Have you ever listened to or watched a recording of yourself, and cringed at the sound of your voice? Perhaps when giving presentations, you know your voice isn't projecting the confidence you'd like... or maybe your company has realized it's time to give employees an edge with clients and shareholders by investing in their voice.
This component of your professional presence is called vocal quality, and it's a major factor in how your message is perceived by others. I'd like you to first think about how you'd describe a voice that you find irritating in presentations or meetings... one that distractsfrom the presenter's message. Your list may have some of these descriptors:
Now take a moment to reflect on what makes a voice sound pleasant to you – one that enhances the message rather than distracting from it. It may be easiest to think of an actor/actress, broadcaster, or other public figure whose voice you find pleasing to listen to. What qualities make their voice stand out to you? Make a list! It might end up looking something like this:
So how do we lessen qualities from the first list, and encourage qualities from the second? Let's look at what you can and cannot control.
What you're born with.
We're all given a set of pipes at birth with factors we have no control over: the length and width of our neck and vocal muscles, the formation of our chest cavity and nasal passages... all the anatomical details that make our voice uniquely ours has a genetic stamp. Some people may also have medical issues that have influenced the configuration of their vocal anatomy.
What you learn.
Similarly to the genetic impact on your voice, your environment plays a crucial role. You learned tones, rhythms, and even how much air to put behind your words as you were learning speech from those around you as a child. Not only do you receive vocal genes from your family, but many of their vocal habits as well.
What you can control.
For anyone trying to improve the quality of their voice, it may feel like the genetic and environmental components are too great to overcome. It all seems too unfair, doesn't it? Not at all! You actually have a great deal of control over how your genetic voice ends up sounding to others.
Hydration & Nutrition.
Taking care of any part of your body starts with proper nutrition and hydration. Take a cue from professional vocalists: Most singers will forgo dairy before a performance, because of how the casein protein lines the vocal cords. You may have experienced this as a “phlegmy” feeling after drinking milk – and a need to constantly clear your throat, leading to a “gravelly” sound.
Some singers will also forgo alcohol for days before a performance because of its dehydrating effects. When your vocal cords don't get enough moisture, they can't perform. Drinking water and eating foods with a high water content is best for vocal health.
Correct breathing from your diaphragm – deeper and controlled breaths – greatly influences your vocal quality, as do head and mouth exercises that relax your throat muscles and improve resonance. These exercises help you find the right pitch that is comfortable for you, and comfortable for others to listen to. Even practicing smiling while you speak will impart a friendliness to your voice.
Actor Morgan Freeman attributes the quality of his celebrated voice to an excellent diction coach, and also to the power of yawning – noting that repeated yawning relaxes the vocal muscles and allows the voice to achieve a soothing lower register. It's hard to argue with the voice of God (from the movie Bruce Almighty, of course)!
Addressing Clinical or Learned Issues.
Clinical vocal issues, such as hoarseness or a raspy voice, can be caused by ongoing medical issues or improper breathing support. Acid reflux, laryngitis, and overuse or misuse of your voice (think, trying to talk in a noisy crowd) can all lead to chronic vocal quality issues when not addressed.
Another vocal quality issue becoming prevalent in younger women is “vocal fry”... an elongated, low-register harshness – usually at the ends of words or phrases – popularized by young women, mostly on reality television shows. Those who are hearing vocal fry and adopting it (whether consciously or not) are actually damaging their vocal cords... and it's an irritant to many listeners, women and men alike, in a professional setting. One study has linked vocal fry speech patterns with a negative connotation in the workplace, possibly undermining the employability of young women.
Because I'm a licensed speech pathologist – as well as communication skills trainer – I help resolve these clinical voice problems that affect the vocal quality of anyone needing to speak in a professional setting. Remember, your genetics make your voice unique... and improved vocal quality make it exceptional!
Ultimately, your vocal presence can either enhance or break down your meaning.
Check out my previous article on vocal presence to discover why this is crucial for your career and business!
My corporate professional presence training engages the issues of vocal presence to increase productivity, create stronger client relationships, and improve clarity of internal and external presentations and processes.
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