February 15, 2012

Why don’t people hear you ? Perhaps your voice lacks that impact. Develop that Power of Speech

All of us have experienced, sometime or the other, that frustrated feeling of being ignored. You find you have to repeat yourself so many times! People seem preoccupied and not really listening to you. And worse, others seem to just butt in while you are still talking and steer the conversation away right from under your nose!

Well, it happens to everybody sometimes. But if it happens more than sometimes, you must sit up and analyze yourself. To be habitually ignored, does not augur well for your emotional and physical well-being. It can adversely affect your career and life. Experts say the major reason for this sorry state is poor speech impact. You may be a brilliant person with original ideas and intelligent thoughts. But if your speech lacks even the average impact, all your ideas will fall flat. No one will listen to you.

people talking
Like Rita. At her office meetings, her ideas and suggestions always go unheard and unnoticed while far more inferior ones actually get accepted. Rita, naturally, feels frustrated and sad. “I don’t see myself in any way inferior to my colleagues” she laments, “but somehow, always others get heard more than me.”
Sumati lives in a joint family and often remarks, “I don’t know why, though I am loved by all, no one seems to take me seriously.” All major and minor family decisions are taken without even one of her suggestions meriting acceptance.

Are you able to get people to listen to what you say – with interest, respect and attention? It’s your “speech impact” which decides this. Hone it to perfection and become a successful “talker”.
We all know that speech is the vehicle of thought. On the quality of this vehicle depends the successful translation and communication of our ideas.
The quality of speech is determined by the language used, speed, tone and volume of voice.

Our friend Rita’s voice was low and hesitant and unable to command attention. She was overshadowed by people having more mature, confident and stronger voices. Her sing-song way of talking with long-drawn, “Um..err …and ugh” made a deep dent in her credibility and personality.

Even Sumati was a victim of faulty speech. She spoke in a very high-pitched, thin and soft voice. But she prided herself on sounding very feminine. Actually, her voice was squeaky, whiny and girlish making its owner seem lacking in authority and very unsure or herself.

Often, in our effort to possess a graceful, feminine voice, most of us develop a high-pitched girlish tone subconsciously projecting the “babe-in-the-woods” image. This might work during he courtship days to boost the young man’s ego. But in ordinary, everyday life, you cannot be a damsel in distress always. It puts people off.

Then there is the other extreme, which is another minus point of speech – a put-on macho style of talking. A loud voice, crude manner or speech, rough language and a harsh tone is adopted by some women to indicate authority. But really this only subtracts from a woman’s personality. With such speech, a woman invites ridicule rather than the desired respect.

Effect of social conditioning
Actually, women don’t start out inarticulate, says a leading psychologist. Female infants are found to be more responsive to faces, tones of voice and speech than their male counterparts. But, this superiority in verbal competence soon peters out, and women fall behind later in life. A survey conducted in an American University revealed that 50% of the women were unable to speak in public as compared to just 20% of the men. The gap is bound to be wider in India.

Women find themselves quite apprehensive about speaking in public. It is the social conditioning that silences and relegates females to the second place, says a professor of sociology. Statements like, “Girls should not be seen, nor heard”, “Lower your voice, you are a girl,” “Girls should not talk too much,” etc., are found in all societies. Most mothers have heard this themselves and have said this to their daughters. Absorbing these norms, most girls later in life, lose their ability to express themselves with confidence. Consequently, the poor quality of speech lets them down many a time.

Steps to cultivate voice impact
The first step towards improving the quality of speech is to cultivate voice impact. Your voice plays a “key role in how people react to you,” says a famous speech pathologist.
Voice pitch should be neither too high nor too low. A direct, flowing voice that can express emotions appropriately is ideal. You should sound calm and natural.

Of course, not all are endowed by nature with the right pitch, but mercifully, it can be acquired by anyone with a little practice and determination. Have you noticed that when people are relaxed and comfortable their voice is lower than when they are emotional or excited? So, to tackle the root of the pitch problem, you must aim at maintaining a relaxed calm attitude. A lower pitch comes naturally.

Many do not inhale properly before talking. Some exhale half their breath before talking. This takes out the strength from their voice.

Sitting down comfortably with a straight back, practice proper breathing. Slowly inhale and hold for a few seconds, and then exhale slowly. Repeat, gradually increasing the duration of the breathing-in, holding-it and exhaling, as slowly as possible.

This exercise not only enhances lung power, but calms your nerves and even improves your thinking ability by increased oxygen supply to the brain.
woman reading a book

Practise speaking at a lower pitch and a slower pace, consciously breathing deep and slow. Read a passage and re-read it several times till you feel your voice flowing smoothly and at a pleasant pitch.

Remember to respect and love your voice. Keep in mind that your voice is the one that suits you the best. As Dale Carnegie said, “Imitation is suicide.” Trying to copy or imitate someone else’s voice or way of speaking will make you sound artificial and tacky.

Watch yourself as you practice in a mirror. Watch for facial signs of tension. Relax your eyebrows if you find a frown. Do you squint or push your jaw too much in or jut it out too far?

Don’t sound unsure
Avoid a long drawn “ummm…” “er…”, “ugh…” etc, while talking. Make sure not to raise your voice at the end of a statement like a question. Many have this habit and suffer by sounding unsure or unbelieving about what they are saying.

Pronounce each word properly. Slurring or mumbling of words are sins of speech to be avoided. If in doubt, do not hesitate to ask better-informed people. Listening to the news of Television and Radio helps.

We have learnt in school to pause at the end of sentences. Most of us forget this and rush sentence after sentence, stopping abruptly to breathe and swallow a few words in the process. This happens more in situations where one is nervous like when speaking to the boss or to a small collection of people. So, do pause at appropriate places – and breathe.

Next to consider is the content of your speech. Language is the essence of life, says a social worker. The sunset is beautiful if you say so. Otherwise, it is any routine sunset.

It becomes special if you say; it is warm, golden, pink, glorious, etc. So mind your language and choose apt, polite words to convey your thoughts.

There is such a thing as, “putting your foot in your mouth” It simply means landing into trouble by saying the wrong things at the wrong time. And once out of your mouth there is no way you can put the words back into your mouth!

Be confident of yourself
Think before you talk. Desist from making stupid or embarrassing comments.
If you habitually begin talking with such statements as, “Don’t take my words seriously,” or “I don’t know if this will work”, or “I am not sure but I may be wrong…” and so on, put a firm stop to it. Such negative prefixes will erode the value of your suggestions significantly.

For the woman in the office, using too many adjectives and “feeling words” will make her sound emotional, and less professional. Also don’t frequently use tags like “...isn’t it?” “Don’t you think so?” “Don’t you agree?” “Am I not right?.” This subtracts from your faith in your ideas.

Eye contact while talking is vital. Looking down or looking somewhere else while talking is not polite. But, overdoing it with men, may look flirtatious.

About handling interruptions while you are talking, the best way is “to continue talking louder”, advises a speech pathologist. Of course not, if permission has been sought for interrupting.

If, in spite of your best efforts and intentions, your ideas get rejected (at home or office), don’t sulk, pout or worse, cry. Shift the focus on the issue and point out its plus points.

Don’t rave and rant about how angry or upset you feel. But try to understand the other opinion too.
Communication is the core of human activity. Be it the home or the work place, one needs to communicate through speech. So, ladies, speak up and don’t let yourselves down.

(Guest Post by Madhu)

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