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Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Weight of Your Words: Empowerment through Voice Tone

Speaking assertively is an art. Essential to that art is the use of voice tone.

I tell my students that your voice, in an assertive statement, should end with your tone going down at the end of your sentence. If you do not, then you will sound uncertain, less powerful, questioning your own stand.

A political year is a great time to observe this. I'm including in this post two videos - one of former President Bush and the second of President Obama. Both men are in press conferences dealing with difficult subjects. Listen to their voice tone through the taped conference.

Former President Bush was an interesting figure to listen to because he presented himself quite differently in voice tone in speeches than he did in press conferences. He had practiced speeches and had been coached. In speeches he generally sounded more confident. Why? Because in a speech he had practiced bringing his voice down at the end of the sentence.

He is asked hard questions in this press conference, which I believe took place in April 2007. Without the safety net of the practiced speech, you'll notice that his voice goes up at the end of the sentence. This makes him sound less sure of himself, somewhat defensive and does not make his audience feel confident in what he is saying.

He says things that should sound solid and confidential and instead his voice rises at the end of his sentences. In talking about the Iraq war, listen for him to say "We're going to succeed." with his voice going up as he says it. Then a few sentences later, voice rising again, he says, "I'm going to develop a plan that will help us achieve our objectives." But with that rise at the end, why should anyone believe that he believes he can do so. And so his approval ratings would decrease.

The press conference with President Obama took place in April 2008 when he had to disconnect with Reverend Wright. Obama is a polished speaker and speaks in general in a measured way. His voice often ends sentences down in a firm place. In this press conference at the beginning, his voice rises at the end of sentences. I imagine he was feeling a little defensive and less sure.

Suddenly he regains his voice and says, "...they certainly don't portray accurately my values and beliefs." With that phrase he asserts himself and his voice marches solidly down. This self confidence remains evident through the rest of the press conference.

Listening to the news media is another way to observe the power of voice tone. Most of our TV reporters have been trained to do this and as you listen observantly, you'll notice that they bring their voices down at the end of sentences.

While public figures give us ample opportunity for observation of voice tone, where it counts for each of us is in being aware of how we each employ the empowerment of our voice tone.

When you let your voice go up at the end of the sentence, you sound uncertain. If a person frequently ends on an up note, that person may be characterized as "whiny." A tiny child whines because he/she doesn't believe he/she can get what they want. By the same token a grownup who doesn't believe he/she can get what he/she wants, will sound whiny if their voice goes up at the end.

Get someone to listen when you are under pressure and give you feedback about your use of voice tone.


Anonymous said...

This is so true, something I try to impress on my 11 year old boy when he wants to be persuasive. Timothy Geitner (Treasury) just gave his first speech on our economy and he wasn't convincing because he speaks in questions.
He needs some speech lessons! It will make his job much easier and will help the american people! Also, help the stock market.

Anonymous said...

I work as a telemarketer. The woman next to me has one of those whiny, up-at-the-end-of-every-sentence deliveries. It is so annoying! Yet, she makes pretty good sales.

Linda T said...

Well, one possibility is that her up at the end voice pulls for guilt from the people listening to her, who then purchase! But from a point of view of being assertive, it is not an assertive or respectful way to speak.

Anonymous said...

Although it's hard for me to hear it myself, I've been told my voice goes up at the end of sentences. Are there methods/techniques to train my voice to go down at the end of sentences?

Anonymous said...

Although I cannot tell when it happens, I've been told my voice goes up at the end of sentences. What training techniques can I use to practice making my voice go down at the end of sentences? I would also like to have a lower tone than the squeaky tone I have now...any advice?