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  • Writer's pictureKathy O'Brien

Is Your Voice Serving You?

Vocal quality is a tremendous asset for a leader.

When you project a strong voice, you sound competent, confident and compelling. You also sound like you have conviction in your statements.

Since these are great qualities in a leader, it’s worth your while to pause and ask: Is my voice serving me? Does my voice send the message I intend?

Your voice is an instrument, one you can fine-tune so it communicates your intentions and supports your executive presence. Because you have developed habits in your speaking, you will need to break some, consciously and patiently. The journey from ‘this is how I normally sound’ to ‘I can now control my vocal quality’ requires self-awareness and discipline.


Most of us are communicating across culture every day. Our colleagues didn’t grow up in our families or our neighbourhoods, so their pronunciation and speaking patterns are naturally different.

How can you ensure you are understood by those with different cadence? Articulation is your answer. Fully pronounce every word – literally. Record yourself speaking aloud, paying particular attention to word completion. That final consonant – the t, d or s, for example – deserves more love than most of us give it. Force yourself to complete each word, and you will help your listeners receive your message clearly the first time.

Vocal Variety

Pay attention to the ways you vary your voice. Variety is important because listeners need subtle changes to maintain their interest. When used well, variety enables you to draw attention to key phrases.

Speed is one element. Do you normally speak quickly? If so, choose some important phrases to deliver slowly. That shift in your delivery will highly your key phrases, making them more noticeable and memorable. If you typically speak slowly, speed up on those important words.

Volume matters a lot. As with speed, you can change from your normal volume to vary your voice.

Importantly, you need to know whether your volume is sufficient for reaching your entire audience clearly. The easiest way to do this is to test out your delivery with a buddy at the farthest-back seat. Increase your volume until your friend says you are easy to understand. Chances are, that will be louder than you expected. When the real event arrives, ask that friend to sit in the distant seat to observe how well your voice carries in a full room.

Pitch and tone are two other important elements in your vocal variety. Your pitch could be high (like a soprano) or low (like a baritone). Try using the opposite of your usual style to highlight key words. At the same time, keep it relevant: low pitch communicates conviction and authority.

Tone refers to the emotion your voice is communicating. Are you pleased, concerned, angered, cautionary, congratulatory or empathetic? Your tone in a townhall sharing session should be very different from that of a sales presentation or update to the board.


Practicing volume is your first step in better controlling your projection. What if you find you can’t reach the end of the room, you run out of breath or your voice feels strained? That’s a sign you need to work on your vocal projection.

Diaphragmatic breathing is the key to strong projection. Learn it from a physiotherapist or your yoga or pilates instructor. Watch some instructional videos online. You will begin filling your entire lungs with air, rather than limiting yourself to shallow breathing as most of us do.

Proper diaphragmatic breathing requires repetition to become a habit. Nightly practice while lying down is the easiest way to start. Try practicing when you stand in a queue, ride the lift or sit at your desk. Low-stakes practice embeds new habits so you are able to access them easily when the stakes rise.

Making Changes

How do you change your voice? Self-awareness is only the first step. Now you need deliberate actions to strengthen the quality and effectiveness of your voice.

Here are some simple steps to take:

  • Practice your breathing and full articulation every day. Give yourself an easy habit to repeat.

  • Ask colleagues for feedback. Help them by specifying vocal qualities like clarity, projection and variety. If they do not have immediate comments, ask them to listen in your next meeting together.

  • Practice every morning. Warm up your voice by singing or humming in the shower, where the warm water will support you. Then deliver a statement you intend to use today. Do it a few times as you go about your morning routine.

  • Record yourself. Consciously apply clear articulation, vocal variety and projection as you deliver a message to your phone. Play it back and assess how well you delivered as you intended. Then do it again. As with so much of life, practice makes perfect.

  • Learn more online. Purchase an informative article from the Harvard Business Review on “The Science of Sounding Smart” here and another very interesting one, Breathing Is the Key to Persuasive Public Speaking, here.

Vocal control can make you sound smarter, more confident and more authoritative. If you want to manage the impressions you’re creating, your voice is a very good place to start.

Red Shoe coaches help you make deliberate choices in communicating your executive presence. Contact us to learn more.

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