When you think of introverts, vocal power may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Yet, you have the potential to express yourself with your voice fully and authentically—regardless of whether your greatest source of energy is cocooning or mingling, and whether your voice is typically soft or loud.
In this two-part interview (read part 2 here), I invited Barbara Rubin, a theater director as well as a dialect and vocal coach for stage and film, to tell how to get the most from your speaking voice. Rubin and I have collaborated over the years in different arenas, each of us wearing different hats. Yet, her crown is her mastery of the mechanics and theatricality of voice.
I’ve seen her motivate actors and business heads alike to use voices they didn’t know they had, inspired by places beyond which they’ve ever traveled. Rubin teaches at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. Here she reveals a few of the gems from her journeys.
In the first part of our interview, we explore how introverts can command a room by revealing themselves—making their words just the end result of that expression.
NA: What does it take to find your authentic speaking voice? Is it more about the mechanics of using your voice, or something deeper?
BR: I think it’s a combination of the two. Like the mind-body connection, what we learn or believe about our right to be heard can often be reflected in the use of the voice. So, for example, someone lacking confidence may slightly collapse in the upper chest, depressing the sternum, which seems self-protective, but disallows the breath to be free. The breath powers the voice, so with a deficient power source, the mechanics will be affected.
NA: Being “on” can be exhausting for introverts. How do you reconcile that with the need to “perform” during their presentations, job interviews, and other business meetings?
BR: Preparation is essential; one could think of it as getting into the zone. It’s helpful to remember that only a manageable period of time requires intense focus and heightened output, and it is finite. For many it helps to take the focus off themselves, and connect to the “want”—what they’re seeking and the necessity or even urgency of their communication, which may be about a desired result or about changing people’s minds. I also talk in terms of revealing yourself, which is often easier to hear than “performing.” I think performing can feel affected to so many introverts. The goal is a heightened version of you.
NA: What do you mean by “a heightened version of you”?
BR: Heightened because it’s not casual. The stakes are usually high for presentations, so your adrenaline will kick in, but it shouldn’t feel inauthentic.
NA: Why is it unnecessary, and even self-defeating, for an introvert to act like an extrovert—for example, speaking more loudly and quickly?
BR: Your voice should reflect who you are. Loudly and quickly are not necessarily the goals, especially if that makes you feel like you’re pushing or being disingenuous. If you think of those voices you admire, they have strength and power, but are not necessarily loud. Tempo is important. Often when people speak too quickly it creates a sense of panic in the listener, or could also reflect a lack of commitment to the content. I like to talk about fullness of sound, vocal energy, and landing your intentions.
NA: What is the difference between speaking up and what you call landing your intentions?
BR: Landing your intentions makes the audience or listener the primary focus. You are aiming to communicate or share ideas with them. Landing is a way of saying: ensure that you reached them and they receive it before you move on. Speaking up refers to volume; but to me, landing intention is so much more. It’s about the focus and quality of the communication.
NA: How can you find your vocal power, even if you’re soft spoken?
BR: You can work on connecting with the importance of being heard and understood by all. When we need to be understood, we are often very clear and direct and we use our voices more fully. Also, you may try to become your own voice shrink and investigate why you’re soft spoken. Is it cultural? Were you made to feel in some way that your self-expression should be curtailed? Do you feel you have the right to be heard? Regardless of your findings, you will need to breathe deeply and use supported sound. Singing is often a great warm up. When you sing, you support your voice because singing places a greater demand on your instrument than speaking, and that will remind you of the power you’re aiming for without strain. I also often suggest soft-spoken clients do some resistance work to feel the muscular engagement of the lower abdominals. A simple push against a wall, with one hand, while counting or chanting will give you a sense of what’s possible with support in place.
NA: Thank you for sharing about vocal power and much more.
To read more from Rubin regarding the physicality of voice and conquering nerves from the inside out, click here.