You Sound Boring!

Most of us have no idea how we sound to other people but probably spend more time worrying about that than doing anything about it.

I still remember the first time I heard my own voice over the airwaves. It was the summer of 1991 and we were preparing for summer vacation from university, which for me meant finding as much casual work as possible so that I could afford to eat, pay rent and continue my studies. We would often have the local radio station playing as the music was decent, it was less distracting than the telly for studying and they would keep us informed of local events.

There were regular competitions you could call in and enter, and I often did. One day I actually got through, was put on the air and won the competition. I have no recollection of what I won but didn’t even care about that. I knew that most of my student friends listened to the radio too and they would have heard me. I was momentarily a tiny bit locally famous and it was exciting. I was excited.

That same night I was out at the student union bar with my friends and asked them if they heard me on the radio. Most of them did. I don’t even know why I found it exciting but in the true tall poppy British style, one of my group felt the need to inform me that I had sounded monotone and robotic when in reality I had just been trying to keep myself from getting overexcited on the radio.

I don’t know what it is about certain people who see others being happy and feel the need to rain on their parade but that has always felt like a common experience to me and it made me determined that I would never sound dull or robotic again, on the radio or anywhere else.

I get to hear a lot of people talk these days, on podcasts, sales calls and other places too. When I am in presentation feedback situations, there is one piece of feedback I hear again and again. To be fair, I often give this feedback again and again too. It’s not the only piece of common feedback but it’s a good one and it matters a lot for you as podcast guests or hosts. It is, of course, tonality, more specifically, the lack of variety in most people’s tonality.

I think we all know how painful it can be to listen to a talk or presentation delivered with limited vocal variety and zero emotional presence. If you don’t then I can only assume you’ve never been to a lecture or tried a Toastmasters club. I don’t say this to knock anyone but these kinds of presentations are surprisingly common. Trouble is, they’re hard to sit through.

How much more so important is vocal variety for podcasts when the audience can very easily escape a boring episode by selecting another one? Personally, I would bolt pretty fast, even if the topic seems interesting. If it seems like really important information, I may force myself to grin and bear it but really, I think we can do better. I think we owe it to our audiences to do better.

I’ll add to that and say that it’s not only better for them, but it’s also better for you too. Vocal variety shows you are emotionally engaged, interested and maybe even passionate. This will help you on sales calls, networking events and maybe even more mundane interactions. Honestly, if I’m on a call with someone who sounds bored or uninterested I am not going to let that pass. I’m going to comment on it.

It may well be that people find themselves doing what I did on my first ever radio appearance and trying to contain their emotions. I think, more often than not, that people just don’t realise how disengaged they sound because no one has ever given them the feedback they need to do something about it. I’m not suggesting that you need to embody the vocal prowess of someone like Michael Sheen reading the audio versions of Phillip Pullman’s books, which is truly masterful and an aural delight. We just need to sound interested.

How do you know if you sound boring and uninterested? You may not know. You’re used to your voice as you hear it but you could start by recording yourself in a conversation (ask permission to record) or a presentation to see if you can get a sense of it. Really, you need some external feedback and ideally, you want that to come from people who know what they are talking about. Don’t ask your friends or family. You need independent feedback and you need to give your evaluator permission to be completely honest with you.

What can you do about poor vocal variety? A lot. I’d suggest starting by thinking about the emotions you would like to convey. One piece of wisdom I picked up from the terrific book Cues by Vanessa Van Edwards is about professional communication and how the most important emotional qualities we should aim to convey are warmth and competence. Think of voices you know with those qualities and start trying to convey them in your own communications. You can ask for feedback where appropriate as to how well you’re doing.

I make a lot of sales calls every day and it is always my aim to convey an energy of warmth and competence. I think I achieve it about 98% of the time now, although perhaps if I were to get some coaching on my sales calls, I might find my self-assessment a little high. We’re all susceptible to the Dunning-Kruger effect. However, I know I am conscious about being in that energy myself.

One of the best pieces of presentation advice I ever received was to be clear on the emotion you ideally want your audience to be in and then put yourself into that emotional state. This triggers mirror neurons that, unless your audience is low on empathy, will bring them on the emotional journey you have planned for them. This requires you to think about your audience and it requires something some people won’t like. A little razzle-dazzle, some performance energy.

At this point, I may have you already mentally screaming at me that this is manipulative. Well, yeah but not all manipulation is bad. In fact, a dull vocal tone is manipulative too, just not usually in a way that you want it to be. The whole goal is to have a positive emotional influence and impact through our communication and you can’t do that if you’re not willing to work with emotions.

I have an episode of Podfluence coming up in September with the incredible Lee Carter who has written a fabulous book called Persuasion which really dives into just how much more important emotions are than facts when it comes to persuasion. You can see it in cults, politics and business. The people who deliver the strongest emotional impact are often the most followed. (Sorry, you’ll have to wait for the show but not for Lee’s book, which I highly recommend.)

What I can and will lead you to is an episode I did a while back with voice coach Diele Hannah, specifically because she has some great exercises on emotional embodiment that I found helpful and I think you will too.

Do you have some thoughts about vocal variety? Do you struggle with it? Have you pretty much mastered it? How do you bring more vocal variety to your presentation and communication? I’d love to hear from you and if you’re wanting some feedback on your vocal variety, drop me a line and I’d love to help you out.

It wouldn’t be a Podfluence newsletter without your weekly energizer track, so here it is, almost guaranteed. to put you in a great mood and peak emotional state, if you let it. If you’ve seen the movie or stage show Beetlejuice, yes, it’s THAT song. Shake, shake, shake!

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.

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John Alexander Ball

John Alexander Ball

Host of the Podfluence podcast. Professional speaker & ethical influence coach. The James Corden of podcasting, a chubby British guy who thinks he’s funny.