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Leadership Lesson: Train a Powerful Voice

This lesson is adapted from presentations and resources of the AAMC Mid-Career Women Faculty Development Conference, Washington DC,  July 12, 2004.  Dr. Susan Miller’s workshop presentation addressed issues of physiology, physics, and preventive care to maintaining powerful voice as professionals and leaders. The lessons of “Speak Like a Leader” focused on qualities of vocal tone and projection, body language, listening and response, whether well prepared for the podium or locked in a tense board room.

Public speaking training is not eliminating the butterflies; it is getting them to fly in formation. —Toastmaster’s International

One of the most powerful leadership tools you can have is effective communication skills. The most powerful communications connect with personal experience and deliver new information to change thinking and behavior.  The most powerful communications engage voice, body language and content. Which is the most important component in getting your message across?—Not content! Studies in media messaging show that body language contributes to over 50% of the message, voice tone to a little under 40%, and content of the message is attributed to less than 10% of what listeners remember about a presentation. Does that mean we should disregard the content?—Absolutely not! Our academic credibility relies on expert content. But if we want to get our messages across as leaders, we had better pay attention to the total package.

You may wish to consider your own communications skills with her Communication Audit . If you score greater than 115 points, you must be quite an accomplished speaker; congratulations—just keep polishing our skills! If you scored more than 100, you are doing quite well; but keep practicing and consider the tools referenced here to strengthen the effectiveness of one of your most powerful leadership tools—your Voice.

No matter what you score, it is likely that as a faculty member you spend a fair amount of time using your voice—teaching, participating in meetings, in telephone conversations and hallway conversations. Sometimes the trick is just to keep your  “vocal instrument” tuned and working!  A few useful tips to prevent hoarseness adapted from Dr. Miller:

  • If you are in a vocally demanding situation such as a meeting with multiple presentations and meetings, schedule 10 minutes of vocal rest per hour. (This may mean avoiding some of the reception breaks!)
  • Focus your voice and use breath support to project at loud receptions or crowded hallways. Avoid yelling and loud talking as much as possible.
  • Avoid aspirin products (coupled with excessive voice use they can predispose to vocal cord hemorrhage), alcohol, and caffeine (they lead to vocal fold dehydration).  If you drink these beverages, then drink an extra glass of water for each caffeinated or alcoholic beverage.

For additional information on improving communication: External Link (Dr. Susan Miller's Web site)

Miller S. Common Causes of Hoarseness and Fatigue in Speakers  (PDF)

Carnegie D. The Leader in You. Simon and Schuster, NY 1993

Decker Communications. The Art of Communicating. San Francisco, CA. 1998.

Horn S. Tongue Fu! How to Deflect, Disarm, and Defuse any Verbal Conflict. St. Martin’s Griffin NY 1996.

Mindell P.  How to Say It for Women, Communicating with Confidence and Power using the Language of Success, Prentice Hall Press, New York NY 2001

Kinni T.  Is One-dimensional Communication Limiting your Leadership?  Harvard Management Communication Letter, Article Reprint  No. C0305A, 2003.

Kreeger, KY.  Networking 101: Some Basics for Colleague Contact. The Scientist, March 6, 2000, p.32-33.

Stone D, Patton B, Heen S. Difficulty Conversation. Penguin Books NY, 1999.

Tannen, D. The Power of Talk: Who Gets Heard and Why. Harvard Business Review, September-October: 138-148, 1995.

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