Charismatic Communication – The Seven Keys to a Charismatic Voice

There are widely shared prototypes on the qualities that constitute leadership and leaders. Individuals who ‘fit’ universal categories, who look and sound the part in a particular culture, will be more readily embraced by audiences than those who don’t. In practical terms what this means is that if you want people to take notice of what you say, you have to project a visual and vocal image that meets as closely as possible the expectations of your target audience.

Research has shown that when people encounter you as a leader, speaker, or media spokesperson for the first time, they will scrutinise rapidly your looks and appearance and form an impression in seconds. They will scan your face and eyes first, make a judgement and move on to your body. This quick appraisal is usually followed by attention to your clothing and manner of dress, on which further assessments are made. They will then tune into your voice and notice your vocal quality and tone. If you fit their categories and you’re given the thumbs up, they may then choose to listen to what you’re actually saying.

The voice is one of the most valuable, albeit neglected, facets of image building. As an oratorical tool, it gives form, colour and meaning to what we say. Oddly, we find it easier to tell others if they’re speaking too fast, at a higher than optimal pitch, or too softly, for example, than to hear and correct our own deficiencies.

There are seven important elements to consider when building a charismatic voice:

Dynamic Range: How loud the volume of the voice is. Your aim should be to be heard without shouting. You should never walk into a room voice first, but should have the flexibility to lower and raise your volume to match the moment and the content.

Be multi-dynamic .The loudness range you employ in everyday speech varies enormously according to circumstances. Avoid, at all costs, being mono-dynamic. A boring speaker who sends an audience to sleep is most likely to be mono-dynamic (one loudness) rather than monotonic (one pitch) So, be louder, be softer, and make sure there is plenty of variation, but don't yell.

Resonance: Resonance occurs when the source of vibration (the vocal folds or chords) set up vibrations in other parts of your body. Your primary resonating structures (the parts of your body where sound waves directly or indirectly cause vibration) are your teeth, hard palate, nasal bone, cheekbones, sinuses, forehead, and cranium. If you resonate efficiently, the vibrations can continue to other parts of your body such as the rib cage and the spinal vertebrae. Speakers with well-trained voices ‘feel’ their voices all over their bodies.

Few of us use our full powers of resonance, thereby rarely ever reaching our potential of producing rich, beautiful, balanced and uninhibited sound. In fact, most speakers with untrained voices use about half or fewer of their resonating areas. Voices that don’t achieve full resonance potential, or that centre on a couple of resonators, usually sound a little chesty, tinny, thin, or nasal.

Read a book on voice production and practice balancing your resonators. Or, seek professional guidance from a voice specialist on how to build a rich and resonant voice. Everyone has the potential to create a mellifluous and infectious voice – you simply need to know how to release its power.

Tone: The characteristics of a sound. A cow mooing has a different sound/tone than a dog growling. A voice that carries consternation can unsettle an audience, while a voice that carries humour or mischievousness can get an audience to smile. Effective speakers develop tonal flexibility raising and lowering the tone of their voices for emphasis and de-emphasis and for creating the right tonal ambience for their messages.

Two crucial elements of tone are Range and Energy. If you have a limited range as many people do and swing between three and five notes to colour your communication, most people will interpret your voice as being flat.

The typical response from people with a limited range and energy when their voices are recorded and played back is “My voice sounds so boring!” And so it does. If your range is repressed, and if the energy level is constant or weak, your voice may not sound boring on the inside because you can hear as well as feel its energy.

The voice you hear on a recording is the voice everyone else hears, and it can put people to sleep better than any proprietary medicine if it reflects a limited range. Remember that boring teacher or lecturer who made his subject about as interesting as Donald Rumsfeld’s wardrobe ? Or the public speaker who spoke with such flat tones that she cured an entire group of septuagenarians of their insomnia? They did it with tonal inflexibility. Unless you want to become celebrated as public speaking’s answer to mogadon, stretch your vocal range and vary your energy levels..

Vocal Pitch: How high or low an individual’s resting voice is. Bill Clinton has a relatively light voice; Meryl Streep has a middle pitch, while Morgan Freeman has a very deep base voice. Every speaker has a range of notes from which they can draw. Even a light voice can be powerful if it resonates.

Many speakers automatically raise the pitch of their voice when they confront a microphone or begin speaking in front of an audience. This habit is often ingrained and may be caused by a combination of fear (stage fright) and the mistaken belief that the voice must be raised when you speak to an audience. If you begin speaking at a higher pitch, where are you going to go when you need to emphasise, or colour, your words - further upward into falsetto? Modern microphones make it unnecessary to sound as if you’re conducting a Transatlantic conversation entirely without the aid of technology.

Other speakers drop their pitch and speak from the bottom end of their range in the mistaken belief that they will deliver multiple ‘eargasms’ to their audiences. Males are particular offenders in forcing the voice deeper into the throat and chest. Some image advisers counsel their clients to drop their voice, but this is not the answer to adding authority to the voice.

Contrary to some beliefs, faked deep voices do not necessarily advertise high sperm counts and sexual prowess. If anything, they communicate sexual insecurity or gender ambivalence. The key to finding your best voice is to make the pitch compatible with the emotion being expressed and use tonal range to colour the words that need to be stressed.

Pace: This relates to the length of each sound we intone. Talking at a Gattling gun rate causes words and syllables to sound staccato, while talking slowly lengthens them, and, at extremes, makes you sound as though you were born in the Ozark Mountains.

Varying the pace, that is, walking, trotting, cantering and even galloping at times, evokes greater audience commitment because diversity stimulates attention. Pace also connects directly to emotion. For grave pronouncements pace tends to be slow, and for excitement it tends to be fast.

Silence: Sometimes more can be said with silence than all the words in the dictionary. Silence is one of the great arts of communication. Cicero said 'there is not only an art, but an eloquence in it.'
A pause effectively used can be of immense dramatic value. See how long you can pause before your alarm system is triggered, and then pause a little longer. The rules of pause are easy to integrate into your presentation or speech patterns:

A mini pause is about a half second in duration. It allows you to break your sentences into chunks or pieces of meaning. They help your audience absorb different ideas contained in your sentences or content.

A segment pause lasts around one to two seconds. You hear newsreaders use segment pause between stories so as to indicate contrast between one story and the next. This enables your listeners to avoid confusing one idea with another

A unit pause is between two and four seconds in duration. It allows your listeners time to let an important idea sink in and flags to them that something significant or momentous has been said.

A dramatic pause can last from a second to about five seconds. This form of pause can be used before or after important words or phrases. It can also be used to get your audience to fill in a word before you have said it.

Emotional Fingerprinting: Some people call this Emphasis but I believe that emphasis is too narrow a definition to describe what one actually has to do to create true meaning through the delivery of words. Emphasis describes the colour we apply to words to convey meaning. By stressing or accenting words, we draw our listeners’ attention to them. In ordinary extemporaneous speech, the stress values you place on words are 100 percent accurate. You filter your stream of words in accordance with the emotional and intellectual value you place on their meaning in a conversation.

Combining effective emphasis with appropriate dynamic range, tone, pitch, resonance and pace reflect the emotional fingerprint of a message or part of a message. If your voice does not mirror congruently the emotional content of your message you create ambiguity in the minds of your listeners and give them something to think about other than the content of your message.

The natural filtering processes can go awry when we speak in front of gatherings of people. The emotion we feel in response to facing an audience sometimes overwhelms the emotion we would normally express through emphasis. We fall into silly vocal patterns like using an upward inflection at the end of each sentence, we punctuate our phrases with patterned umms and errs, we inhibit the vitality in our voice with restrictive breathing patterns, and so on. The end-result is a vocal performance than can be duller than dull.

© Desmond Guilfoyle 1998-2006


No comments: