Hack Your Voice

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    A Guide to…


    By CeCe Sammy Lightfoot

    How to Have an Executive Presence

    I was recently invited to the illustrious University of Cambridge’s Judge Business School to lead a vocal workshop at a residential weekend for CEOs, COOs, and Senior Managers from a variety of industry sectors. It was a hybrid-teaching session with people attending in-person and online from the accountancy, banking, finance, engineering, medical and law fields. The one thing they all had in common was that they were all leaders.

    My aim was to cover the physiology of the voice, as well as, to teach vocal concepts and exercises. As I explained to everyone on the day, these practical exercises can be used as a building block to create a strong “executive presence” in our work lives. Taking specific, tangible steps to improve and control our voice can have a powerful impact. I settled on the title ‘Executive Presence’ because it grabs attention and reinforces the notion that executives require a strong presence.

    Let’s start at the very beginning:


    What is the Word ‘Executive’?

    The word ‘Executive’ in the Cambridge Dictionary is defined as “someone in a high position, especially in business, who makes decisions and puts them into action.

    I used a picture of Barack Obama as an example. Why? Because regardless of your politics, he is undoubtedly a captivating speaker. So, what is his secret? Well, he actually has many, but there are 2 things that I think he does really well that we can learn from. Silence and Volume!


    Silence can be powerful and create emphasis. Often we are tempted to ramble on and fill the silence, when in fact, making your argument and then pausing to allow what you’ve just said to be fully understood is generally far more powerful

    Increased Volume can be dynamic and capture attention as most people speak 10% softer than they need to when speaking to a room full of people. Whilst this can be nice and intimate on dates and in relationships, it can be problematic in work situations as some key points may be unheard. Therefore, we should always speak 5% louder to be clear, impactful and engaging.

    Interested to learn more?

    Top Tips

    • Use the power of silence
    • Punctuate words with confident body language
    • Emphasise consonants
    • Speak using the hard palate
    • Control breathing while in intense meetings

    Read aloud this sentence:

    “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show” (Charles Dickens, David Copperfield)

    As you do this, be deliberate about where you choose to stop and pause. Remember silence is a sound. Silence is incredibly impactful when used correctly and it can help you when you start to speed up. Lastly, deliberate silence in the right place can help settle your nerves.


    Now, using the above advice, read aloud this sentence:

    “All happy families are alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” (Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina)

    As you read the sentence, say it at a ‘normal’ volume, then increase it by 5% whilst pushing on the consonants. Record your voice and listen back to it.

    Further info:

    If you have never heard of the hard palate and soft palate, please see some of my tips in Lesson 4 for Virtual Meetings. 

    Take your tongue. Put it on the roof of your mouth. Can you feel that it’s all hard and bony? That is the hard palate. Sound bounces off the hard section before exiting your mouth.

    Now take your tongue and put at the roof of your mouth again and slide it back. Three-quarters of the way it will not be hard and bony anymore; instead, it will be soft. Can you feel that? Well, that is the soft palate.

    Without proper technique, you will struggle to understand when to aim the sound on the hard palate or soft palate – this is when we lose control of our sound.


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