Your Vocal Image

By Candice Coleman Ph.D.

An often overlooked aspect of communication is vocal quality. Just as the clothes you decide to wear gives others an impression of who you are — how you feel about yourself, the face you want to show the world — so does your voice. It’s an important part of your “appearance” — your “image.”

What does your voice sound like? Is it high, thin, shrill? Or maybe flat, dull and sloppy? Does your voice fade away at the ends of your sentences? Are people constantly asking you to repeat yourself because they have trouble understanding what you say?

Your voice directly affects the way people react to you.

  • It can mean the difference between getting a specific job/project … or not.

  • It may not be fair, but research indicates that people with identifiable accents are less likely to be given jobs that are considered high prestige or have high public contact.

  • Your voice can influence whether or not you’re taken seriously. If you sound like a little girl, you’ll often be treated that way.

  • It may also determine whether you’re considered intelligent. People equate sloppy speech with sloppy thinking.

When people find out that I’m a voice coach (among other things), they frequently confess that they don’t like their voices. They’ll ask me if it’s really possible to make significant changes in tone, accent, clarity, etc.

The answer is definitely “yes.” But, remember, you’ve been talking since you were a few years old, so you may be trying to change habits of a lifetime. Consistent practice is going to help you be successful in having a more confident, credible voice.

Here are some things that you can do today to improve your sound.

  • Reduce as much stress and tension as possible.

We carry a lot of tension in our shoulders and necks and of course, that’s the area where the voice is produced. You probably know a lot of exercises to reduce stress, but may not think of using them to improve your voice. Try it and notice how much better you feel and sound. 

  • Your mother was right! Posture is important, not just for how you look, but how you sound. If you slouch, you aren’t giving your body a chance to support your breathing and speech. However, don’t go overboard and try to maintain a military stance. Find the balance.

  • Make certain that you’re breathing efficiently and effectively. A voice that’s thin, screechy or graveling out at the bottom isn’t being supported by the breath.

When you inhale, it’s like you’re filling up a balloon, your rib cage and stomach area should expand. When you exhale or speak, the air goes out of the balloon and your rib cage and stomach get smaller (but keep your posture). Don’t just fill the upper part of your lungs with air. That’s like filling the gas tank only part way and expecting to go the full distance. (For more information, see the article “Breathing and Breath Control.”)

  • Develop crisp, clear articulation without over-articulating. If people can’t understand what you’re saying they won’t be able to appreciate your ideas.

Remember the tongue twisters we chanted as children? “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck …” and “She sells sea shells ….” They can help your articulation as a adult. Try them.

Keep repeating them as you gradually increase speed. Eventually you’ll get tongue-tied and have to stop, but that’s okay. Start again and try to go a bit faster the next time. Here’s one of my favorites: “red leather, yellow leather.” You really have to concentrate and get your tongue moving on that one.  A good book of tongue twisters will help you work with all the sounds.

  • Finally, use more vocal variety. You can change the quality, rate, volume, and pitch of your voice to add interest and keep your listeners engaged.

Your rate should be conversational and appropriate for the content. Some speakers try to add energy by speaking so quickly that they’re almost unintelligible. If the words can’t be understood, what’s the point?

If you know that you’re a “rusher,” practice speaking VERRRRRRYYY slowly. Then, when you begin to speed up during a conversation or presentation, you may get faster, but it probably won’t be at the same pace it was to begin with.

Make certain that your volume is appropriate to the content, environment or character. The volume you use to speak to two people in a small office will be different from what you use to speak to 20 people in a conference room or 200 people in an auditorium.

Pitch is the easiest way to add variety. It’s the highness or lowness of your voice. Some people use only 3-4 notes when they speak. This can make your voice and content sound flat and lifeless. Try for a range of at least 8 notes.

Try reading the newspaper using a LOT of pitch range. Really go “over the top.” It will sound silly, but keep working at it. As you get used to hearing yourself speaking with a greater range of notes, it will become easier to use them in everyday speech. Just as you won’t speak as slowly as you practiced in the previous exercise, you’ll tone down your range as well, while still keeping some of the increased variety.

This is just a taste of voice work, but you can already begin to put these ideas and exercises into practice to improve your vocal image. No one has a “perfect” voice and significant improvement can seem to take a very long time. But, remember, you’re breaking habits of a lifetime and it’s worth it.

For more information and guidance, check out The Expressive Voice System by Dr. Coleman.

If you read sacred texts, click here for more articles directly related to this aspect of reading aloud.

View All Communication Articles

©2019, Say It Well! Permission is given to reprint this article if the following is included: Reprinted by permission of Dr. Candice M. Coleman. She can be reached at 386-402-7047.

Troy McClenathan