attention.

5. Get rid of speaking "crutches".

Avoid starting or punctuating sentences with um, ah, you know, like, uh, really, kind of and other fillers. (This is usage not voice but it's closely related.) The pattern becomes tiresome to listeners and makes the speaker seem nervous or lazy. Break this habit if you have it. 
Usually, fillers are our poor choice of covering ourselves, while we think what it is we want to say.  There is a much better solution - silence.  Use a pause, to allow you thinking time.  No audience will mind a few seconds of time while you gather your thoughts.  They much prefer that to endless ums and ahs.  Practice getting the first word and first sentence out of your mouth without any fillers.  Just keep doing that and you will break the habit.
It's hard to know how you sound to other people. Try using a voice recorder to record yourself for a few hours. Record conversations in the office and on the phone. Play the recorder, listen to how you sound, and apply the ideas here to make positive changes!  You will sound different on playback to what you actually think you sound like, but that is the same for everyone, so ignore that element and concentrate on what you are saying and how you are saying it - this is the main game.

Learning the art of small talk!

It's often said that in business, "it's not what you know, it's who you know." Getting to know people depends on the ability to network, including making a good impression at cocktail parties, meals and other such venues. Yet, many business professionals who are confident about their work skills turn into a mass of insecurities when confronted with such social situations. This is particularly true for Japanese, who face not only the language barrier but the fact that business socializing customs are quite different between Japan and other countries. Business social situations can also be a particular challenge for non-Japanese who have spent a long time in Japan, and have adapted themselves to Japanese culture more than we have realized.
Here I will discuss some of the fundamentals of success full socializing in the American business context as a primer for Japanese readers and a refresher for non-Japanese readers.
American communication style.
First, a few words about American communication style in general. Americans expect others to engage in self-disclosure, self-expression and an exchange of opinions. This means that it's important to take an active role in conversations by speaking up. Unlike the Japanese who communicate things through subtle facial expressions and tone of voice, for Americans, if it's not clearly set out in words, it won't get across. Americans tend to feel that not trying to talk means you are uninterested in the other person or you're not making an effort. Don't be hesitant to introduce yourself first or to start a conversation. And during the conversation, be sure to say your share. Many Japanese tend to hold back in conversations in English because they are afraid of making a mistake. However, looking at Japanese conversations with Americans, more problems occur when something that should have been said wasn't, rather than something said incorrectly caused a problem. In other words, it's better to try and talk than to say nothing at all, which is sure to be perceived negatively.