Voice Skills

by Judy Apps

In a nutshell

1. How you influence others with your voice

We form opinions about each other more on how we look and how we sound than on what we say. Your voice plays a large part in the extent of your influence when you communicate. There is no particular mystery about it, and you can develop the changes to your voice that will allow you to exert influence.

  • Your body needs to be relaxed – your voice should resonate from your whole body and there should be some variety in the delivery.
  • You need to be in rapport with your listeners.
  • Your voice must express feeling and emotion.


2. The basics of voice production

Breathing is the core skill for speaking well, and most of us could do with improving our breathing if we want to have a better speaking voice and, indeed, more energy and better health.

  • Avoid using only the muscles around your upper chest, shoulders and neck.
  • Practise breathing deeply, as if from the ground upwards.
  • Once you are breathing correctly, you can start to consider the elements that form the spokes of the vocal wheel, including emphasis, resonance, volume, pitch and rhythm.


3. Relaxation

To use your voice well, you need to know how to relax, particularly around the area of shoulders, neck and jaw.

  • Spend some time copying either someone you know or someone on television who seems relaxed, imitating the way they stand, their posture and so on.
  • Practise standing upright and evenly balanced, with head level and shoulders down, and then relaxing your body.
  • Practise relaxing your neck, shoulders and jaw as you sit at your computer.


4. Disciplines that will help to improve your voice

Your voice is influenced to a large extent by how you relax and move your whole body. Various disciplines can prove useful for helping you to reach the state of bodily relaxation which will release your voice. They include

  • The Feldenkrais method, which teaches you to relax and to abandon habitual body patterns, and develop awareness, flexibility and coordination
  • The Alexander technique, which helps users to discover a new balance in the body
  • Bioenergetics, which helps people to resolve their emotional problems and realise their potential
  • Singing, which is a great way to expand your breath, connect thought to sound, and increase your expressiveness.


5. Resonance

Your voice can resonate in many different parts of your body at the same time, and your impact will depend on how well you use the different areas of resonance.

  • The high, carrying voice of the head is an important component in your ability to project, when used together with other resonances. It also conveys enthusiasm, excitement and passion.
  • Releasing your throat feels like giving way to more expression of yourself and will certainly increase your range of expression.
  • The voice of the heart is the voice of passion, emotion and feeling. Once you have created rapport with another person or a group of people, this tone of voice, more than any other, will exert influence.
  • Gut resonance is the voice of fundamental truth, and has the ring of authority about it.


6. Articulation – consonants and vowels

To be clear, you need to articulate your words, and to articulate, you move your jaw, lips, tongue, teeth and other facial muscles.

  • Well-articulated consonants make an enormous difference to the clarity of a voice.
  • Some consonants are produced entirely by the use of tongue and teeth, without needing to engage the vocal chords to make the sounds.
  • Each unvoiced consonant has a voiced counterpart.
  • Some consonants – m, n, f and v, for example – can be held on, and these are wonderful for stressing certain words.
  • The vowels are the singing part of the voice. They give it feeling and emotion.
  • We can greatly increase the impact of what we are saying by lengthening long vowels in key words.
  • The secret of dramatically improving your pronunciation is to make beautifully clear vowels on the accented syllables.


7. Vocal variety

If you listen to the best speakers, their delivery is varied in pitch, tone, speed, volume and so on. In other words, the interesting speaker uses a range of

  • Tempo
  • Rhythm
  • Silence
  • Emphasis
  • Resonance
  • Tone
  • Pitch
  • Volume


8. Pitch

Pitching your voice at different levels will give what you say much more interest. This requires the ability to resonate the sound in different parts of your head and body. If your voice is free, this happens automatically as your intention changes.

  • A lower pitch carries more psychological weight.
  • However, your voice has natural resonance according to your body and head shape, and you will sound most authentic when you use your own natural range.


9. Tone

When you relax, especially around your shoulders, neck and jaw, the sound is able to resonate according to the intention of your words, and the tone will then reflect the meaning of what you are saying.

  • If your tone rises at the end of each sentence, you can sound indecisive.
  • If your tone is monotonous, you can sound inflexible and even domineering.
  • If your tone is high, you can sound childish.
  • If your voice is strident, people will want to listen to you as little as possible!
  • If your tone of voice is too low and indistinct, people will have to make a big effort to understand you, and may not always bother!


10. Emphasis

In a stressed language, such as English, the stressed words are the most important content ones. To speak with impact, you need to concentrate on pronouncing the stressed words clearly. The other words will broadly look after themselves.

  • Any change of stress affects the meaning.
  • The English language makes big use of the sound ‘er’.
  • It is quite OK in English for many of the unemphasised sounds to have an ‘er’ quality about them.
  • To bring a sentence alive, you need to make clear vowels on the emphasised words.


11. Tempo

To make an impact, you need to be able to vary the speed of your delivery. This depends on good breathing. good articulation and emphasis also help to slow you down, and increase intelligibility and interest for your listeners.

Many people breathe quickly from their thorax. This habit often goes with the ability to think and function quickly. Their breaths are relatively short and each sentence has to fit into that breath, with a resulting speeding up of the words.

Other people breathe abdominally, and thereby take in greater quantities of air. Their speech, therefore, can be more measured and leisurely.


12. Rhythm

Words are music. They have their own rhythm. We often remember great phrases because of their rhythmic impulse.

  • The rhetorical rule of three can be used to give the third and last item a memorable impact.
  • The iambic pentameter can be used to strong effect in powerful speeches.
  • Great speakers mix longer sentences with shorter pithy ones, and never allow the listener to get bored or lulled by a monotonous rhythmic pattern.


13. Volume

To speak loudly, just relax! Volume requires good breath and freedom around the shoulders, neck and jaw. But, more than anything, it requires strong intent.

  • It can be useful to think of the sound in terms of waves emanating from your body in all directions, from your back as much as from your mouth.
  • When you are in a large space, imagine that you are placing your voice in the farthest corners.
  • If you wish to make a point quietly, it is a good idea to think of every aspect of your voice being large – apart from the volume.
  • Good speakers lower their voice to draw the audience in, and raise it to make a point.


14. Speaking to groups

A lot of people are nervous about speaking to groups of people, at meetings, or when making presentations, and this can accentuate vocal bad habits. If you want other people to listen to you

  • Talk at a pace that is easy to follow, neither too fast nor too slow.
  • Make sure you use sufficient volume and articulate clearly.
  • Vary your delivery.
  • Project your voice when making presentations and think big.
  • At meetings, mis-match to be heard; use the lower resonance at first; speak at a firmer, slower pace, and be confident that you will be heard.

There is nothing inherently wrong with using a script or auto-cue, but a whole presentation or speech delivered in this way is likely to sound fairly stiff and formal, and certainly not spontaneous.

  • Notes can keep you on track while allowing you to sound spontaneous.
  • Keep them brief and clear.
  • Use a range of fonts, bullet points and colours to make them easy to read.
  • PowerPoint can be useful to keep you on track, but should not be used just as a memory aid.


15. How to sound charismatic

The voice sounds charismatic when there is a match between the tone of voice and the sentiment being expressed, where there is no awkwardness between the idea, emotion or thought, and how it is expressed through sound.

  • A speaker who is charismatic is congruent and internally aligned.
  • It is also about connection with the audience, so that they feel at one with the speaker.
  • You will have the greatest impact on others when your energy is vibrant, which does not mean that you are over-forceful or manic!


16. How to sound more authoritative

When you sound more authoritative, you will find that others listen far more readily to what you have to say. Authority comes from

  • A deeper voice – through pharyngeal and chest resonance plus relaxation
  • Stronger emphasis
  • Voice tone which lowers firmly at the end of a sentence – so avoid the rising inflection
  • Confident, articulate flow.


17. How to get people to trust you

If your voice sounds flat and devoid of feeling – perhaps because you are nervous – you will sound boring and even untrustworthy.


18. How to sound more mature

If you produce your voice mostly from your head and throat, you can sound a bit childish or immature. The answer is to begin to involve your body in the sound you make.

  • Relax
  • Breathe low down
  • Use the full range of resonance
  • Speak with energy.


19. Avoiding a tired voice

To avoid a tired voice

  • Produce the voice correctly
  • Start smoothly
  • Speak at a comfortable pitch
  • Take a break
  • Stay healthy!


20. How can I avoid sounding nasal

The nasal resonance is part of your overall repertoire, but it can become unpleasant and monotonous.

  • Become aware of your inner energy
  • Breathe well
  • Relax
  • Sigh with sound
  • Yawn


21. How can I avoid sounding childish?

First check to make sure whether you really do have a high-pitched, childish voice. If so

  • Resonate from the body
  • Breathe low in your body
  • Find your optimum pitch
  • Be at ease
  • Step into your full adult power.


22. How can I avoid sounding monotonous

If you want to avoid sounding monotonous, vary your speech in every way you can.

  • Speak clearly
  • Vary your pitch
  • Vary your tempo
  • Increase and decrease the volume
  • Vary the rhythm
  • Use emphasis to create variety
  • Be interested yourself!


23. Avoiding stuttering and stammering

Many of us stutter a bit when we feel uncertain or when we are not sure what we are going to say. If it is just an occasional problem for you

  • Support your voice with the breath
  • Clarify what you want to say
  • Slow down
  • Avoid the short hiatus between breath and speech
  • Maintain your inner energy.


24. How can I look after my voice?

As with any other part of your body, you need to look after your voice if it is to perform at its best:

  • Give it a break
  • Don’t abuse it
  • Rest your voice if you are unwell
  • Take a steam inhalation
  • Avoid clearing your throat too often
  • Drink water
  • Warm your voice up
  • Quit smoking and avoid noxious atmospheres.


25. Professional help

Voice coaching includes a broad spectrum of activities, from teaching singing to therapeutic spoken voice work, and practitioners come with a variety of qualifications and skills. If you want voice help from an expert, be aware that there are various disciplines that cover the voice, and know what you are getting!

  • If your coach is an actor, make sure you are learning how to be authentic.
  • If they have a singing background, make sure they understand the spoken voice.
  • A voice therapist is not usually there to help you to communicate with more impact.
  • Voice clinics offer a wide range of specialist help.


26. Vocal production for women

Much has been written about the ‘glass ceiling’ for women in business, where women are often criticised for voices that are too high and ‘whiny’ or ‘screechy’ or too low and ‘mannish’ or ‘unfeminine’. To avoid such criticisms

  • Speak in a low, natural voice
  • Don’t force your voice unnaturally
  • Relaxing will give you more resonance and carrying power
  • Speak more slowly and with emphasis
  • Practise intervening to be heard.