The human voice is a complex instrument that we often take for granted. If you’ve ever taken voice lessons, you’ve experienced the rigor of working with your vocal toolbox. But average folk seldom consider the sound of their voice until they hear themselves recorded on video or audio. Are you someone who squirms when you hear your voice? In a recent LinkedIn poll I posted, 60 percent of respondents said they dislike how they sound all the time or sometimes.
You may be your worst critic. When you hear your voice in a recording, it doesn’t match what you think you sound like. It’s really a new voice, transmitted through technology versus conducted directly from your mouth to your ears. We generally perceive our voice as deeper and richer or a certain timbre or pitch. The recorded voice, by comparison, can sound thinner and higher pitched, which you may find cringeworthy.
How do you fall in love with the sound of your voice? Record yourself, play it back, listen to how you’re enunciating, how fast you speak, your pitch, and intonation.
The average person speaks about 7,000 words a day. The intricacies of professional voice coaching aside, there are steps you can take on your own to develop a better speaking voice. Disclaimer: I am a public speaking coach, not a voice coach.
It starts with taking stock of your vocal toolbox. Here is how:
1. Record yourself on your phone, laptop, or voice recorder and play it back. Speak impromptu or read text that is familiar to you. Try to listen without judgment. Speak the words you would say in a range of situations: a sales call, addressing employees, and talking to your family face-to-face. Do you sound natural, convincing, and cordial?
2. Try recording yourself in different physical positions. When you’re standing with both feet firmly on the ground, you tend to speak more energetically. Your lungs are taking in more air. You feel more powerful and centered. But if you’re sitting, slumped over a keyboard, your natural voice may become strained. Your voice is produced by your larynx, which is in the throat. If your throat is compressed, the way you sound will be altered.
3. Watch your facial expressions and how they correlate to your voice. A smile will reflect in the tone and timbre of your voice. “Smile and dial” refers to the technique of literally smiling when a telemarketer makes a sales call. It changes the tone of your voice, making it more pleasant and less monotone. Consider how best to speak when you want to convince someone to act on your idea.
4. Take stock of your emotional state. There’s a saying attributed to American short story writer Ambrose Bierce:
“Speak when you are angry, and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”Ambrose Bierce
Notice how your voice varies whether you’re in the heat of an argument, ordering a latte at Starbucks, or reading a story to your child. Once you’re aware of the differences, you’ll be able to harness these vocal variations when and where they are appropriate.
5. Notice when and how often you breathe. Your voice is simply inbreath and breathing well is essential to speaking well. If you run out of air midsentence, you have not fully charged up your lungs. As you listen to your recorded voice, notice where there’s a drop in volume which could signal that your air tank is running on empty.
6. Listen for pace and pitch and the quality of the voice itself. Pace is you rate of speech. Normal speed is from 125 to 150 words per minute. Monitor if your pace varies or you tend to speak in monotones. Pitch is how low or high your speech is. Anatomically speaking, your voice starts when air is directed through your larynx and makes the vocal cords or folds vibrate. Men’s cords are 17-25 mm long, women’s are 12-17 mm, which explains why men’s voices are deeper and women’s higher pitched.
7. Watch your uptalk or upspeak. Does your voice go up in pitch at the end of a sentence? The characteristics include an accented syllable at the end and intonation as if it were more of a question than a declarative statement. This is more common in women than men and it’s chronic among young adults. If you hear uptalk in your recording, note where you did it and record the script again with down pitch or more declarative talk at those markers.
8. If you’re a non-native English speaker, listen carefully for places where you stumble. Where do you slide through a phrase that’s difficult to pronounce? What words are unintelligible? What sounds are the most challenging? How often do you breathe and pause? Think of ways to substitute the trouble words and phrases and slow down your rate of speech.
Developing voice consciousness is a first step in improving your vocal toolbox and putting it to work to communicate with impact.
Record yourself on different days in different settings and listen for the vocal qualities described above. Ask colleagues, friends, and family members to give you candid feedback on how you sound. This will give you an idea of what you may want to improve and up-level your voice to where you would like it to be. Do it often and you’ll discover the star performer in you.