We all know that being seen as confident, but not cocky, at work can have a positive effect on our careers. From one-on-one meeting with your boss to giving a presentation to the whole team, your voice is one of the most important parts of project confidence. Here’s how to adjust your voice so that how you say something has as much impact as what you say:
NBC / SNL
Evaluate Areas to Work On
You may not need to work on all of the following issues, but thinking about each area and how you measure up gives you concrete things to work on. If you have trouble evaluating your own voice or way of speaking, ask a friend or trusted colleague to help, or record yourself speaking to get a more objective sense of your own habits.
- Tone: The way you say something often has an impact on what people actually hear. Two of the most common examples are vocal fry (here’s a video example from the BBC) and up-speak, or using a higher pitch at the end of sentences similar to the tone used when asking a question. (Not coincidentally, both of these traits that are thought to undermine credibility are commonly associated with female voices.)
- Speaking Cadence: If you speak very quickly or without many pauses, it can come across as nervousness. Try these exercises to help you have more deliberate articulation.
- Volume: Speaking too softly or too loudly does not project confidence. You want to aim for a volume slightly above your normal speaking level so that you’re clearly heard without coming off as abrasive.
- Filler words: “Um”, “ah”, and “like” are all common filler words that keep what you’re saying from flowing smoothly. Try these exercises from a professional public speaking coach to cut down on your own filler words.
- Vocal tics: The area you may need the most help from a friend in analysing is common phrases or vocal tics you have. Maybe you use the same phrase when you’re buying time to think, like, “That’s a great question…” Or you could be undermining yourself with phrases like, “Sorry to interrupt…” or “I’m not sure if this matters, but…”
Raise your volume a bit and say “Mmmmmmmmy name is…” Repeat this ten times up and down your vocal range.
Once you know where you need to improve, get to work building new habits by practicing as much as possible.
Practice New Habits
Changing the way you speak is difficult, but the more you practice, the easier it will be for you to build new habits. After a while, projecting confidence should become second nature. Since you might not have presentations or other opportunities to practice often, here are some other situations where you can test out your new techniques:
- Chatting with colleagues: While you don’t necessarily need to project a ton of confidence around the water cooler, small talk with coworkers gives you a low stakes situation in which to practice.
- Sharing your ideas during meetings: Having your ideas heard and respected can be influenced by how confident you sound while laying them out. Next time you share an idea, focus on at least one of the areas you want to improve.
- Giving feedback: When giving feedback about someone else’s work or skills, make a conscious effort to practice for at least one of the areas you want to improve on. Eventually, you want to get to the point where your confident tone positively impacts how seriously your feedback is taken.
- Asking questions: Whether at a meeting, during a training, or at a networking event, this is a very quick way to practice your vocal confidence.
Consider Other Confidence Boosters
Beyond your voice, you can work on other things to present yourself as confident and come across better at work.
- Take up space: Stand with your feet hip or shoulder width apart, keep your spine straight (but not frozen, you’re not a robot), and try to use arm and hand gestures as you naturally would when talking.
- Improve eye contact: When speaking to a group, make eye contact with different people in the audience for about 3-5 seconds each. In a one-on-one situation, it’s ok to glance away and then make eye contact again if you feel things getting awkward.
- Use open body language: Don’t cross your arms, stuff your hands into your pockets, or cross your legs. Keeping your body relaxed and open makes you look at ease and confident.
It’s not easy to change your behaviour, including the way you speak, so be patient with yourself and try to put into practice your new habits as frequently as you can.