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Take Your Voice to the Gym

(How to connect with people through voice and presence)

This week, we have been addressing the importance of flexibility in creativity, innovation and collaboration, Vocal flexibility and physical presence play a big part in all three.

We take our bodies to the gym, but most of us don’t think about exercising our voices. Yet, meaning is largely communicated through our tone of voice, rather than in the words we say. Ask someone how they are and they may reply, ‘I’m fine, thank you.’ They could use an upbeat tone of voice, letting you know that they genuinely are happy, or a downbeat or clipped tone of voice that tells you that they don’t really mean it. If you try it now, you’ll find that the same words spoken with a different tone have a very different meaning.

To express meaning intentionally in this way, we need to be fully present in our body, breath and voice, with our vocal ‘equipment’ ready to respond to a variety of thoughts. Changing pitch and tone to engage others in what we are saying inspires them to believe and motivates them to take action.

We’ve all raised our voices to alert someone to danger or vocalised softly to comfort a crying child. Many of us will have read a children’s story aloud and found different voices for the characters. With our voices comes a natural expressive range – a gift that we can utilise and enjoy.

LIFE HACK: Next time you find an interesting news story and read it out loud to a partner or friend, connect to the meaning of what you are saying and use a fuller range of vocal tone and pitch.

Without such mobility, mumbling and monotone speech prevail. Often when a speaker is engaged with their thoughts, but not with their delivery, speech becomes flat. The complexity and volume of thoughts combined with tension in the body, breath and around the voice box can make it difficult for some people to connect with an audience.

LIFE HACK: When in the shower or the car, try singing in different octaves or try speaking at different pitches – reading a bedtime story to a child presents the perfect opportunity.

Mobility in our facial expression is a good place to start because it helps shape the throat and the mouth to create a greater variety of sound. Try saying ‘Welcome, everyone’ with an expressionless face. Notice how your voice sounds dull. Now try saying it with a brightness in the eyes and slight smile on the lips. Notice the difference? Smiling engages eye and facial muscles that are connected to the soft palate (the fleshy part right at the back of the roof of the mouth), lifting it, firming it up, moving and shaping the sound. Your voice then naturally brightens, sounding more energetic and more naturally expressive.

Elongated vowel sounds in the English language, and indeed in most languages, carry the emotion. If we clip the vowel sounds and shorten the words, it creates the impression of distance – not caring. For example, try saying ‘Welcome, everyone’ again, this time with short vowels, then long vowels. Which do you think makes people feel more welcome? Long, resonant vowels, spacing words out and using pauses matter a great deal when the message is serious, concerning topics where people feel strongly. At funerals or when announcing job cuts or de-escalating a crisis, the people affected need time to connect with what the words mean and the magnitude of the emotion. All of this applies even more on the phone and in conference calls. Without visual cues, the voice holds all the meaning. Our ear loses interest in flat voices very quickly. This is surprisingly significant because it builds trust between speaker and listener and gives people time to feel.

Having a flexible voice made a big difference for Jerry, one of our coachees:

Despite having a rich natural resonance, Jerry’s delivery in meetings was so monotone and serious, his face deadpan, that people felt intimidated by him. They couldn’t connect with what he was saying. Within three weeks of daily practice, using our flexible voice techniques, he could authentically bring out the meaning in his message and show his natural personality through his voice. Not only did his area of research suddenly become a success story that was shared across the business, he was also quickly pulled into a more senior role and became part of more strategic discussions. People now wanted to listen to his opinion.

Here is one vocal drill you can incorporate into your day-to-day life, just as you would any exercise. In addition to Jerry, high-profile people we have coached, including CNN anchorman Richard Quest and Sir Martin Donnelly, swear by this (and other) drills to prepare them to engage with their audiences. We encourage you to overcome your inhibitions and try this technique every day for a week. You will see how much better you can engage others by Friday.

Flexible Voice Exercise

Your breath is literally the ‘inspiration’ that carries your thoughts out to others. Your thoughts are always driven by intentions – to encourage, to challenge, to criticise, to soothe. When there is inadequate breath, we tend to miss connecting our words with our intentions, which can lead to a lack of vocal variation, pitch movement and intonation in the voice. This variation creates our meaning as we speak and without it our intentions are less clear.

• Pick up any book, read a paragraph, pausing at each punctuation mark to breathe for the next thought/sentence.

• Now choose an intention for each thought/sentence. What effect are you trying to create in the listener? How do you want them to feel? Challenged, excited, sobered?

• Use your breath as the moment of clarity and the ‘fuel’ for your intention for each thought.

• Notice how you naturally use your voice in a more versatile and flexible way.

Connect thought, your intentions, emotion and speech so that your words are spoken in a way that is unique to you…in your own voice.

When we speak with others, we need to calibrate our presence and how far we transmit our energy and our voice. Being able to reach a large audience by radiating energy outwards, then adapting quickly to having a quiet chat with someone is an important part of our flexibility. Being present has a lot to do with listening to what is coming back. In fact, we were built to do just that. Have you noticed how you match others’ pace and tone of voice, or even accents sometimes, especially if you have a musical ear?

The body must be part of the equation, otherwise your voice will be flat and the audience won’t believe you. Non-verbal factors such as eye contact and open gestures increase the audience’s connection with a speaker. Eye contact helps people feel ‘seen’, indicating to them that they have status, are important and aren’t being ignored, which elevates serotonin levels. Open body language indicates that we are being spoken to honestly – which boosts oxytocin levels.

Humour releases dopamine in others; speaking passionately about the future releases adrenalin and dopamine; naming a collective struggle releases oxytocin; and a rallying talk releases testosterone and dopamine. Good speakers build trust by referring to things that really matter to the audience, letting them know they understand their challenges. Showing appreciation and telling stories draws the audience in and makes them feel part of the journey, releasing oxytocin and dopamine. Even a simple smile releases all three feel- good chemicals: serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine.

LIFE HACK: Smile to yourself, feel the serotonin boost. Smile at someone else, feel the oxytocin boost. When they smile back, feel the dopamine boost.

Make sure you warm your body up to prepare for interaction, using the flexibility movements from last week’s blog: Increased Flexibility = More Creativity. Allow your natural instincts to take over as you express your words with your body as well as your voice. Gestures are the visual equivalent of language and, together with words, help give your message integrity. They also help the speaker’s voice come to life, supporting vocal variation (moving the pitch of the voice higher or lower). They are a visual representation of the concepts and emotions being communicated. For example, emphatic gestures, such as both palms down, will help the speaker end a statement confidently, increasing gravitas and authority. That physical movement also helps the speaker avoid an upward inflection that brings uncertainty to the voice.

Think about the kind of vocal and physical presence you typically bring to situations. When tidying up the kitchen, do you bang things around, frequently breaking glasses, or are you precise, placed and careful? Do you enter a room and take centre stage, your thoughts bubbling over to communicate, or do you slide in and move to the side, quietly greet people and hope not to be noticed?

LIFE HACK: Bear in mind the typical physical components of your behaviour style and, on your journey to work, try using an opposite type of physical energy. If you always seem to be moving fast, driving forwards, then try moving a little more slowly, accommodating others as you go. If you are very measured and regimented and cross the road in the same place every day, mix it up, lift your eyes, look around you, swing your arms and break your routine.

For every situation, the vocal and physical presence that you choose dictates whether you radiate or drain energy, stimulate or stifle thoughts, generate positive or negative emotional states. Make the most of every moment of connection and communication you have and value your incredible expressive body and voice – they are essential vehicles for making your unique impact in the world.

For more information about how Physical Intelligence can help you, your team or your organization, visit us at or order our book, on sale now.

About Companies in Motion

There are over 80 easy to use techniques and tips to build our Physical Intelligence. You can read about all of them in our new book, Physical Intelligence: Harness Your Body’s Untapped Intelligence to Achieve More, Stress Less and Live More Happily available from Simon and Schuster. (Order here.) (Multiple translations will be available later in 2019.)

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