It’s crucial that you know and live with the knowledge that you have a voice that deserves to be heard, whatever the situation or circumstance. No-one has the right to keep you quiet.
However, there are certain situations around having a voice that can be seen as quite daunting. Speaking in public for instance is one that can turn the most confident person into a shaking bundle of nerves. Together with being able to have a voice in an internal meeting, particularly if that meeting is male dominated, can be a challenging experience for even very confident women.
When it comes to speaking in public, the main starting point is to know that any audience you are speaking to is on your side. They have given up their time to come and listen to you, so they want you to be good. Most people are very internally focussed so they want to ensure that their decision to be present is worth it, they are all willing you to be the best you can be.
Once you know that, it is then really important that you prepare your body and voice for speech. If you know you are going to be giving a talk, you need to drink lots of water the day before to lubricate the vocal cords and keep the throat soothed. Then, remember to breathe! The breath is quite often the first thing to get forgotten and overlooked when we are feeling anxious, it’s amazing how many people when feeling threatened will hold their breath. Learn how to give yourself the gift of a couple of really deep breaths, not only will this calm any nerves, it will ensure sufficient oxygen is going through your body to fire up the vocal cords, keep the brain working to its optimum and combat adrenaline.
Then, really get to know your script, but try not to use it. You will feel far more confident if you can talk without notes, you will appear more confident and in charge to your audience too. Trust yourself, you know everything you need to know to give your talk. Take time to plan your delivery, ensure you put musicality into your voice, use tone, pitch, speed, volume and silences to keep the audience interested.
Really, really know what the top three key points of your talk are and ensure you emphasise those in the way you feel most comfortable and that gets your points across with power and authority.
People, generally, have quite a short attention span, and are likely to remember most the first words you say and the final words you say, so ensure these are powerful and include your key points – it’s ok to repeat them.
When it comes to speaking up in meetings, the experience can change meeting to meeting and be dependant upon the other participants of course. Sometimes you can plan ahead, other times if you are unaware of all the other participants, you will need to be able to react in real time.
The key here is to have a voice as quickly as you can. If you are able to arrive in the meeting room ahead of everyone else, this will automatically give you the opportunity to speak immediately, as you can greet everyone as they arrive. If this isn’t possible, ensure you greet everyone already there when you arrive.
When you all sit down at the commencement of the meeting, make sure you say something, it doesn’t have to be related to the meeting, it can simply be asking for someone to pass the water! What is important is that you open your mouth and sound comes out, not necessarily the content of what you say. Because, once you start to speak, it is much easier to continue. The longer you leave it, the more difficult it is likely to be to have a vocal impact.
Another suggestion is to email the person running the meeting before hand and ask them to come to you at a certain point as you have a question you need to ask, or an opinion that you need to share. That way, even if you keep quiet for the rest of the meeting, you know that at some point you will be speaking.
Sometimes, there are people present who really like the sound of their own voices! These people can at times be very disruptive and will over talk anyone else in the room, not listen when others speak, or try and sabotage other participants. The thing to remember here is: do not try and compete with them. You will never win, but what is likely to happen is that you will find yourself getting more and more frustrated and angry which is likely to impact on the power and authority of your presence and your voice. These people are narcissists and will always be self focussed. The trick is to divert the attention away from them in a way that is non threatening and non personal. Is there anything you can do to create a diversion? Leaning across to get more water? Coughing? Dropping paperwork and moving to pick it up? These may sound rather naïve ways, but they can be surprisingly effective. It’s about changing the energy in the room in a non-threatening manner.
The key to having a voice that you love, is to reiterate my first point. You have a voice that deserves to be heard, at all times. You have a voice that is powerful and impactful and represents your talents, skills and magnificence. And no-one has the right to keep your voice from you.