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Does faking confidence work?

“Fake it till you become it,” says social psychologist and TED Talk superstar Amy Cuddy. 

The idea of affecting your inner state through your outer state is a hot area of research right now. In our everyday interactions, we communicate on multiple levels: with language, of course, but also with more unconscious and subtle messages expressed through our gestures, our facial expressions and our body language. 

Cuddy and other researchers have studied how the use of expansive gestures not only projects confidence but also creates feelings of confidence internally.  I am interested, as a voice and speech coach, in exploring the vocal equivalent.  Is there a voice version of a power pose?

The BBC video, How to Fake Confidence, explores the idea of “bigness” as it relates to power.  They propose that the more often you make an effort to own your space and to project a sense of confidence through physical gesture and expansiveness, you will actually start to feel more powerful and confident. 

Amy Cuddy explores similar research in this TED Talk and in her book, Presence.

In my practice, I have found a direct correlation between physical presence and vocal presence.  When there is greater use of physical gesture, there is almost always an improvement in vocal energy that translates into greater range in pitch, pace and volume.  Variation in those three pillars of verbal communication results in more interesting and engaging communication. The voice follows the body!

A small or timid voice, just like a closed-off or hunched posture, projects weakness and insecurity.  A nervous voice sounds thin.  Sometimes it cracks.  Often it gets lost in the background.  A small voice does not carry authority or confidence.  With my clients, I have been experimenting with the practice of using a “BIG” sound.  This does not mean shouting.  It simply refers to supporting the voice with enough breath and energy to reach the intended target.  Projecting the voice results in better breathing, better posture, and better articulation.

Our parents were onto something when they encouraged us to sit up tall and pull our shoulders back.  But hours spent in front of the computer exacerbate our postural problems.  We start to collapse through the chest.  Our shoulders slump forward.  Our neck protrudes out in front of the body forcing it into an awkward curve.  Think about what that posture does to the voice!  It makes it harder to take a good, diaphragmatic breath.  It makes us smaller.  It throws the vocal mechanism out of alignment so that not only do we look small and weak, we sound small and weak.

By becoming more aware of the signals you are sending – physically and vocally – you can begin to develop control over how you are perceived.  If you feel confident on the inside, but can’t seem to break through in meetings, consider how you are using your body and your voice in those situations.  Do you use gesture and facial expression when you communicate?  Do others have to strain to hear you?  Do you cross your arms or pull your arms into your sides?  Such a posture projects an image of trying to take up less space, trying to disappear.  Try doing the opposite.  Use expansive gestures.  Sit up tall and throw back your shoulders.  Own your space and your voice will follow!

Here’s a challenge for you.  Over the course of the next week, take short breaks throughout the day to open up the chest, stretch your neck, and take up space.  Use those breaks to focus on breathing.  Whenever you can, hum (hold out an “m” sound) and focus on getting a vibration on your lips.  Pay attention to what you are doing physically and how that physicality impacts your vocal quality during conversations with coworkers, presentations, or when you are hanging out with friends.

It will feel unusual and maybe even uncomfortable at first.  Speaking with more vocal energy and opening up physically may make you feel vulnerable.  But stick with it.  Give it a chance, and pay attention to how others interact with you.

We’d love to hear about your experience, so feel free to post here!  Or message me to keep the conversation going.

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