Find Your Voice

It’s never too late to develop a confident and commanding voice – speaking up could even give you a salary bump

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Do you wish your voice could sound more authoritative? Would you like to sound calm and in control, even when you’re upset or angry? Whether you’re communicating with your boss, partner or children, your voice can help you get your point across.

“We need to understand the effect our voice has on people when we use it correctly,” says Dr Louise Mahler, a voice coach and author of Resonate.

She reveals the blocks that can lessen the impact of your voice and shares her techniques to ensure people take notice when you speak.

Strike a pose

How you stand, sit and hold yourself affects the clarity and strength of your voice. “Women tend to cross their legs and their arms; if [your body is] twisted or unbalanced, your head comes forward, and your voice becomes strangled,” explains Dr Mahler. So you sound tense, and your voice is weaker and unclear.

TRY THIS: Stand with your feet apart, knees relaxed, and pelvis tucked under, with your chest out and shoulders back. Keep your shoulders and arms relaxed and place your hands in front, one holding the other wrist.

Breathe easy

To speak with a clear, strong voice, you need to breathe deeply, and to do this effectively your diaphragm – the muscle below your lungs – must be soft and flexible. “When we feel stressed our diaphragm lock, and the lungs, which sit on top of the diaphragm, can’t expand properly. Instead of expanding downwards, they expand upwards, which makes the voice tense,” says Dr Mahler. And a tense voice gives away that you are nervous, angry or worried.

TRY THIS: Use a “cover cough” to release your diaphragm. Cough as if you’re clearing your throat and pull your stomach in sharply.

Use your throat

Our throat is home to our larynx, which helps us create sound. And when we feel emotional, the larynx closes. “[When that happens], we get that semi-closed, tight voice,” explains Dr Mahler. The vocal folds in our throat also get in the way. These are bands of stretchy tissue sitting just under the epiglottis. This valve covers our trachea, or windpipe, when we swallow.

TRY THIS: Keep your neck upright, so your larynx sits flat – and smile. “If you lift the cheeks under the eyes, the vocal folds retract back into the lining of the throat, and the best way to do this is by smiling,” says Dr Mahler.

Open your mouth

Elvis Presley knew how to make the most of his voice. “When he started to sing and when he finished a phrase, he had his mouth open,” Says Dr Mahler. “However, when we are under pressure, we [tend to] shut our mouth to block communication.” 

TRY THIS: Open your mouth about 3 cm wide and sound out vowel sounds from the back of your throat. “Loosen your jaw and keep the air flowing by blowing raspberries,” says Dr Mahler.

Eyes up

If we look upwards, our voice tends to rise, and when we look downwards, the tone and volume drops. So when you need a “reasoning voice”,  and want your words to have an impact and be listened to, you should keep your gaze steady, advises Dr Mahler.

TRY THIS: Maintain eye contact but keep your face soft by nodding, blinking or smiling. “Blink about 15 times a minute to avoid staring uncomfortably,” says Dr Mahler.

Get moving

Our voice becomes muffled and quiet when we’re static, often when we’re nervous. Our diaphragm locks, and our mouth and throat close. “Our legs can feel weak or numb, but movement sends blood to the lower body and reengages it,” says Dr Mahler.

TRY THIS: When you’re talking, either one-on-one or in a group, move slightly to release tension. If you’re sitting, move slightly back in your chair, then forward. If you’re standing in front of an audience, move around a little.

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