What does your voice say or betray about you? Vocal image affects the perception that we make about others due to their voice quality, tone and inflection. According to research your voice is responsible for conveying 38% of the meaning of a message, body language for 55% and only 7% of meaning is conveyed through the words we use. Yet, most speakers focus all their attention on the aspect of communication that has the smallest impact.
Society dictates cultural norms for defining weakness vs. power based on vocal quality. For example, a lower pitched, more resonant voice is typically regarded as having more authority as opposed to a high pitched, or squeaky voice. You know how unpleasant it is to listen to nasal and whiney voices. Who doesn’t feel nervous when confronted with a shrill trill? And we’ve experienced the life being sucked out of a room due to a dull, flat, low energy voice.
What does your voice say about you? It may say much more about your state of mind and confidence than anything else. In order to harness our true powerful presence – we must consciously choose what our voice says about us.
In Part 1 of this series, we discussed “powering” your instrument. In Part 3 of this series we will take a more in-depth look at specific practices and techniques for using our voice as a tool for influence and persuasion. Today we discuss voice quality and options to improve your natural vocal image as a step towards being a powerful communicator.
We each have a unique voice, a “voiceprint” which is based upon our anatomical structure and the adaptations we make to it. It is similar to the concept of a “fingerprint”, represented by a spectrographic analysis of our individual sound characteristics. However, due to habits practiced over a long periods of time, the voice we regularly use may not in fact be the voice nature intended us to have.
In fact, unlike fingerprints, you can change your voice quality, resonance and range, actually rather quickly. Sustaining a compelling, optimum voice takes intention, focus and lots of practice. The results are well worth the investment.
A vocal coach, and/or several great books, can prescribe specific exercises to sustain functional use of your optimum voice. Here are some ways to get started on your own:
Record your voice to get a baseline and to hear yourself as others do. Listen for qualities such as clarity, tone, nasality, breathiness, and high/low/ just right pitch. Make a note of specific qualities that are pleasing to you, and of those you might like to change. One reason that hearing our voice on voicemail or video is so disconcerting, is that when we speak, we hear our voice filtered through the bones in our head. It does actually sound different than our same voice that others hear through airwave conduction.
- Mask it
Dr. Morton Cooper describes two quick and simple exercises for identifying your optimum vs. habitual pitch: The Mask and Instant Voice Press. The following is from his book, Change Your Voice, Change Your Life.
The Mask: say “umm-hmmm”, using rising inflection with lips closed, in a spontaneous, sincere fashion, as if to be agreeing with the statement: I want to have the best voice possible! Do this until you feel a slight tingling around the nose and lips (the mask area). This is your natural pitch. If you feel too much vibration in your lower throat and very little in the mask area your pitch is too low. Practice a few times and you will get there.
The Instant Voice Press: While standing, place your index finger just under your sternum (where your ribs come together). Press gently with a staccato movement and make sound with lips closed. That is the sound you were born to use. Now say “umm-hmmm” in that same voice. That should do it – but if not, try this: raise your arms above your head as high as you can reach, while still standing. Now say “right!”, say it again, only louder. Say “hello!”, then “umm-hmmm”. You have most likely found your natural, right voice.
Make sure you record your “optimum” voice as well.
In Part 1 we talked about low diaphragmatic breathing. Not only does this supply the power for sound production but also allows us to relax our neck, shoulders and jaw so that our “resonance chamber” is open and free to vibrate naturally.
What do you want your voice to say about you? Does it?
Stay tuned for Part 3 where we discuss practices for making your voice one of your most powerful secret weapons.