An attorney’s vocal impact is key to developing their competitive edge. This is particularly important when you are young and often surrounded by professionals who are more experienced than you. Every chance at speaking is also a chance to prove that you can speak authoritatively, lead, and inspire.
There are many known methods to expand your vocal variety, boosting both credibility and listener engagement. Vocal training, whether with a Youtube video or a vocal coach, can maximize your impact in client meetings, conferences, and presentations.
Enhanced vocal impact can help you project your ideas through any medium, whether you are at a conference room, in front of a jury, or on a Facetime meeting. This TED Talk offers some great inspiration and techniques.
Understanding Your Voice and Its Potential
To improve vocal performance, one must learn to understand concepts like vocal color, intonation, stress, and pace. Even if you think you just weren’t born with a big voice, there are ways to harness your full vocal power.
A natural, authentic voice is usually the most effective. One of the keys to enhancing the impact of your natural voice is to start recording yourself and listening to it as experienced by others. What you hear as you speak is not the same as what listeners hear. They listen to your voice as it travels through the air (convective voice), while you also listen through your bones and muscles (conducive voice).
The only way to experience your convective voice separately from your conducive voice is to record yourself. As you start training your voice, you will have a chance to track your progress.
Tip No 1: Learn Diaphragmatic Breathing
Diaphragmatic breathing can help your voice sound strong and authoritative. When you use your upper chest instead of your diaphragm, you cannot access the full reservoir of air in your lungs, and thus, your voice lacks power. Though diaphragmatic breathing is not necessarily intuitive, it can become so with training.
There are many simple breathing exercises you can do every day to boost your vocal capacity. In diaphragmatic breathing, you breathe from the abdomen. As you inhale, your stomach goes out. Calmly count to three while you inhale, and again while you exhale. This will allow for a sufficiently deep breath to boost your vocal power.
Some experts recommend saying a positive word (for example, peace, harmony, focus, power) simultaneously as you exhale. This can be incredibly soothing and relaxing, while also allowing your voice to reach its full potential.
You can find some useful diaphragmatic breathing exercises in this video.
Tip No 2: Focus on Expressiveness
Expressiveness requires flexibility, gradation, and subtlety. Projecting confidence and engaging your listeners requires access to a wide range of vocal possibilities, from a thundering pronouncement to a mere whisper.
When you speak without variety, your listeners are likely to be bored and get distracted. Modulating volume or adjusting pitch inflection can create interest and facilitate persuasion.
One good exercise is to record yourself delivering a speech in a monotonous voice, and then a second time, now adjusting your tone, loudness, and pitch according to what you are saying and the effect you want to create.
One exercise I learned during a Slam workshop with a French trainer involves placing pieces of paper with different cues on the floor, like “Loud,” “high pitch,” “slow,” “emotional,’ “mysterious,” “suggestive.” Then, you have to deliver your speech, stepping on a different piece of paper for each sentence or word, and modulating your expressiveness accordingly. This simple exercise will show you just how vast your toolbox is.
I am not saying you have to overdo the histrionics, simply that you have to play around with your material and find the exact tone, pitch, and rhythm for each phrase you are planning to say. For a sample of what I am referring to, check out this very old appearance by Robin Williams on the Tonight Show. The video is also a prime example of how to use your gestures and body language to amplify your vocal delivery.
Tip 3: Focus on Ease and Relaxation
As they are starting out in our profession, some young attorneys’ vocal delivery changes dramatically from low-stakes conversations to challenging professional settings. When they feel at ease, their speech is colorful and passionate, but anxiety flattens all of that out when they are speaking in front of an important client or giving a closing speech in court.
Mindfulness techniques, yoga, and breathing exercises can help young professionals dispel the anxiety some of them feel when facing public speaking. Pay attention to how you sound when you are relaxed and surrounded by people you feel comfortable with. Listen to the nuances of your vocal delivery and impact. Focus on relaxation techniques that can make that colorful speech arise when you are speaking in high-stakes professional settings.
Tip 4: Listen
In a world that is becoming more and more intolerant, with angry politicians and angry tweets flooding the web from the four corners of the world, being a great listener is more crucial than ever.
The most important quality of a great speaker is perhaps their ability to read an audience. The most enthralling speakers instantly understand the impact their words have on the listener, and they can quickly adjust their delivery to maximize positive impact and minimize negative reactions.
Once you understand your audience’s mood, you can work with it. If they seem bored, your tone and content have to be highly entertaining. If they seem very attentive, you can give them a little more information without so much color, and they will be able to take it in. In the end, it is all about your connection with them.
If you don’t take your audience into account as active participants, you are lost. Be present, be empathetic, and, above all, listen. Avoid being perceived as a self-centered speaker. When your words come as a response to a need you have sensed in your audience, there can be nothing more engaging.
Tip 5: Be Concise, Be Certain
We have already clarified that how you speak is key to establishing credibility and tapping into your full leadership potential. But no matter how engaging your delivery, if you cannot organize your thoughts into a compelling speech, you will not succeed.
Nobody wants to listen to rambling and disconnected thoughts. If you are delivering a previously written speech, you have time to hone your ideas into concise and consistent units, nicely tied together by logical reasoning. Try to avoid repeating yourself or telling anecdotes with no real punch line. For every sentence you include in the text, ask yourself, “will my ideas still come across if I delete this part?” and, “how is this particular section helping me achieve my goals?”
If you are getting ready for a meeting, where you will naturally not be saying previously written words, you can also prepare for it. Jot down your main ideas and think of the best ways to convey each one of them. Colorful examples, documented background, a humorous or emotional touch; you can brainstorm how to best use all these devices to make your case.
When it comes to sounding confident and certain of what you are saying, how your voice sounds is key. However, no matter how confident you sound, if what you are saying does not ring true, your audience engagement may falter.
Backing up your ideas with real-life examples and scientific data is key to sounding confident. If you add logically connected ideas and emotional appeal to the mix, you get a bulletproof strategy for engaging and even persuading your listeners.