Listen up: The way your voice sounds matters much more to clients than you might think. Most planners never pay attention to the way they sound. You don't have to make this mistake, if you realize your voice can really help you get - and keep - the attention of highly desirable affluent clients and prospects.
With that in mind, I want to share some of the lessons I've learned by working with voice coach Roger Love. He's worked with everyone from corporate CEOs to Hollywood actors. Most recently, he's enabled our coaching clients to tap into the power of their voices to build their practices.
HITTING THE MONEY NOTES
Your first reaction to all this might - understandably - be skeptical. Why should you care about your voice if you're not a politician or a radio show host?
If you think more about it, though, you'll realize that, as a financial advisor, you engage in public speaking all the time - at a board meeting, a team meeting, a one-on-one with a client or even when you pick up the phone. You can turn your voice into gold if you get it right. The power and quality of your voice can play a huge role in attracting a stream of affluent investors to your doorstep.
When you speak, people are judging you without really knowing you. For a financial advisor, the stakes involved in early impressions are high. Often, the people listening will be people who are considering whether you should take charge of their present wealth and future financial security.
They need to have certain feelings about you for them to choose you. They need to like you. They need to hear and feel that you are happy, generous and knowledgeable, and that you are willing to share your knowledge and personality with them.
The faster you get control over those early perceptions, the more influence you will have with potential and existing clients and the easier it will be to persuade them to follow your advice. Therefore, it's best to eliminate subpar sounds and replace them with the right sounds that will create the best impression with listeners.
TUNING UP YOUR PIPES
To start maximizing the power of voice, you need to use all three components of the human voice. The chest voice is very thick and strong; it's the voice people use most. The head voice is a higher, lighter voice that adds elegance. And the middle voice combines the other two voices.
Unless you're using all three, your voice is not in good shape, and you won't be as effective as you could be. You need the power of the chest voice to tell people you are smart and confident. The head voice gives you style. And the middle voice gives you the brass and edge that will help you close the deal.
A major factor in how willing anyone is to believe you or be influenced by what you are saying has to do with your tonality, which is the sound of your voice, independent of what words you're saying. Tonality is comprised of these component parts:
* Volume. Most financial advisors do not speak loudly enough. The volume you use on the phone does not work in person. You need to fill up the room with your sound so people really hear you.
Here's how: Start by breathing in through your nose and filling your stomach with air - like blowing up a balloon. Then, as you speak, have your stomach fall back in. You should only be speaking while your stomach is coming in. The effect is like pressing down on a car's accelerator pedal. It will send an incredibly strong and even stream of air to the vocal cords, where they will turn that air into great volume.
Very few financial advisors I know focus on breathing and volume. Most of us just keep talking until we run out of air, and our voices peter out.
* Melody. This is as important in speaking as it is in singing. Many financial advisors speak in a monotone voice, like a piano with only one key. They want to appear to be dispassionate, so they keep their voice at a single tone. Instead, be sure to use the whole keyboard.
You have to force yourself to go up and down looking for different pitches (think of the "Happy Birthday" song, with ranges all over the place). The reason this is essential is it brings you and your story alive to listeners.
You may think that's ridiculous and worry that people will leave the room if you go up and down in pitch. They won't.
Melody is immediately engaging. It also adds much needed unpredictability. If prospects know what you are going to soundlike next because you're speaking in a monotone, then they also think they know what you are going to say next. They will get bored and stop listening.
Also remember that you don't want to go down in volume when you come to a comma or a period. That tells listeners you are done and they can stop being attentive. Instead, go up in volume and melody, the way you do when you're asking a question. When your voice goes up a bit, you are telling the listener that there is more to come, and it keeps them engaged.
* Pace. As a financial advisor, you know your information well, so you probably tend to rattle it off rapidly, even if you don't think you are doing so. But you must give your listeners the opportunity to comprehend everything you say in order to influence them. And you can't do that if you speak too fast.
Monitor your speed so that you have enough time to do the proper breathing I've described and add some melody. Pause frequently, so your listeners can comprehend you.
JERRY LEWIS VS. JAMES EARL JONES
As Love says, speaking is supposed to be like a tennis match: You serve, you volley and when the point is over, you stop. Then you walk back to the baseline and start again.
It takes time to communicate in a way that gets listeners to take the actions you want them to take. But it's time well spent.
As financial advisors, we are trying to persuade people to take the action we recommend. If they don't right away, we might speak faster or louder in an attempt to get them to act. But that's not what affluent clients want.
We found that affluent clients want to connect emotionally with their financial advisors first, and then use logic to make their decisions. Voice is a big part of that ability to connect emotionally.
I have watched Love turn financial advisors with very nasal voices (think Jerry Lewis) into ones with deep, commanding voices (think James Earl Jones). What was the secret? Adjusting how they breathe in and out when speaking.
Advisors who at first sound quiet and timid quickly produce surround-sound by simply relaxing their jaw or adjusting their Adam's apples. It's as if they go from being transistor radios to a Bose system.
Others who speak in the same tone and sound like they are reading from a dictionary become engaging by adjusting their tones - going high and low - at various points in their conversations. I watched a room full of advisors start to hang on to every word that was being said by someone after he improved his volume, melody and pace.
SING FOR YOUR SUPPER
Always remember that you are in control of your voice and the sounds you make when you speak. So break out the song book and start warbling (okay, not really), but do make a point of listening to yourself critically. Making just a few adjustments in your delivery can get you great results - faster than you can sing "Oklahoma."
John J. Bowen Jr., a Financial Planning columnist, is founder and CEO of CEG Worldwide of San Martin, Calif., a global training, research and consulting firm for advisors.