Does Your Voice Sound Strange? - Issue #245
How to create your vocal delivery style
Do you enjoy the sound of your voice?
You probably don’t. I know that I don’t like listening to myself on my podcast or in videos.
Research conducted by psychologists Phil Holzemann and Clyde Rousey (referenced in this article) found that you experience an affective disturbance when listening to a recording of your own voice. This feeling:
“…arises not only from a difference in expected frequency, but also a striking revelation that occurs upon the realisation of all that your voice conveys. Not only does it sound different than you expect; through what are called ‘extra-linguistic cues,’ it reveals aspects of your personality that you can only fully perceive upon hearing it from a recording. These include aspects such as your anxiety level, indecision, sadness, anger, and so on.”
In other words, we are surprised and disappointed by how our voices sound. First, the pitch is higher than we expect. We normally hear our voices through sound waves in the air and conducted through the bones in our head, so the vocal tone is perceived as richer and lower. But, we also pick up on emotional cues in our voice, which is disturbing as well.
You can train your voice to be fuller and more resonant. It helps to practice diaphragmatic breathing (i.e., belly breathing), breathing through your nose, relaxation techniques, finding your natural pitch, and speaking more resonantly (i.e., avoiding a nasal-sounding voice).
These vocal exercises are important and will improve your tone. But, there is another aspect of your voice that will have a greater impact on how people respond to you.
Speaking delivery style
Your vocal delivery style is even more important than the sound of your voice. I’ve been working on my public speaking for over 16 years, and I’m still learning new things to improve it.
What goes into your style? Well, it includes:
Body language and movement
Arm motions and hand gestures
Vocal tone, rhythm, volume, and pace
Word choices and articulation
Your energy levels
For the longest time, I spoke too quickly. I would rush my words. I would feel breathless and stressed. My chest would feel tight.
I think I just wanted it to be over.
I have improved somewhat over the past 10+ years of speaking on stage. I’ve forced myself to slow down and use dramatic pauses — even when the silence made me incredibly uncomfortable. I learned to make full use of the area on the stage and learned how to engage the audience with my body language and eye contact.
However, I recently engaged in a new production partnership for some courses, which required me to use a teleprompter to record my scripts on video. I’ve never used one before, and I heard myself speaking unnaturally and sounding so uncomfortable.
So, I had to find a way to overcome this performance issue.
My new secret weapon
Find your vocal hero and study his or her style. For example, I learned to channel my “inner Morpheus” to improve how I spoke to the camera.
Even with all of my practice, I still found myself stumbling as I rehearsed the scripts I had written. I’ve become more comfortable with podcasting, but this was different.
It was all new to be in a production studio with bright lights, scrolling words on a teleprompter, and looking into a dark camera. I really couldn’t see the director, so I couldn’t pretend that she was my audience.
Talk about stress! As I practiced, I found myself getting into that rushing habit again. I was stumbling over words and getting tongue-tied with certain phrases.
Serendipitously, I had watched the original Matrix movie with my sons a few weeks before my recording session. The realization hit me as I remembered listening to Laurence Fishburne as “Morpheus” with his resonant voice and deliberate, theatrical speaking style:
He could be my vocal hero.
Yes, I know. It’s way over the top. But, you have to admit that he captures your attention.
Remember when Morpheus says, “Isn’t that worth fighting for? Isn’t that worth dying for?”
However, I wasn’t simply mimicking him. I was learning how to tap into some of his techniques to fix my broken style.
I rewrote some of my material — on the fly and overnight — to flow more easily, have a better rhythm, and optimize it for vocal delivery. I began savoring phrases, playing with words, focusing on being in the moment, and becoming more melodious.
During the recording sessions, I caught myself drifting off course again, becoming stressed, and rushing my speech.
So, I paused, took a deep breath, visualized Morpheus, and heard his style in my head. That enabled me to refocus, slow down, and improve my delivery.
I think that it worked, but I guess we won’t know for sure until they finish the production of the courses and publish them.
Another favorite voice
There is another actor who had a magical voice that I wish I could reproduce. Alas, I don’t have a great accent or vocal depth.
You’re probably most familiar with Alan Rickman in his role as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter movies. But, if you’re older like me, you also remember him from Die Hard, Robin Hood, and Galaxy Quest.
Here he is in an interview where you can close your eyes on focus on how he speaks. Calm, resonant, and never rushed.
This isn’t about copying his voice. I want you to notice his confidence, patience, and pacing. He speaks exactly as he wishes, with his own timing.
“I mean, language fascinates me anyway, and different words have different energies and you can change the whole drive of a sentence.” — Alan Rickman
After studying Fishburne and Rickman, the takeaway for me is to own my words and my time in the spotlight. When you are speaking, whether it’s for a live audience or listeners later, it is your moment.
Please take full advantage of it to get what you need from the opportunity. There is a reason you are speaking, participating, and sharing your voice.
What is it?
Don’t rush your time and your chance to be heard and understood. Enjoy your moment.
“You have to be courageous with yourself on stage, I think, emotionally.” — Alan Rickman
Who is your presentation hero?
Is there someone with a vocal delivery style that you admire? Have you watched someone speak on stage and thought, “There. That’s how I want to behave in front of an audience.”?
If not, TED talks are a great place to go shopping for a presentation hero. The videos give you everything you need; how they speak, gesture, smile, move on stage, and everything that makes a great talk great.
Watch and take notes.
Different speakers will have different styles that appeal to you. You may like how one person uses facial expressions. But, you prefer another person’s vocal delivery, speaking rhythm, and how they use pauses.
Review your notes and start practicing! I recommend that you record yourself on video too. Pay attention to your pacing, body language, and tone.
Amp up your energy level!
The director I worked with kept reminding me to exaggerate my style and be more energetic and friendly. It’s easy to fall into a monotonous, low-energy cadence when you’re performing a monologue for the camera with no live audience.
Learn from your heroes, but define your unique style. It has to feel like “you,” if you are going to be comfortable with it. But, it will take practice to refine your style until it fits you just right.
Let me know how it goes (in the comments)!
This week’s professional development challenge
⭐ Leverage Your Calendar
Make your calendar your new accountability buddy. Let it be the defender of your precious time.
Larry Cornett is a leadership coach and business advisor who runs a supportive online community. He lives in Northern California near Lake Tahoe with his wife and children, and a gigantic Great Dane. He does his best to share advice that can help others take full control of their work and life. He’s also on Twitter @cornett.