Love it or hate it, public speaking is a huge part of our working life. We would all love to be offered a job from an application or CV alone but, let’s get real here: it is how we speak and communicate that sells who we are.
Yeah, Paul Rudd. It’s pretty scary. The reality is, public speaking makes up a large part of what employers want to assess when they meet you. Interviews for jobs are unavoidable and almost all graduate schemes and internships now require group-based assessments with communication tasks such as presentations. Learning to love your own voice and being able to regulate it, is key to tackling these challenges successfully.
It is easy to feel tense when speaking in public, or to strange people in unfamiliar situations like interviews. To an untrained speaker it can feel unnatural and nerve wracking. After all, you are exposing yourself in a most extraordinary way. An important aspect of my training with the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama was learning how to work with and control my voice in order to speak with confidence and articulation. Here are a few tips to help you learn to love your voice.
Posture is fundamental to clear speaking. Sit up, don’t slouch. You don’t want to squash the diaphragm and voice box resulting in restricted sound. Speak from the stomach (the diaphragm technically) not from the throat. Speaking from the diaphragm regulates your breathing, opens up the sound and relaxes the voice box, slowing down the speech and improving projection and diction.
Breathing exercises before you start keeps you relaxed, calm, focused and gets you ready to go. I find taking a breath or pausing if you lose your train of thought helps. It brings you back, helps you re-focus and keeps everything relaxed. Don’t be afraid of silence. It is natural and an effective communication technique.
Listen, and respond carefully and calmly. You will have points you want to make and things you want to say about yourself – it is easy to just want to get all these out as quickly as possible but as a result you can rush, stop listening and miss what the interviewer is saying. Respond slowly, thinking about what you say before you speak.
Conviction is crucial to sounding real. Feeling comfortable with your own voice makes it easier to believe in what you’re saying. Conviction helps portray some confidence and keeps your answers clear. To do this try to avoid rising inflections at the ends of sentences. Bringing your intonation down makes a statement sound definitive. There are a million ways of saying one line, the key is to make what you’re saying work for you before anyone else. Believe what you say – it is amazing how much you can manipulate your speech to sound exactly how you want it to.
Be clear and concise. You need to be succinct in the explanation of your previous work experience. Slurring words together or dropping endings can impair clarity. Speak slowly. The language you use can be surprisingly indicative of your successful working methods and your level of confidence. Using words such as ‘we’, ‘team’, ‘collaboration’ and phrases such as ‘my goal is’, I’m confident that’, I believe that’ and ‘my track record shows’, shows that your previous team work and attitude to work gets results. Words like ‘hopefully’, ‘perhaps’ and ‘kind of’ can have the opposite effect and can come across as weak, therefore modifying your conviction.
You have heard what you’re saying numerous times in your head, it makes sense to you, but this is the first time your listener has heard it. In order to keep it fresh and sounding real, don’t waffle. Even if you don’t get acknowledgement or validation from your listener, stop when you’ve answered the question.
Every voice has the potential to become confident, clear and wonderfully distinctive without elocution lessons or years on the stage. It’s all about practice, control and love. Feel comfortable using your voice in all situations. Sing every day, make silly noises and sounds – anything, just keep the voice warm and smile, in fact, laugh, when you hear your own.