Voice 101

Cat yawing and singing

Even cats use a variety of pitches to communicate their needs.

How can we use our voice to influence?

The exhilarating ripple of her voice was a wild tonic in the rain.”– F. Scott Fitzgerald; The Great Gatsby

 “Her voice was like a bagpipe suffering from tonsillitis.”
—Anonymous

Our voices are capable of a broad range of expression. The voice is designed to reflect our inner-state to the outer-world and has the capacity to invite or repel an audience.

One of our main challenges when we are presenting is to keep our audience interested. Think of your voice as a musical instrument, and your presentation as a piece of music, and you will be well on your way to engaging your audience.

  • Think melody: if a piece of music consisted of one note, it would get boring very quickly. Experiment with varying the melody in your vocal range.
  • Music is sound and silence; leave room for the pauses. A drone, like a bagpipe, consists of the one sound uninterrupted.
  • Vary the rhythm; think Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, or the Rolling Stone’s Jumping Jack Flash. It’s the rhythmic stops and variations that get our attention

One easy way to get a clearer picture of how you are using your voice is to record yourself. Try recording yourself giving a presentation. It is going to sound weird- not because you sound weird, but because we experience our sound differently than everybody else. When we hear our own sound, it’s like we are in the middle of a speaker. As you can imagine, we get a clearer ‘sound-picture’ in front of a speaker. If you are behind (or inside) a speaker it will sound muffled.

Use the points below to guide your listening.

  • Are you varying the melody or speaking in a monotone?
  • Are you leaving space for words to have their impact by pausing?
  • Are there places you might speed up, or slow down to underline what you are saying?

What can you do this week to raise your awareness of how you are using your voice? Are you matching the same melody and rhythm in your presentations as your conversations?

Accent on Accent

Can you change your accent?

Can you learn a language? If you can learn a language, you can refine those language skills even further.

Remember the beginning stages of learning a new language, and how hard it was to make unusual sounds? Refining pronunciation follows the same process you’ve already been through to master the sounds you have now.

Why do we have an accent when we speak another language?

Each language has a set of linguistic habits. When we learn another language, this information passes through the filter of language habits we are accustomed to using. One example in Spanish is the single ‘r’ and the rolled ‘rr’ sound. Many English speakers have trouble rolling the r sound, as it is not part of the language. But in Spanish, the difference between having that sound, is the difference between pero- (but) and perro- (dog).

Although there is room for misunderstanding, the important thing to remember is to focus on an adequate level of communication.

When we get to business communication and positions of leadership, it can help to get a linguistic ‘tune up.’ Especially if the work requires presentations to groups.

How do we work on clarifying accent?

  • Working on a few key words or phrases. Each language group has similar difficulties around pronouncing certain words and sounds in English.
  • Understanding how the words are being formed in your mouth. You can investigate this for yourself on youtube, or work with a coach on how you are forming your sounds.
  • Get feedback and practise. If you have the right information, and you practise, it is inevitable that you will improve.

The good news on accents

In our international age, a lot of people speak more than one language. So long as we can communicate clearly, we can easily engage an audience.

There’s some interesting information in the book, Compelling People that some accents are perceived as warmer or stronger than others. The examples used are the perceived strength of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ‘I’m back.’  If you imagine his Terminator character with a more melodic or rounded vowel accent, say French, or Italian, it might sound quite different.

The main point to consider when we’re speaking a second language:

Are we being understood?

In all of our communication we want to make it easy for our audience.

Easy to listen, easy to be engaged, easy to respond.

If you’re getting feedback that some of your words are difficult to understand, with a little feedback, it’s easy to improve.

Are we present?

“I’m too old to be rigid”- Patsy Rodenburg

At any time in our lives, we can become more flexible in our approach to presentation through our voice and body.

Awareness of how we communicate is the first step in making conscious choices.

There is a great opportunity to learn how to be better communicators from people who have dedicated their life to exactly that craft.

Patsy Rodenburg is well known among actors, politicians and corporate executives for her coaching in voice and presence.

The ten minute video (link below) explains her ‘Three Circles of Energy’ in power presentation.

Here is a summary from her book:

First Circle Presentation

Inward-focused; body may be slumped or collapsed, voice thin- unclear delivery.

Second Circle

“Energized yet open body and delivery.

You will feel that you, the listener, matter, and through the speaker’s eye contact you will feel connected to the presentation.

The speaker will have energy and passion, but this energy appears effortless and efficient.

There is authenticity and humanity in their presence and even if there are a thousand people present, the speaker is speaking to you alone.”

Third Circle

The energy is about ‘bluff.’

“Third Circle presentation can be effective. It can control an audience and pump generalized energy into a room. However, it rarely inspires or makes the audience believe they matter.
… although this energy can be enthusiastic, aggressive or entertaining it doesn’t take the listener into consideration and is therefore controlling.”

From her book, Power Presentation (link below)

In this video, Patsy explains how to recognise when we are in the space of ‘give and take.’ I like that she says we always have a choice in life to come back to the present.

Watch her video here:
Second Circle Presence

If you want more from her, on this topic, check out her book, Power Presentation.