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Words can sometimes be the least important part of your communication

Your voice is one of your most important tools, whether it be in informal conversations, giving a speech or giving a media interview. Some people say that words can often be the least important part of communication, and that what people remember is your presence, which is dictated by your image, your voice and your confidence. (I don’t believe that’s true, but I do believe a strong presence enhances your words considerably.)

As I have said throughout this book, effective communication is based on trust, and if we don’t trust the speaker we are not going to listen to or believe what they have to say. That means that you have to make good eye contact with your audience, you have to have a warm tone of voice, you have to have expressive hand gestures and a warm facial expression. You need to seem be relaxed and confident, and you need to be slow and deliberate in what you say. The combination of a strong voice and a confident image is very powerful.

Your degree of confidence is reflected in your body language and your voice, and if you sound stressed you will send messages that will lead to people distrusting you. Observers will think there is something wrong. They will see dissonance and they will not be convinced.

One of the most frequent mistakes I see from leaders when on stage, or doing radio or television interviews, is to forget to breathe. They speak too quickly, and in not breathing their voice begins to quaver. The signal is that they are overly nervous, even if they are not. It is the lack of oxygen affecting their voice, not their nerves.

Breathe properly. Pause frequently in order to recharge your voice. You’re going to need it for the important, passionate moments, and for the big finish.

My mistake in my infamous radio interview was that I was both stretching my throat and not breathing properly. Even today, when giving speeches, I find my voice starting to quaver and I realize that I have to slow down and breathe deeply before I can proceed.

Having mastered using your voice, you also have to master using your body to create the right impression. Even if you don’t feel confident, you have to practise walking and standing in the right way. Always ask someone to video you during a rehearsal if possible, in order to see how you look. If you can’t be videoed, then have someone you trust give you feedback about the way you look. Stand tall and smile often (smiling is really a secret weapon for it not only helps the audience to warm to you, but it also gives you more confidence – remember my story about the Russian weightlifters?) Being aware of how you are presenting yourself physically, and how you sound, is incredibly important.

Remember, your presence strongly influences how your message is received by an audience, and whether or not you create the right connection with that audience.

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