Culture

How-to: Where’s Your Voice?


Image: Gene Kelly, copyright MGM StudiosArticle originally appeared on the Speaking Well in Public Facebook page, March 2015

Your natural voice quality plus the way you use your voice can affect your audience’s response to your message – and to you.

Imagine a cross section through the world, from the clouds right down to the sea bed.

Where does your public speaking voice normally settle?

High in the clouds? There’s not much air up there; sound has little power and less impact. This sound can have a childlike quality and your listeners may not take you seriously.

If your voice tends to sound high and squeaky, it may be be due to nerves. Taking quick shallow breaths high in your chest means you can’t build the power you need to support your voice. Breathe more slowly from your diaphragm. You’ll sound more authoritative and as a bonus you’ll feel calmer, too.

Up in the sky? Your voice is all about swooping freedom, soaring about in warmth and light. It’s a wonderful quality, inspiring and energising your listeners.

But it can start to sound as if you’re in permanent cheerleader mode, undermining your more serious messages. For more gravitas, allow your tone to lower and your pace to slow.

Down in the ocean? Your voice can dive to more mysterious depths. This can have an electric effect on an audience, holding them enthralled.

Take care you don’t gradually lose energy as you speak, which can then become monotonous. Lift your tone up where appropriate to your sunnier, more rapidly moving levels, to lighten and vary the mood.

Stuck on the sea bed? Do habit or nerves drive your voice right down into the mud, where it sinks into a featureless gravelly drone, without feeling or variety?

And do you use ‘vocal fry,’ where that fashionably languid creaky tone creeps in at the end of a sentence? It’s hard to listen to and impossible to project. Your audience will quickly switch off.

Both can be a comfort habit, where you’re trying to project a sense of authority and confidence you may not feel, shying away from any show of emotion, humour or spontaneity.

Let your voice lift, allow feeling, variety and colour in and keep that energy up as you speak. You’ll sound more interesting, enthusiastic and lively and your audience will respond.

Be aware of where your voice naturally likes to be, make the most of those advantages, and develop your personal impact by increasing your vocal range. PH

About Philippa Hammond

Speaking Well In Public offers a portfolio of public speaking courses for business, performance and social occasions designed and developed by Philippa Hammond, combining her skills and techniques as an award-winning trainer, working actor and voice artist. Philippa is a member of Equity and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

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