Confident Voice and Body Language

What is confidence? Is it something you have or you don’t? Actually, confidence is learned. There are some very specific non verbal behaviors – body language and vocal patterns – that help you come across as both confident and warm in any situation. They are part of our professional display, and with a little practice, we can integrate them into our individual patterns so that they become second nature and part of our best authentic self.

After a lively conversation with Lucy Frost from Pat Kirkland Leadership about Pat’s leadership presence coaching model, we knew their expert insights into presence would be interesting to any professional.

We’re happy to introduce Pat Kirkland from Pat Kirkland Leadership for a guest post about Leadership Presence. She’s helped Fortune 100 companies around the world find next levels of leadership.

6 Keys to Leadership Presence in a Consulting Call

By Pat Kirkland, Pat Kirkland Leadership

When I say “Presence,” I mean the amount of social power granted to you by virtue of how you show up. Presence is the story people make up about you based on how you look & sound. It’s separate and apart from the actual content of what you say. And … it’s more powerful.

You’ve met people who just seem to have “It” - that intangible quality that makes them irresistible to listen to. And you’ve met others who have tremendous knowledge but struggle to get their point across or hold attention, or they create barriers between themselves and their listeners. My 20+ years of experience coaching people on presence shows that the difference between those who have “It” and those who don’t is due largely to non verbal behaviors – body language and vocal patterns.

And here’s the good news: it’s entirely possible for anyone to come across with greater presence and confidence by making subtle changes in their non verbal behaviors.

My coaches and I work with many of the Fortune 100 companies, coaching their senior people to show up as competent, approachable leaders. This article highlights 6 of the fundamental skills that we teach which are most effective in the video and telephone calls that makes possible.

Similar to the way dogs and other animals do “the sniff dance” to find out where each stands in the pack order, in the first 30 to 90 seconds of any interaction, humans establish who they are to each other. Who’s one up, who’s one down? This critical time is when we signal how we expect to be treated - and how we intend to treat others. Once that hierarchy is established, it’s very difficult to shift it during a single interaction.

The secret to making our coaching work is to practice key non-verbal signals ahead of time until they become automatic for you so that you show up as your best self all the time.

That way, you’ll have those skills at the ready when it really counts: in high pressure, leadership situations.

Two things to keep in mind for users:

  1. You’re The Leader. Even if you’ve not thought of yourself as a leader before, you are in this situation because you’re the expert. Your goal is to lead your client to a solution to their problem. To do that most effectively, you must show up in a way that signals to your client that you: A) know what you’re talking about and B) are concerned about taking care of them and solving their problem.
  2. A Smooth Takeoff Makes for a Smooth Flight. If you have a successful kick off in the first 30 to 90 seconds, you’ll immediately gain your client’s trust. (And you’ll have to really blow it later in the call to undermine that trust!)

With the above in mind, here are 6 fundamental leadership presence skills to practice & master so you come across at your best in a call:

1. Downward inflection

This is the opposite of “uptalk” or “upspeak.” Here’s a short video that illustrates the difference between uptalk and downward inflection using the Gettysburg address.

  • What it is: Drop the pitch of your voice at the end of every phrase. Former FBI kidnapping hostage negotiator Chris Voss includes terrific examples of the effect of both downward inflection (and smiling – another key skill). founder Michael Cole created a video based on an example we use frequently in our programs – take a listen and see if you can identify which speaker is the doctor and which is the nurse!

  • What it gets you: Credibility. You sound certain. Downward inflection signals that there’s no question about what you’ve said. In negotiation, as Chris Voss says, downward inflection signals “there’s no wiggle room.” Nothing says “inconsequential” so much as sounding like you’re asking a question with every phrase. (There’s an epidemic of uptalk these days, and my team and I are out to squelch it!)

  • How to practice: Practice saying your name James Bond-style. We’re not suggesting you go around introducing yourself exactly that way! But we want you to feel yourself saying your name with a downward inflection on your last name. Read famous text aloud – like the Gettysburg address or Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. Try them with both upward and downward inflection so you feel the difference. Once you master that, add a smile. (TIP: This is one of the most difficult skills to master for many people. Be patient. You’ll get it.)

2. Keep your back to the back of the chair

This is most important when you’re on a video call, but it’s another bit of body language that can be “heard” over the phone.

  • What it is: Feel your back against the back of the chair at all times.
  • What it gets you: You’ll convey relaxed confidence, never aggressive, never passive. When seated, it grounds you in the same way that feeling your toes on the floor grounds you when standing.
  • How to practice: Practice in meetings, at restaurants, with friends. Experiment with it – notice the response you get from others when you’re sitting forward vs sitting with back to the back of the chair. Record yourself on video sitting in different ways – notice the visceral response you have to various positions – what’s the story in your head about the person on the screen?

3. Speak in a louder than average volume

Whether you’re speaking on the phone or in person, your volume and vocal patterns create as much as 50% of your listener’s experience.

  • What it is: On a scale of 1 to 10, your volume should be at a 7-8 level.
  • What it gets you: Speaking up signals to your listener both competence and approachability. It’s a way of conveying energy. When you immediately give your caller a lift of energy, you set the tone for this to be a positive experience for them. A slightly louder volume also says you know what you’re talking about. When you speak too softly, it not only makes you difficult to hear, but depending on the other behaviors you’re using it signals one of two things: either 1) that you’re unsure of your knowledge and content or 2) you don’t care enough about the caller to put any energy into the conversation.
  • How to practice: For calls, use a microphone. We can’t overemphasize the importance of that. It will make your voice sound present to the caller, rather than removed. (Mike Cole uses this one.) Once you have your mic, practice with a friend. Call them using Skype or Google Hangouts. Speak to your friend in your “normal” volume and then again in a louder than normal volume. Ask them to tell you which volume sounds and feels best to them – at what volume do they sense that you really know what you’re talking about and care about doing good job for them? You may even use your computer to measure decibels. Then practice using the volume with the mic that your friend says lands the best.

4. Smile

What we’re looking for here is a soft smile, not an enormous grin (unless you’ve just won the lottery!). People can hear and feel a smile in your voice, regardless of whether they can see you. I learned from prosecuting attorney Ritz Risser some years ago that she got far more cooperation from hostile witnesses when she had just the slightest smile in her eyes than when she didn’t.

  • What it is: A pleasant, relaxed look on your face with the corners of your mouth turned up a little and the muscles around your eyes tensed to show friendliness.
  • What it gets you: A smile immediately conveys that you already like this person, they’re safe with you, and you’re in a good mood. A smile puts others at ease.
  • How to practice: Think of something pleasant. We recommend thinking of puppies. A big pile of puppies playing. Who doesn’t smile softly at that? Look in the mirror as you talk on the phone and smile as you do it. Make that soft smile a habit, your default face. Again, a video recording is the ultimate tool for self-coaching for body language. Try smiling and not smiling and see how you feel about the person on the screen in both situations.

5. Use people’s names

Use the name of the person you’re speaking with about 3 times in the conversation – beginning, middle and end.

  • What it is: Say the first name of the person with whom you’re speaking three times during the conversation. Don’t say it too often or you’ll sound like a car salesman. (But think about it – there’s a reason those folks say your name so often!)
  • What it gets you: Approachability. Using someone’s name says “I see you. I acknowledge you. You’re important to me.”
  • How to practice: Ask the name of people who serves you in a restaurant or coffee shop. Practice with them.

6. Be concise

Get to the point. Don’t ramble. Often, as an expert, you have an entire Thanksgiving Feast of information you want to give your client. You want to be thorough. Resist that urge. Be tight instead. Give them a “sandwich” of the key points. Let them ask clarifying questions to find out more.

  • What it is: Short sentences with a key takeaway – a “bottom line” summary.
  • What it gets you: Credibility. This is a key skill to signal competence. The less you say, the smarter you sound.
  • How to practice: Practice with a friend. Ask each other questions about your areas of expertise. Practice speaking in concise phrases. Full sentences not required!

You may already have some of these fundamental skills mastered. If so, good for you! Focus on the others skills that will make the most difference for you.

It takes just minutes of conscious practice to integrate these into your authentic self.

It will feel awkward at first. That’s OK. Give it 5 minutes a day in low stress, low stakes situations (when you’re ordering coffee, for example). Notice the response you get from others. Do you get a smile from the normally surly barrista? Do you get greater, more willing cooperation from your co-workers?

Before you know it, these behaviors will be second nature. And then you’ll show up at your personal best in all your calls.

Bottom line: You can do this, and it will make a difference!

To your success!

– Pat Kirkland, Pat Kirkland Leadership

For more than 20 years, Pat Kirkland and her coaches have helped individuals show up more confidently and powerfully in high stakes situations. We help people become more aware of the ways they unconsciously undermine how others perceive them. Welcome Series

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