Vocal image and body language

By Derek Bbanga
Voice and body language play a huge part in projecting confidence.  Let’s start with the voice. The voice is our most powerful instrument of communication, and it is vital that we use it well as it accounts for 38 per cent of the impression you make on other people. How many of you have ever heard your own voice? If your voice lets you down when it comes to communication or portraying confidence or you simply want a better idea of what you sound like to other people, try recording your voice and listening to it.  Trust me, you’ll be mightily surprised as the sound we hear in our own heads is not necessarily the one other people hear.

I expect we have all formed a vocal image of someone at some time or another. It might be a client at the end of the telephone or a radio personality we love to listen to in the morning but whom when you finally meet very often the voice does not match up, which can sometimes be quite disappointing!  
Are you one of those people when you talk always have others asking, “what?” or ask you to repeat yourself? Nothing screams confidence (literally) like a strong, clear voice that isn’t afraid of being heard. Your voice doesn't necessarily have to resonate ala Jeff Koinange but you should talk in a volume that can move easily across a room, and in a clear tone that everyone can understand. It is not surprising how many people have a problem with low volume, mumbling, or being monotone and unfortunately it’s not an area people pay attention to or make an effort to fix. It doesn't  matter what you say if people can’t hear you! Weak voices can give the impression of fear or anxiety – death blows when it comes to portraying a confident image.
To develop good voice projection, remember this principle: your strength doesn't  depend on your mouth or throat, but on your lungs.  Consistent practice is the only way to develop the habit of better vocal projection. This isn’t something you can just “turn on” you have to warm it up. Some people actually have good volume, and talk in a clear voice, but speak without emotion. The key here is the pitch or fluctuation of your voice.  Whether you are presenting a technical paper on PowerPoint or regaling a tale to your colleagues, if a voice has no expression no one will listen to it, no matter how important the message; so it is vital that we learn to use the vocal range that we all posses to its full advantage.  Make it a habit to practice speaking more clearly with friends or colleagues. By doing this, you’ll build a voice that displays a confident attitude - one that shows that everything you say is worth being heard.
Body language is also crucial in making helping to create that positive first impression. This includes the way we enter a room and the way we stand and sit. The way you walk and hold yourself is fundamental to displaying clothes to their best advantage and projecting a confident, positive image. Poor body language on the other hand displays unattractive traits like weakness, nervousness, insecurity, discomfort, and submissiveness.
When you walk into a room, stand tall with your head up and your eye line directed to the person you are going to talk to. This automatically makes you look and feel confident and at ease. It does not mean sticking your nose in the air because you’re better than everyone else but rather standing with your shoulders back and your head facing forward. If you have initiated the meeting, walk towards the other person and offer your hand. A firm handshake is vital; I certainly find it makes a strong impression on me. If someone in a powerful position offers me the limp lettuce or the dead fish, I always question how they got where they did, and wonder where their weak point is. Likewise crushing an unsuspecting persons paw in a vice-like grip is similarly undesirable. Also be careful not to invade someone’s personal space, although a brief squeeze of the hand or a touch on the arm can do much to reassure, comfort or cajole.
To create a positive impression you should aim to look alert – there’s nothing worse than having a blank face especially in a business setting. Try to sit straight (without looking as though you have a poker shoved down your back). Hands ideally should be clasped on your lap unless you are taking notes and not draped over the chair. And keep your head up, eye line to the person in front of you. Obviously, the more familiar you are with the people and the circumstances the more your posture will relax but try to remain as professional as possible.
Ken Dodd says that the shortest distance between two people is a smile! It is amazing what effect a really bright smile can have. It can light up any face, and more importantly, break down the invisible barriers that exist between us all. Our expressions can have a material effect on the way we think and the way we feel. A smiling face is an appealing face, giving an agreeable first impression.
In addition to the smile, eye contact is critical. It’s true what you’ve heard the eyes really are the window to the soul - you can't read another person’s character unless you can see into their eyes. When we are speaking to someone we automatically look into first one eye, then the other, down to the mouth and back to the eyes again, so you can alter your eye line if you are becoming uncomfortable. Aim for a direct gaze but not an unblinking stare as that can come across as creepy. Watch out for shifts in eye contact, it could mean that you are starting to talk too much.
Talking to people with arms folded should be avoided as this gives the impression that you’re closed off, bored, and uncomfortable. Foot tapping, ankle wobbling, shifty eye contact also come across as nervous and uncomfortable. Avoid unnecessarily touching your face, lips, or neck area and it goes without saying that rooting around your ear or nose cavity is extremely poor form.
Did you know where you sit, especially in a business meeting or interview can make quite an impression. For a friendly meeting or chat, the best position is to sit diagonally across a table if you can. If you want to encourage trust, sit next to someone as it is less confrontational. If you want to negotiate a deal, it is best not to sit opposite them as this can encourage competitive feelings, again - a diagonal position is best. Some of us are better at evaluating others than some people, and although we should take notice of initial reactions they must not prejudice us against exploring further. As much as first impressions are important, personal chemistry matters enormously in your dealings with people - on a professional and a social level.
Derek Bbanga runs Public Image helping people and companies enhance their soft skills, professional image and communication skills.
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Follow his blog at publicimageafrica.blogspot.com and twitter at derekbbanga