How to Tweak Your Voice to Be a More Motivational Speaker

How to Tweak Your Voice to Be a More Motivational Speaker

  • Raúl Sánchez and Dan Bullock are linguistics and communications specialists and NYU professors. 
  • They say improving vocalics, aka nonverbal aspects of speech, is key for effective communication.
  • Vocal resonance, varying voice arcs, and good rhythm can make your speech more impactful. 

The subtle effects of our voices can create a workforce culture that moves mountains. We live in a time of change, and vocal power can be the key to infusing messages with the motivation and inspiration people need for restoring confidence, passion, and action.

Yet when many of us speak, we often overlook the strength of our vocal dimensions like loudness and tempo. To upgrade your vocal power you must invest in vocalics, aka the nonverbal aspects of speech. Vocalics is made up of stress (volume), intonation (rise/fall), and rhythm (pacing) that we use to color our spoken expression. Using these elements well, like successful leaders like Tony Robbins do, can layer your words with immense vocal power and leave lasting impressions.

In our combined experience as New York University professors and as language and communications specialists at the United Nations, we’ve found that including vocalics as a prime focus area in communication skills training for business professionals was a crucial factor in success. Below are three underutilized voice techniques that can command any room. 

1. Power up with conscious breathing and vocal resonance

The way we use our breath coupled with volume goes beyond trying to be the loudest person in the room. The real powerhouse behind our spoken volume comes from vocal resonance. For example, Oprah Winfrey’s resonant timbre and empathic approach fills her voice with compassion and inspiration and has a major impact on her audience.

To gain that extra edge, practice mindful breathing by using deep, steady inhales and exhales to open your airways. This will help magnify your voice and boost your volume.

Emphasize verbal anchors, known as focus words, to punctuate your ideas within statements and inspire your audience to take action.  Think of the reactions you’d get from “Sales are UP by 30%” (emphasis: sales are not down) versus “Sales are up by 30% (emphasis: not 20%). 

2. Punctuate your ideas with varying voice arcs

Influential leaders that build trust and authority among their teams often do so by using intonation patterns, aka placing rising and falling vocal arcs in the right places to juxtapose pivotal ideas. 

Oscillating your voice with rising intonation always implies a question (“That’s the new proposal?”), while falling intonation signals a statement (“That’s the new proposal”). Skilled speakers, like inaugural poet Amanda Gorman and Dr. Brené Brown, expertly vary their vocal patterns to create authenticity, project authority, and dynamically convey messages. 

Avoid using uptalk, aka rising intonation at the end of statements, as well as fillers such as “um,” and tag questions such as ending statements with “right?”. Instead, create a powerful speech style with downward intonation arcs, declarative sentences, purposeful pausing, and pivotal contrasts between reality and a better future. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech embodies this technique, as does Steve Jobs’ speech introducing the new iPhone to the world. 

3. Sync up your rhythm to command authority

To captivate listeners, deliberately intersperse your speech with pauses and short phrases coupled with longer sentences to create rhythmically-dynamic speech patterns — an acoustic feature called vocal prosody

Successful business leaders like Simon Sinek and Warren Buffett use this technique to exude positive energy with their voices. To achieve this cadence, practice with “Harvard Sentences” which are phonetically-balanced sentences used to test audio quality. These everyday phrases like “Cod is the main business of the north shore” or “The first part of the plan needs changing” can be emphasized in various ways and are a great method to practice and stimulate your rhythmic ability.

Facebook engineers even put vocalics to the test with AI by cloning Bill Gates’ voice to correlate intonation patterns and permutations of engagement (speeding up) and focusing attention (slowing down). Overall, when we use the convergence of rhythm, tone, and volume in our speech, our voice builds profound influence during virtual calls, weekly conferences, or client meetings. 

Leading with our voice patterns is not an easy feat, but employing these vocal techniques will ignite more receptive dialogues with colleagues and build an impactful and inspirational executive presence. From mid-level managers to executives at national and international companies, everyone can harness the power of vocalics to upgrade their speech, communication, and influence. 

Raúl Sánchez is a clinical assistant professor and the corporate program coordinator at New York University’s School of Professional Studies. He has designed and delivered corporate trainings for Deloitte and the United Nations, as well as been a writing consultant for Barnes & Noble Press and PBS. Sánchez is the coauthor of “How to Communicate Effectively with Anyone, Anywhere.”

Dan Bullock is a language and communications specialist/trainer at the United Nations Secretariat, training diplomats and global UN staff. He also serves as faculty teaching business communication and public relations at New York University’s School of Professional Studies. Bullock is the coauthor of “How to Communicate Effectively with Anyone, Anywhere.

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