I have always been a believer in the power of voice. Chalk it up to my musical background, if you like, or to some formative training among the Jesuits, whose cherished idiom Eloquentia Perfecta reminds us of the importance of saying the right thing at the right time, and in the right way.
Then again, maybe I’m not the only one who’s picked up on the singular power of voice. After all, we’ve all heard the idioms: It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. Things like tone matter.
Consider also a recent article from Big Think, which posits that, in an effort to understand human emotions and to connect with others on a direct level, we tend to focus on facial expressions — often to our own disadvantage. Voice, it seems, is the more potent connection, the more straightforward path to empathy.
The article notes some recent research which finds that simply listening to someone’s voice — not just their diction, but their tone — is the best way to understand them. In fact, the article recommends closing your eyes so that nothing can distract from the voice. “It seems intuitive that more information — both audio and visual — would better equip you to read the minds of other people, but the opposite seems true,” Big Think summarizes. Listening, it seems, is the real key to shared understanding.
Here’s my take: I’ve always relied on my voice during a presentation. More than any visual aids or printed statistics, I’ve always hung everything on the tone and texture of my speech. And the reason for this is simple: I know that the voice is the best way to create empathy and understanding.
Consider this illustration: Nobody ever leaves a concert thinking about the measurements — the timing, the chords, or the notes. They leave humming the melodies they heard. That’s because the melody is what fosters emotional connection.
Likewise, nobody leaves a meeting or a sales presentation thinking about the statistics they were given, or the rote facts offered up. What they remember — if anything — is how it made them feel. What they remember is that emotional connection. And that’s something that you carry in the grain of your voice.
See, whether you’re giving a sales pitch or you’re on a blind date, you’re ultimately trying to move people’s emotions; you’re trying to connect your authentic self to your audience’s authentic self. To quote the British design critic Steven Bayley, “Winning is a matter of emotions, not measurements. That’s why charm alone will get you through.” And charm, I will contend, is the province of the voice.
So what’s my recommendation for you? First, simply be aware of the importance of your voice. I honestly believe that it is the single most important sales tool you have. Second, understand your voice as a whole toolbox — and work on broadening it, practicing your speed, diction, grammar, and pause moments. The best way to do that is to record yourself giving a presentation, then listening back over it. Be intentional in how you shape your vocal presentation.
I don’t think you can go wrong by rehearsing your vocal presence — and note that this isn’t about whether you have a good voice or a bad one. I’m not saying you have to develop the vocal presence of a great singer or broadcaster; I’m saying you should make the most of what you have. And one thing we all have is a voice that can serve as our gateway to emotional connection.
Coming next month, I plan to share the secrets of great presentations — some of the most important skillsets and strategies I’ve developed over the years. For now, work on your voice. That’s where it all starts.