14 ways to speak like a leader

Leaders are always fascinating to listen to no matter what their subject, but often it isn't their words that inspire us, it's their voice. Studies on the voice and the brain tell us that if you're using your voice to its full potential you can have that eyes-glued ears pricked effect too.

Dr. Albert Mehrabian, professor emeritus at Stanford, known for his pioneering work in the field of nonverbal communication, conducted a study which showed that 55 percent of the impact of what we say comes from our body language and other visual cues, 38 percent from the way we sound, and 7 percent of the meaning comes from our words.

So how do you get people to listen to you and love what you say? Anna Bernstein, founder of communications coaching business, The Brain Voice Connection and Bernadette O’Brien, a voice coach currently running an intensive class on the 'voice of leadership' at The School of Life, have some fantastic advice. Here are their top tips, cherry-picked for you to inspire, empower and lead change.

1.  Speak in short sentences containing one concept (this is Anna Bernstein's “one topic, one sentence, one breath” theory). Brains can only consciously do one thing at a time she explains in a blog on how to speak like a leader: "When you speak, they listen. When you stop speaking, they process what you said. When you keep to one topic in a sentence, it’s easy for a brain to process and even remember what you said. People often point to people who make sense when they speak and they declare, ‘There’s your new leader!’"

2. Don't be afraid of silence. Bernstein also says pause, never rush to fill a silence. Brains wait until your sentence is over before they process information. And they know it’s time to do this because they ‘hear’ your pause. "It's about giving your audience room to breathe," says Bernadette O'Brien, vocal coach and voice movement therapist. Pausing will make sure you are understood, and that people engage with what you are saying.

3. Lower your voice to keep it calm. Margaret Thatcher famously started out trying to woo her audience with a shrill voice, and was quickly instructed by a voice coach to lower her voice. Keep your voice at the bottom of your range, that's where you'll sound the most confident and relaxed. “A by-product of good speaking is a voice that is lower in pitch and more resonant. This is the same whether you are a man or a woman,” says Bernstein. The pitch itself is not the goal. It is about creating a voice that is relaxed, confident and easy to understand.

4. Warm your voice up. You can exercise your voice to help you to speak warmly and confidently. Warm up your voice by yawning, humming and chewing. This flexes the muscles that you use to articulate your words and project your voice. 

5. Rehearse. Whether you’re having an important conversation or making a speech, practice what you want to say. But be careful here. Trying to remember every individual word in your message will only get your thoughts caught up in your head, and will make you sound robotic. "Familiarise yourself with the journey of what you want to say, but speak it in your own words" says O'Brien. That way you can use the words that come to you, rather than go back to a memorised script. 

6. Make your point, then stop. Getting rid of wishy-washy modifiers will give your communications clarity and impact. Say, "When I work with a client, they improve." Don't weaken your statement by saying, "When I work with a client, they improve because…" or "When I work with a client, they improve in spite of the fact that…" 

7. Bring passion into your voice. Even if you are talking about something that doesn’t excite you, don't go flat and lifeless. Bernstein advises reminding yourself of what you are passionate when you are having a business conversation that is important but potentially unexciting. Focusing on a passion before speaking can bring out the energy in your voice. But although people fake passion everyday, good leaders don’t fake passion. Bringing passion into your voice is about “believing in what you are saying and speaking from your core,” she says. “And, if you’re not passionate about what you have to say, find something in it that you are passionate about and make that the focus.” 

8. Vary pitch, tone and pace. Bernstein advises that you vary the tone, pitch and rhythm of your voice. The thinking behind this is that our brains look for patterns and once they find them they tend to stop listening. If your pattern changes and is unpredictable, a brain will keep listening until it knows the pattern. "It's important not to speak too fast, or too slow and to vary your pace" says O'Brien.

9. Get out of your head and into your body. If your thoughts are caught up with what is going on around you, if they're taking you back home, or drifting outside the window you won't be able to engage the people you are speaking with. “Be present and feel your feet on the ground, this will give you confidence," says O’Brien.

10. Breathe… Fuel your voice. "Your breath is the fuel for your voice," says O'Brien. "Bring your breath into the abdomen, into the pelvis and the lower back – when you speak your voice needs to come from your core and not your throat." Speaking from your core will make sure that you are drawing your audience in with your words, not pushing your voice out to them.

11. Say something, say anything! When you go into a meeting it is important to get your voice out there, especially if you are not used to speaking in front of a number of people. “When you walk into a room ask for a glass of water or ask where the toilets are,” advises O'Brien, "then you're voice is out there and you're in the room." You'll be more confident and less hesitant when you next come to speaking.

12. Don't say 'um'. When you um "it's very halting, and it takes fluidity out of your voice, " says O'Brien. "It's a nervous habit and it means you are thinking too much about what you are trying to say," she says. It's good to remember Mehrabian's study here, keep in mind that people aren't glued to your words they are taking in a much broader range of communication coming from your voice, your facial expression and the way you're body is moving.

13. If you get nervous... "Breathe, it calms the nervous system," says O'Brien. If you don't breathe you can't think. "Feel your feet on the ground, bring your attention into yourself and relax your facial muscles," she says. Then speak with that warm voice you've been exercising and you'll appear comfortable even if you aren't.

14. And don't wear Spanx. Make sure you wear clothes you feel comfortable in and nothing too tight. If want to speak like a leader you need to move naturally and breathe properly. 

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