Learning how to speak with confidence is a game changer when it comes to both your personal and professional life.
Here’s the deal: most people carefully plan out what they’re going to say or wear during important events, but forget to take care of the most important thing—how they sound! How you sound is incredibly important for your first impressions.
Why is Sounding Confident Important?
To answer this question, I talked with one of the world’s leading voice experts, Roger Love! He has worked with stars such as:
- Selena Gomez
- Tony Robbins
- Gwen Stefani
- John Mayer
- Keira Knightley
- Angelina Jolie
- Bradley Cooper
- Joaquin Phoenix
and fine-tuned their voices, making them sound amazing! For our video series, “The World’s Most Interesting People,” Roger told me the exact strategies he used with these stars to make their speaking voices sound better.
Here’s the BIG idea:
Your voice can change your life.
And the science proves it. In 2017, Yale did a study that confirmed this fact. They found that what makes you believe someone, like someone, and trust someone is the sound of their voice.
So in this article I’ll cover everything you need to know about how to speak with confidence and sound better. Are you ready? Let’s go on a vocal journey!
Make a Good Vocal First Impression
First impressions are everything—and how you sound matters the most. Check out my video on vocal first impressions:
When most of us think about having an important presentation or video call, we usually spend countless minutes preparing the first words that come out of our mouth.
But this fact blew my mind:
People judge how trustworthy you are within HALF A SECOND.
Research shows that your “hello” might matter more than your prepared clever anecdotes or great answers.
Your vocal first impression happens the moment you answer the phone and say, “Hello?” or “This is Vanessa.” Or… one time I called a big VIP and he answered, “Speak.”
Here’s the problem: We are usually our most nervous in the first few seconds. So our “hello” comes out as breathy, high-pitched or nervous sounding.
So what’s the best way to make a great, confident-sounding impression? In our human behavior research lab at Science of People, we set out to find the answer.
In the first part of our experiment, we had participants record six different versions of their typical “Hello”:
- Normal Hello (This is the control)
- Happy Hello (Thinking of something that made them happy and holding a Happiness Microexpression)
- Sad Hello (Thinking of something that made them sad and holding a Sadness Microexpression)
- Angry Hello (Thinking of something that made them angry and holding an Angry Microexpression)
- Power Posing (While adopting a Power Pose)
- Normal Hello (One more control once they were warmed up)
The results were clear. The very same person sounded incredibly different!
*You can see and hear real participants from our experiment and test your skills in the video above!*
Here’s the bottom line: people can hear your mood.
- Having a bad day? It will show in the sound and tone in your voice, even through the telephone.
- Feeling great? People will hear that, too.
People can sense the emotion in your voice. Bad emotions will make you sound extremely unlikable.
I have an entire section on vocal power in my bestselling book, Cues: Master the Secret Language of Charismatic Communication. I also read the Audiobook and demo all kinds of voice techniques you can use to up your vocal charisma.
Unlock the Secrets of Charisma
Control and leverage the tiny signals you’re sending – from your stance and facial expressions to your word choice and vocal tone – to improve your personal and professional relationships.
Oh yeah, and our test gets way more interesting.
Use Your Happy Hello
In the second part of our experiment, we took the voice recordings and asked our Science of People readers—like you—to rate the voices on likability. We had each participant play a clip and choose from one of three answers:
Can you guess which hello was rated as the most likable?
- Happy Hello
- Sad Hello
- Angry Hello
- Power Posing
- The Normal Hello
There was a clear winner for likability—the most likable voice was the Happy Hello! We actually were surprised by this—we guessed the hello with the power pose would do best. Boy, were we wrong! Even the participant’s normal hello did better than the power-posing hello.
And the worst-rated hello? The angry hello—not surprising, but just another reason to control your anger.
Find Your Maximum Resonance Point
What is the maximum resonance point? This is your personal vocal range that makes you sound the loudest, richest, most relaxed, and speak with confidence. Here is my favorite technique to find your maximum resonance point:
The maximum resonance point is what makes you sound like a leader.
Here’s the deal: most people aren’t speaking with their maximum resonance point because they don’t know how to or aren’t aware of what it is.
So if you find your ideal vocal range, you are one step closer to sounding confident!
Here’s an online keyboard to help you find your vocal range (make sure to turn on Letter Notes!): Virtual Piano
Learn How You Sound
Did you know we sound different depending on the situation we are in? For example, imagine how your voice sounds in these 3 different scenarios:
- alone on the couch, reading a book
- with a good friend or two, enjoying a fun conversation
- on center stage, giving a presentation to an audience of 1,000
You may find that your voice is low and slow when you’re speaking to yourself, but with your friends it gets higher and faster because they increase your energy levels. And when you’re giving a presentation, your normally slow and steady vocal rate suddenly increases.
Once you’re aware of how your emotions affect your voice, you can work on the specific areas that need improvement.
Here’s a question for you:
Who triggers you to NOT sound your best?
Does your boss make you nervous? Do you speak higher and nasally to your kids? You might have a vocal trigger.
Public speaker and self-development author Brian Tracy recommends recording yourself in a few different contexts and tracking how your voice changes. Record a part of your conversations in the next few days when you:
- talk to a client
- talk to your parent or your child
- present in a meeting
- talk to yourself in the car
- chat with friends
After Margaret Thatcher became aware of how her soft voice was leading people to underestimate her as a leader, she listened to herself and made improvements until her public speaking voice was transformed from sweet and gentle to powerful. Check out her before and after voices:
Optimize Your Speaking Rate
Did you know the average American’s conversational speech is at a rate of 120-150 words per minute? But according to a 1970s study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, that might be a little too slow. The study found that:
- If people talked at a moderately fast pace (195 words per minute), they were found to be more intelligent, persuasive, credible, and socially-attractive.
What about the slow talkers (100 words per minute or less)? People who talked at this pace were found to be less intelligent and credible.
So is speaking faster the key to sounding confident? The University of Michigan did another study in 2011:
- Researchers set out to find out the optimal speech rate that convinced people to participate in telephone surveys.
- They found that the sweet spot for success was a moderately fast 210 words per minute—anything higher or lower than this was not as effective.
So science confirms it to be true! Now…which category do you fall into?
- If you speak too slowly, people might consider you slow and boring.
- If you speak too quickly, you can annoy people or fail to be heard altogether.
But if you speak just right at a moderately fast pace, you’re a natural confident speaker!
So how do you speak at the optimum speech rate? You could simply talk faster. But it’s not that simple. As a super-fast talker myself, I know how difficult it can be to lower your speaking rate to the optimum level—especially when you feel anxious or get excited on stage.
So here are two solutions you can use to optimize your speech rate:
- Spend time reading out loud and focus on every word. There’s no point in talking fast if you’re stumbling all over your words. This technique forces you to speak clearly and include natural pauses, both of which are great for sounding genuine. When you get a good rhythm going, slowly build up your speaking rate until you hit the optimum level.
- Enlist the people around you to correct your speech. Being interrupted and forced to repeat yourself every time you speak too slowly or too quickly gets annoying really fast. Having people point out your speaking weak points makes you hyper-aware of your speaking habits and forces you to speak better.
Wear Your Confident Clothes
They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But it turns out we judge ourselves based on what we wear. In a 2012 paper by Hajo Adam and Adam Galinsky, the idea of “enclothed cognition,” ie, whether our clothes affect our thoughts, was studied. In one experiment, participants wore either a doctor’s coat or a painter’s coat.
Can you guess which group performed better at tasks? If you thought it was the group with the doctor’s coat, you’re right!
The research behind enclothed cognition suggests that it’s not so much about what we wear, but what we think about what we wear.
The participants who wore doctor’s coats felt more competent wearing them, so they performed better at tasks. Similarly, if you wear an outfit that makes you feel confident, you’ll also sound more confident!
What clothes make you feel confident?
- Do you like certain brands?
- Look good in tailored suits?
- Have a favorite shirt?
- Like a certain color?
- Have your own personal style?
If you want to speak with confidence, appearances matter. Find out your confident clothes and wear them to bring out your A-game!
The next tip to ensure your voice is always “public speaking ready” is to drink the right amount of water to never let your vocal cords dry out. Studies show that your hydration levels have a direct effect on the sound of your voice—the more hydrated you are, the better your voice sounds!
The key is to not wait until right before your speech to start drinking—staying hydrated takes time. Keep yourself well-hydrated at least a couple hours leading up to your speech. This ensures your mouth and throat are properly lubricated, and you can speak and articulate with ease.
And if you are a coffee or tea lover like me—good news! Caffeine does not appear to negatively affect your voice. So drink up!
Toilet Tip: want an easy way to make sure you are drinking enough water throughout the day? Check the color of your urine. The optimal color is a light, pale yellow. If it’s too dark, drink more!
Master Your Breathing
How do you actually change your voice? According to Toastmasters, the first step in developing a strong public speaking voice is mastering your breathing.
How? We need to get rid of chest breathing. Shallow, chest breathing is bad because:
- It doesn’t supply enough oxygen to our bodies.
- It can cause shortness of breath, which can make you sound nervous or jittery.
- Tension and tightness in the chest can be a negative result.
We need to counteract chest breathing with deep breathing. Females in particular make the mistake of not breathing deeply enough which causes their voices to sound high and weak. Breathe deeply and at a controlled pace.
You’ll want to develop a habit of breathing deeply throughout the day so that when it comes time to speak, this is your natural breathing pattern. You can also practice breathing exercises before your speech.
You’ll also have less trouble breathing when your nerves kick in.
And most importantly, blow a strong breath out BEFORE you start speaking. Many people take a breath in and start on the inhale. You want to start on the exhale.
Get Rid of Vocal Fry
You might not like the sound of your voice because you have something called vocal fry. What is vocal fry and how do you get rid of it? Watch my video on vocal fry here:
What is vocal fry? Vocal fry happens when someone’s voice sounds raspy or creaky. It’s called “fry” because it sounds like bacon sizzling in a frying pan. Vocal fry occurs when there is not enough breath being pushed through the vocal cords.
Here’s why vocal fry happens:
- When we breathe, our vocal cords separate.
- Then, when we speak, those cords rub together and the vibration creates sound.
- If you speak without enough breath, your vocal cords cannot rub together and they create that creaky, hollow sound known as vocal fry.
In vocal fry, it’s as if you are hearing someone’s vocal cords rattling next to each other. In short: it’s very unpleasant. And if you want to sound better, you need to get rid of all the vocal fries.
Learn how to get rid of it in our Stop Vocal Fry tutorial here.
Use a Vocal Warm-Up
A vocal warm-up is key to speaking with confidence. Here is my video showing my favorite vocal warm-ups:
Yes, they might sound a bit silly. But if you’ve ever hopped on a call when you haven’t spoken to anyone all day and noticed your voice sounds like… well, bleh… you’ll probably benefit from a vocal warm-up.
Think about it this way: your muscles need to warm-up before a run. Your voice also needs to warm-up before a speech, presentation, or call.
Doing a simple 3-minute vocal warm-up before your calls, meetings, or pitches is a great way to get your confident voice ready for action.
Here’s my go-to vocal warm up exercise called “Goog” that’s both fun and easy, taught to me by Roger himself in the video above.
The exercise sounds like this: “Goog goog goog goog goog goog goog.”
- Start with a comfortable or low starting pitch for the first “goog.”
- Say “goog,” and each time you say it, increase your pitch until the fourth “goog.”
- Starting with the fifth “goog,” decrease your pitch until you hit the final, seventh “goog.” You should end up back at the starting pitch.
- Repeat this exercise for a few minutes, or until your voice is ready to rock and roll!
The Goog exercise is designed to prime both the low notes and high notes in your voice so that you sound confident and clear—so when you walk in the room, you’re coming in as an amazing, finely-tuned instrument. And when the words come out? They flow out in a stream of beautiful harmony!
Action Step: Before you walk into a meeting…before you walk into a networking event… and before a speech or a pitch… carve out a few minutes to warm up your voice.
Hopefully, we gave you some ideas so far.
But if you want to take it to the next level, Roger is offering all of our Science of People viewers and readers $50 off The Perfect Voice Collection with the code “Captivate.”
Connect With Your Happy Voice
This tip is simple: find something to smile about! Genuine happiness is better than a fake smile any day.
A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Santa Barbara found that we listen to our own voices to know how we’re feeling. Here’s what researchers did:
- Participants in the study were instructed to speak into a microphone that recorded their voices.
- Behind the scenes, the researchers manipulated the participants’ voices in real-time to make them sound either happier, sad, or with no change at all.
- They fed that audio recording back to them through headphones (the participants were unaware that their voices were being changed).
The magical result?
Listening to their changed voices, either happy or sad, actually induced that emotion in the participants.
These results suggest that our tone, pitch and other voice characteristics help us understand and process our own emotions.
This amazed the researchers, as this study yielded the first official evidence that there is a direct correlation between how our voices sound and what we feel.
So, next time you’re feeling funky, anxious, or angry, give yourself a little pep talk using a happy little voice tone—and try smiling while you’re at it! You’d be surprised at how fast you can pick up your mood and change your emotional state by this simple trick.
Some ideas to find something to smile about:
- Don’t check email right before getting on a call or while waiting on hold. You are bound to see something you don’t like. This risks a possible angry expression or response.
- Go on YouTube and watch some funny videos. Here’s my Laughter Lunch playlist!
- Pull up the person’s LinkedIn profile picture while you speak with them. Sometimes we have trouble connecting over the phone. If you simulate the feelings of being in person, you are more likely to smile more and use more hand gestures. This warms up your voice.
- Never, ever answer the phone in a bad mood. Remember, your emotions are contagious.
Stand Ready to Speak
It’s not just your breathing and vocal cords that make your voice sound better. Public speaking coach Kate DeVore says that when public speaking, it is essential that you stand or sit with your back straight.
This makes your voice stronger and more clear by not only allowing you to breathe deeper, but also making you look more confident.
The reason this works is it creates more space in your chest, vocal cords, and mouth. The more space you create in your body, the easier it is for you to get breath, volume and power behind your voice.
Here’s the best way to create perfect standing posture for a confident voice:
- Lift the top of your head towards the ceiling.
- Tuck your chin inwards.
- Push your shoulder blades back and down.
- Relax your stomach.
- Keep your knees straight and your legs tall.
Action Step: If you can, stand while you talk on the phone. If you have to sit during a meeting, use the arm rests to give your body as much broadness as possible.
Avoid the Pitch, Have a Friendly Conversation
Have you ever heard that age-old advice to imagine people in the audience as if they were naked? That’s probably one of the worst pieces of public speaking advice out there.
Instead, public speaking expert Gary Genard says that to establish a connection with your audience, you need to speak as if you were having a conversation with specific members.
More specifically, speak as if you are having a conversation with a friend. This method works because the more friendly and relaxed you sound, the more your audience will warm up to you.
And you’ll sound more genuine than if you approach your presentations with the mentality of pitching something to your audience, like a salesperson… or trying to win them over.
Remember, you don’t have to pitch to your friends. So don’t pitch to your audience, either.
You can even practice in front of a friend to reinforce this strategy. While this approach may not be appropriate in certain professional settings, it is a great way to connect with most audiences.
Bonus: Same goes for speaking on the phone! We’ve put together 10 successful phone strategies to help you be a phone ninja, a cold-calling genius and a mobile power player.
Along with having a friendly conversation, you can always have a good laugh. Which leads me to the next tip…
There is nothing better than sharing a good belly laugh with a friend. You know…
The kind of laugh where it hurts, with happy tears streaming down your face, as you try your hardest to catch your breath, but you just start laughing all over again. That kind of laugh.
But have you ever noticed how your “belly laugh” changes depending on who you’re with?
A new study from PNAS investigated laughter between friends and strangers. Here was their question: can third-party listeners (966 participants from 24 different countries) determine whether the laughter clips they listened to were between friends or strangers?
The result: with an amazing 61% accuracy, they could!
That’s because laughter with friends is different compared to laughter between strangers:
- Friend laughter tends to have a shorter length of time between bursts.
- It is also more irregular in pitch and volume.
In this hilarious (and dare we say, laughable) TED Talk, neuroscientist Sophie Scott breaks down why we actually laugh:
As humans, we have 2 different kinds of laughter: real and polite.
Real laughter is the type of laughter we share with friends. It’s characterized as being:
- Higher in pitch
This is the kind of laughter that makes your ribs contract and the occasional whistling noise come out.
But that’s not to say that polite laughter is “fake” by any means—it’s not. Polite laughter is:
- Polite (obviously)
- Used for social etiquette
Polite laughter is used around strangers, and is an important and necessary social cue. For example, polite laughter is used in these situations:
- You hear your coworkers laughing together, and you chime in to feel included.
- Someone tells a bad joke at a comedy club, and the audience politely and respectfully laughs back at the comedian.
The majority of people are skilled at telling the difference between the two. So if you really want to sound confident and connect with your audience, it’s best to use real laughter.
Do you have a hard time genuinely laughing? If so, we got you covered. Learn to be funny, and the laughter will come as a natural result.
Just for fun…here are the 12 Different Kinds of Awkward Laughs:
Action Step: Try to incorporate a little humor the next time you are presenting. And don’t forget to encourage shared laughter!
Offer, Don’t Take
I spoke earlier about Roger Love, and how he was able to attract the attention of so many famous stars. Here is the amazing video interview I did with this successful voice coach:
So what led to his success?
Here’s what he said:
“People who come in to work with… see that I am authentic and then they realize that I’ve spent my lifetime creating techniques to fix the problems…I have great techniques that I deliver openly and honestly with very happy and grateful positive energy. And you know, so far it’s worked out absolutely perfectly.”
Do you embody the offer mentality?
Roger is talking about the Offer Mentality—Do you offer value, or take it?
In other words, how does your voice sound when you talk to people? Is it “Gimme, gimme, gimme?” Or is it “I’ve got a lot to offer?”
If you don’t have it already, start implementing it:
- Think of yourself as a teacher.
- You’re not going into meetings with people wanting something from them. You’re going in with an offer.
- All you want to do is authentically and openly help them.
If you’re meeting with a boss or a VIP, the absolute wrong thing to do it is to think that they have the knowledge that you want. Or even worse—just take, take, take. But you also don’t want to offer advice that you have no idea about. Offering is about striking a balance—know what you’re good at, but don’t offer gibberish just for the sake of offering.
To take on the Offer Mentality, change your perspective:
- Offer to help.
- Be open and listen to suggestions from others.
- Use your ideas and actions to solve someone’s problem.
When you’re meeting with a VIP / boss / teacher / client / celebrity / _, the best thing you can do is think about what you can do for that person.
Is there something you can teach or an expertise you can offer in an open, authentic way that’s going to draw people to you?
Action Step: Next time you’re talking to an important person, offer something of value. Automatically, you will know how to speak with confidence when you have something to give rather than take.
Who would you have vocally mirrored? Think about the people in your life just for a second. Is there anyone in your life that strongly influenced the way you speak? It could be a:
- Older sibling
- Best friend
- Mentor or coach
Picture this: let’s say a guy from Los Angeles hasn’t been in Texas in a long time, but finds himself walking down an old Texan street. As the guy is walking, a stranger says to him, “Howdy!” The guy then replies, “Howdy!” This is an example of vocal mirroring, as the Los Angeles guy replies in the same greeting to connect with the stranger.
Here’s what you should immediately do if you don’t like the sound of your voice. Record yourself on your phone talking about anything or reading from anything. Just get five or six or seven sentences recorded on your device.
Action Step: Record yourself answering the question, “What do you do?”
Once recorded, listen back. Specifically, listen back for:
- First, does your voice sound nasal? Does it sound like your voice is trapped in your nose?
- Next, when you speak, does it all kind of stay on one note or does it go up and down like a good song? Are there high notes and low notes or do you just stay on one note? If you stay on one note, that’s called monotone.
- Finally, does your voice sound airy? You do not have to be a songwriter or a vocal coach to listen and just get your immediate feelings in your own voice. Okay, so let’s say you listened to your answer to “What do you do?” And you noticed that you stay on one note the whole time.
Think about your voice like a piano. A piano has 88 keys, and most people are walking around speaking with two notes. How can you access more notes? You learn how to navigate stairs.
*Listen to Roger in action in the video above*
Bonus #1: Check Your Tone
If you’ve ever wanted to check how your vocal tone is during a meeting, worry no more! You can develop greater self-awareness by tracking when you sound positive, negative, frustrated, or happy in your meetings.
The app called Poised: Speaking Tones and Auto-Record allows you to do just that. You can think of it as an “autocorrect” for your voice, as each time it senses your vocal tone becoming angry, frustrated, or even if it catches you rambling, it’ll send you a real-time alert—this is super helpful during meetings when you could use an extra helping hand.
Bonus Tip #2: “Can I Change My Voice?”
One of the most common questions I get from my readers is: “I do not like the sound of my own voice. What do I do?”
Since I am not a voice coach, I did not know how to answer my audience! I had burning questions in my mind… Can my voice really be improved? And can I really change people to speak with more confidence?
So, of course I asked Roger.
Here’s what he said:
“First, they should know that they are not the voice that they are born with. Here’s what I mean with that. We get up as young adults or older adults, and we open up our mouths and sound comes out and we think that’s what Mother Nature gave us. So if it’s nasal, we’re like, “Oh thanks a lot, Mother Nature.”
And if it’s really soft and airy we’re like, “Oh well, Mother Nature said maybe I should be a therapist.” Or if it’s all squeaky and generates vocal fry, then we think Mother Nature just gave us that so we could be guest stars on the Kardashian show or something. So we think that’s our voice.
But here’s what actually happened. When we were babies, we just listened to the sounds that the people in our environment were using. So if mom spoke with a really nasal voice, and I had already decided really early on that I was totally into breast milk, then as soon as I could speak, I would just sound exactly like she sounded so that we would connect. We grow up sounding like the people we’re trying to connect with. And then we get older, and we think that’s our voice. But the truth is that wherever people are in their life–young, old, it doesn’t matter—they can decide how they want to sound.”
The fact is, if you want to change your voice, you have to put in the time and effort… and believe it’s possible.
I save the world… by changing people’s voices so that they move people emotionally and so they can have communications that get them the results that they want.— Roger Love
Your voice is more powerful than you think.
When you own your voice, you own your life.