Tone it Up (and I’m Not Talking About Your Abdominals….Well, Kind of…)

Many of you reading the above headline are probably thought this piece was going to be about the Olympics. Given the staggering variety of toned abdominals we’ve seen in recent weeks, that would have been a good guess. That said, I’m writing today about a different kind of tone: your tone of voice.

According to Albert Mehrabian’s UCLA study, 38% of your impact comes from your tonal quality: what your voice is doing while you are speaking.

Should you doubt this, click through to my newest favorite link:professional actors reading Yelp restaurant reviews.    Their ability to make a mediocre experience take on overtones of Shakespearean tragedy amuses me no end.

How does this apply to you?

Well, given the amount of time you likely spend doing business on the phone, I’m guessing it applies quite a bit.

What, then, can you do to improve your tonal quality?

Speak from your diaphragm. (As mentioned, this piece is kind of about your abs…)  If you aren’t speaking from your diaphragm, your voice lacks resonance and authority. How can you tell if you are? Put your hand on your abdomen while you’re speaking. If your abdomen isn’t moving, your diaphragm is not engaged. How you can you engage it? Lie on the floor. Put something heavy on your stomach. Breathe until you see it going up and down. When you stand up and speak you will probably notice your voice has dropped about an octave. This is where I need your voice to be. (FYI: this is a great time to record your voice mail greeting.)

Speak on an exhalation: A lot of people begin speaking on an inhalation, which leads to one of my least favorite tonal varieties: up-speak—ending every sentence as if you’re asking a question. The reason for thatis you’re simply out of air. It occurs most frequently when we’re nervous/anxious and/or when we’ve begun speaking without thinking through what we actually want to say. Here’s my advice: stop; think; inhale; speak on an exhalation.

Make important phone calls in front of a mirror: I know it sounds wildly narcissistic, but I can’t stress enough how much standing in front of a mirror when you speak improves your tonal quality. Why? Because it’s almost impossible not to amuse yourself when you have a mirror in front of you. You’ll smile at yourself. You’ll laugh at your jokes—and your voice will follow along. You’ll also notice how bored you look when someone asks you a question you’ve answered a million times and (hopefully) this will remind you to put a bit of oomph in your answer. Finally, it’s helpful if the person on the other end of the line asks you a question that makes you tense. At that moment, you’ll see your face tense up, at which point you can stop, inhale and speak (from your diaphragm!) on an exhalation.

If you can smile, it’s even better.

Frances Cole Jones