When I was a child I could always tell when my mother was trying to impress someone on the phone, by the voice she used. It was brighter, slightly posher, more clearly articulated. More than that, it sounded so gracious. Not at all like the Mum who yelled at us when we did something stupid, or comforted us when we scraped a knee or chivvied us along in the mornings so we wouldn’t be late for the school bus.
Throughout our lives we employ different voices for different situations. A mother talking to her baby might be the same woman as the CEO of a multinational corporation, but you can bet your bottom dollar that she doesn’t use the same voice in both contexts.
We adopt different voices to suit the occasion but also sometimes to mask feelings – such as the booming manager, who wants to come over as more confident than he is actually feeling or the ‘little girl’ voice sometimes inappropriately employed by a mature woman who hopes to avoid censure for possible mistakes made.
A natural, authentic voice?
How do we go about sounding authentic and natural? How is this possible when we are playing different roles in life – eg mother, partner, boss, client, customer, etc ?
Like your voice!
I think it starts with liking our voices and enjoying their amazing versatility, rather than worrying about our accent or pitch.
A sticking point: Why we may not like to hear our own voice, especially when recorded
I’m saddened when people say “I don’t like my voice”. I think a lot of these feelings come about when we hear ourselves through a recording.
When we hear ourselves on radio, on video and especially on a telephone recording, we can sometimes recoil with shock: do I really sound like that? Of course we all hear our voices differently to how other people hear them. We only hear our own voice produced through our larynx and throat and transmitted through the liquids and bones in our skull, not the voice which is projected out and heard by other ears or microphones. Coupled with that, when we hear a recorded version, our pitch and tone can be greatly altered by the quality of the sound equipment.
In the old days of radio and television, where there were only male presenters, the bias of the recording equipment was towards the upper part of the range, deliberately lessening the bassier notes.
Fine for men with low voices, but not so great for men with a higher range and for the majority of women. They would end up with higher, sometimes squeakier voices.
Does hearing your own voice sound weird on the phone?
This was a Ask Yahoo question (where you can post questions on pretty well any topic, which others answer) which brought about a number of mainly negative responses, such as:
- When I hear my voice on something I sound like I have a lisp and as if I’m 4 or 5. It’s terribly embarrassing! I hope I don’t sound like that in real life.
- Yes! Anytime I hear my voice over, I never believe it’s me at first. I often wonder what it sounds like to everyone else.
- In my head, I sound grown-up, but I know that my actual voice sounds very young and, on the phone, a lot of people think I’m a teenager.
In his blog Generally Thinking by Warren Davis, Warren cites a study by a Danish research team who recorded students reading a story and rating their own performances. They also answered questions on how socially anxious they were. Others then also rated their performance. Did the students own scores correlate with how anxious they felt ? Yes. Was this noticeable to the other listeners? No. The conclusion to this study was that our voices may sound weird to us but not to others.
Read the whole of Warren’s post: Do you hate the sound of your voice?
So when we can get over our anxiety that others think we have a weird/strangely accented/ too high voice, we can begin to stretch and play with it. We have three octaves of notes to choose from and we can vary our pace, rhythm and intensity. Just as with your body, your voice, when exercised, becomes full of energy and bounce. Allow the feeling into your voice and experiment with pitch and flow. If you ignore what it can do, you may find yourself stuck with an overly professional/little girl/monotonous voice simply thought habit. If you engage with it, you may find that you really enjoy using it and others will enjoy listening to you too.
Videos to help you explore your voice more:
Warming up your speaking voice
Summary of tips
- Hum to warm up your voice
- Or use a phrase with the ‘m’ sound
mmmh mmmh [To Tune: How much is that doggie in the window?]
What am I doing? I’m warming up my voice. Very simply, humming is a marvelous way to warm everything up if you’ve got to make a speech, or you want to make an impact in a meeting
Now, humming just gets the vocal folds (vocal cords) working and there are other ways you can do that too if you don’t want to hum – but believe me, humming’s great, you can do it in the shower, whereever you like!
This is another thing you can do –
“Many moaning men making music to the moon” – you’re still using that nice ‘m’ sound like with a hum.
And you can vary it:
“Many moaning men making music to the moon” [Repeat]
Now another little warm up you can do for the front part of the mouth is using the lips, the teeth and the tip of the tongue.
“The lips, the teeth and the tip of the tongue.”
Keep going and you’ll warm your voice up nicely!
Varying your voice
Summary of tips
- Create variety by varying the pitch (high/low) of your voice
- Consider altering the speed at which you speak, and the intensity
What’s really important in order to engage your audience, is to make sure you have lots of variety in your voice.
You can take your voice up, you can take your voice down, you can get faster, you can get slower. You can get more intense, and you can get lighter.
There are all sorts of things you can do. What’s useful is to think of your voice like a musical score – now we have 24 notes in the Western speaking voice. And that’s a lot of notes to use. One way to remind your subconscious to use all those notes is to do this exercise before you get in front of your audience.
Very simple: it’s like climbing a musical ladder, but you use a speaking voice not a singing voice. It goes like this:
“I can make my voice go higher and higher. I can make my voice go lower and lower”
Do that through once or twice and your brain will remember to use those notes and that will be more interesting for your listeners as they hear your voice vary.