Do you sound confident?

I have done a few posts now looking at what we say – “how to say no“, “express opinions“, “express feelings” and confident communication (or “assertiveness“) in general. But I have yet to touch on how we sound, or the quality of our voice

Initially I’ll touch on why our voice lets us down when we most need it. We all have experienced situations when we want to be at our best – giving a speech or presentation, having an interview, trying to impress someone. Unfortunately, these are times when our voice can falter or fade, we stumble our words and ultimately sound anything but confident.

The problem is, of course, that when we want to perform really well, we get anxious – which is in turn dominated by how we think. If we have to give a presentation, our mind churns up negative automatic thoughts about what might go wrong or the consequences of getting it wrong. If you want to talk to someone you find attractive and ask for a date, you worry about how they may reject you.

We can associate “feeling” anxious or nervous with the “thinking” that I’ve described above. But if we look at “feeling” more closely, we can also identify particular body sensations – “butterflies” in the stomach or feeling sick, an urge to go to the toilet/bathroom, sweating, heart pounding, fast breathing, dry mouth. These are all a result of our bodies fight or flight response.

Very simply, when our brain perceives that we are “under threat” or in danger, it prepares the body to respond to that danger – to fight it or flight. Consequently the body shuts down some of the functions it was normally doing – processing your last meal, creating saliva in readiness for the next one – and prepares for action. Unfortunately it cannot differentiate between “danger” where this readiness is appropriate (such as being confronted by a large wild animal) or totally inappropriate (trying to say “would you like to go out on a date”!)

With a dry throat and rapid, shallow breathing our voice isn’t going to be at its best. We’re also going to be distracted by the other feelings – perhaps conscious of the sweat pouring down our brow. Writing this I’m aware that going over some general anxiety management techniques might be useful, particularly breathing exercises and relaxation techniques.

But focusing on speaking out loud there are two techniques that I want to mention first. One is a reminder of my hobby horse, positive thinking. Again over simplifying (as I’ve gone over this recently), if you go into the above situations believing everything will be perfect – not doubting that he/she will want to go out with you or offer you that job – then your body won’t go into fight or flight mode.

The other technique is even more straightforward – practice speaking. I may be stating the obvious to some, but state it I must because even if we know this we don’t often do it. If you have a generally poor speaking voice, I will devote a post soon to more detailed exercises. But if you have problems expressing yourself to others when it matters (being assertive, asking out, giving presentations) – practice saying what you would like to say.

You can use a mirror, or isolate yourself somewhere, but this is even better if you can find someone to put you through your paces. Politicians are not born with the ability to be interviewed on television (and avoid answering the question!). They practice with “mock” interviews, being asked the sort of questions they are likely to be asked for real (and are first thoroughly briefed on their subject)

Last year I interviewed someone who had been up for the same post twice before, but had previously been overcome with nerves and been dreadful. This time he answered confidently with a strong voice. He latter admitted that some friends had given him several practice interviews, to the point he could feel confident about giving assured answers to whatever we threw at him. It got him the job.

Tina Su October 26, 2007 at 10:01 am

I really enjoy the content of your blog. You help your reader to have more self confident.thank you.

Love & Gratitude,
Think Simple. Be Decisive.
Productivity, Motivation & Happiness

David October 27, 2007 at 12:20 pm

Thanks for the compliment Tina – do come back.

Anna J November 2, 2007 at 12:05 am

Hi David, stumbled upon your blog. I like your point on positive thinking. Though it’s tricky to overcome fears of speaking, it’s quite possible. I think it’s worthy to start practicing on people you consider being friendly (and not necessary friends of yours). Make it a rule: speak to at least one person (anyone but your family) each day. And try to leave a good impression about yourself (that’s easy: just think positively about the person you’re speaking to before and during your chat with them) — your goal should be in becoming good friends with them.

Amanda March 1, 2011 at 1:41 pm

I like your style, clear and light at the same time, (of couse, the content too)
I totally agree about stating the obvious.

I’m planning to create podcasts to help my students of English as a foreign language (in Italy) improve their confidence in speaking.
I must first improve “my” communicative and speaking Skills!
Thanks for your help

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