- You deserve to be heard. Own it.
If you're speaking softly, talking with your head down or starting sentences with "I'm sorry, but…", you're telling others that they don't need to listen to what you're saying. Practice this mantra every morning as you brush your teeth or take a shower: I deserve to be heard. Then notice how you talk to others. Do you look them in the eyes or do you keep your head down? If direct eye contact is intimidating, look at the "third eye" -- the spot between the eyes centered on the forehead. If you're often asked, "What did you say?" that's a clue to speak up. Many women frequently precede their statements with "I'm sorry, but" or "I hope you don't mind" or other deferential phrases. Instead of sounding humble, you're actually apologizing for expressing your opinion and that's what others hear. You have a right to your thoughts and opinions. Speak them without hesitation.
- Take care of yourself.
It's important to get a good night's sleep for many reasons, primary among them to help your voice. During deep sleep the larynx completely relaxes, giving you a deeper sounding voice all day. Even more important: watch your stress levels. Not only does stress lead to heart disease, diabetes and obesity, it also tightens your throat, neck and jaw muscles and makes it difficult to avoid squeaky voice syndrome.
- Breath is all there is.
We can't live without breathing. But so many of us do it wrong, taking quick and shallow gulps rather than the full-bellied inhales we need to completely oxygenate our blood and entire body. Practice inhaling on a count of 5 and exhaling on a count of 5. Your fullest sound will come through breathing from your diaphragm. Put your fist against your abdomen just below your lowest rib. Start talking and notice if your fist is vibrating or even moving along with your words. If not, you're speaking out of your "head voice" which can be overly high and even nasally. For a deeper sound, speak with your "chest voice" that is connected directly to breathing from your diaphragm. Practice making "puh" sounds with your fist against your abdomen so you can feel it pushing out. Tell a story to yourself in the mirror and notice when your diaphragm is moving and when it's not.
- Loose lips sink your chances of being heard.
As a kid, not moving your lips while talking to friends during class may have been a skill that kept you out of trouble. But as an adult it's detrimental. Speaking clearly is often less about your sound than the sounds you're making. Stand in front of a mirror and over-exaggerate each long vowel sound one at a time. If you look ridiculous, you're doing it right. This singer's trick works very well for speaking. So does saying tongue twisters quickly. Some favorites are "bad blood, good blood" and "red leather, yellow leather." Find your favorites on the internet and practice until you can say each three times very fast.
- Find your own inner grizzly.
Practice growling...really. It'll help you discover what the deepest part of your voice sounds like. Growl like a bear, roar like a lion or grunt like a gorilla. You may be surprised at how low you can go. Going low is another option to use besides the tighter, higher, squeakier sound most women get when they're upset.
- Smile when you speak.
Everyone knows that it takes fewer facial muscles to smile than frown. But did you know it also changes the tone of your voice? When you smile it can be heard in your voice, and communicating that warmth is especially important during a phone call when the person on the other end can't see your facial expressions or body language. There are serious moments when a smile isn't appropriate but a friendly attitude as reflected in your voice can go a long way in even the most important professional and personal discussions.
- Stop making everything a question?
Women are notorious for ending every sentence as a question rather than a declarative statement. You may think you sound more positive with your last word ending on an upward note, but others hear it one of two ways: you're not sure of what you're saying, and they don't have to take it seriously. Let them know that you know what you're talking about. Period.
- Tape record yourself.
Since so many women can't stand to listen to their own recorded voice on a cell phone, this may be the hardest suggestion of all. To record yourself, get an inexpensive digital handheld recorder or use the feature on your phone if it's excellent quality. What you hear in your head may be completely different from what you actually sound like. The only way to tell is to listen. Pick up a book and read a paragraph into the recorder. Notice what you like and don't like about your voice. Then record yourself practicing your breathing and speaking techniques to see what's working.
- Be your own video star.
It's essential to practice in the mirror but it's also hard to critique yourself live. Record yourself using the internal webcam on your laptop or get a cheap used webcam on Craigslist. Film yourself practicing your exercises and then speaking normally so that you can see how you're actually coming across to others.
- Get a voice buddy.
Maintaining a healthy diet and exercise schedule is easier when you're doing it with a friend. Connect with another woman who's working on her voice and practice together. If you each point out when the other person is falling back into old sounds and habits, you can make the changes right then. Together you can work towards being heard.