This is the text of a speech I gave several years ago about the various aspects of your voice. The speech is titled “Your Vocal Ferrari”.
Photo of James Earl Jones – one of my favourite voices.
Research has shown that when you make a speech, 38% of your impact comes from the quality of your voice. Most impact comes from body language, gestures and eye contact. 38% is not far below HALF of your total impact.
The way your voice sounds is FIVE times more important than what you are saying.
I’m sure you would like to improve your voice so you can be better understood and get the attention of your listeners? You might be thinking “I’ve got a terrible voice and I’m stuck with it”.
Well … I have some news for you. Your voice is unique and special. In fact, you should think of your voice as a high performance sports car. All you are missing is the basic knowledge of how your voice is formed, how to drive it and how to maintain it.
Your voice is your vocal Ferrari. First of all, let’s lift the hood and have a look at the mechanics of your voice.
1. Engine – Physiology of Voice
Do you know where does your voice come from? The voice does not come from the throat but right down at the bottom of your torso in the diaphragm muscle. Your voice needs air in the same way a car needs petrol.
The diaphragm is a muscle that in turn drives the lungs. You need plenty of air in reserve to make your voice sound lively and enthusiastic. These muscles and the lungs can be exercised.
The lungs are the cylinders of the engine, pumping air through to the vocal chords.
3. Vocal Chords
The vocal chords are the start of the actual sound of you voice. Did you ever play a woodwind instrument in your youth? These instruments have a small reed like this one from an oboe.
4. Head Cavities
The cavities in our head are the body of the instrument that amplifies and shapes the sound. We have various cavities inside our head. You can become aware of these cavities by humming for a few minutes each day.
The final shaping of your voice depends on where you place your tongue and your lips. For example, try saying the letter V “vile” then the W sound “while”.
It’s time to close the hood and sit in the drivers seat as I familiarise you with the controls. There are four main controls for your voice – Volume, Pitch, Pace and Quality.
1. Volume (Accelerator)
Volume is the accelerator pedal – you must decide when it is appropriate to speak loudly and when to speak softly. Practice your speeches out loud adjusting the volume.
Meaning depends on how we emphasise words, For example, “I am talking to you”, compared to “I am talking to you“.
Practice changing your volume. Practice reading out loud from magazine articles and vary the volume. Pretend to be a newsreader. A loud whisper will draw in your listeners and a loud voice will startle or surprise.
2. Pitch (Gear)
Pitch adds character to your speaking and helps you express a range of emotions. Margaret Thatcher had voice training to lower her pitch. What is your natural pitch?
Count from one to ten starting low going high. Repeat the other way.
Say a sentence with varying pitch. You will discover what pitch feels right.
3. Pace (Brakes)
The brake pedal of your vocal sports car emphasises the need to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n. Many people speak too fast. The words are fused together and the audience doesn’t understand what you are saying.
Speaking too quickly is a sign of nervousness, so slow down. If you running out of time, drop some of your speech.
The best speakers accelerate and decelerate to make a point. Slow down when you get to the main points to draw in the audience and emphasis.
Pausing is an essential skill in speaking. Put the brakes on, and pause to emphasise a point and let the audience contemplate what you are saying.
A break in our communication is a natural part of speaking yet so many speakers fill these moments of silence with “umms”, OKs, and that favourite expression of rock stars: “you know”.
A powerful expressive speaking rhythm is characterised by frequent, complete pauses. Learning to pause appropriately is the single most important element in making the most of your voice. During the pause you can think about what you will say next, allow you to take a breath as well as giving time for the audience to absorb what you just said.
An appropriate pause will attract an audience’s attention and interest.
4. Quality (Steering)
The quality of voice lets the audience know how you are feeling.
Exercise: Try saying yes and ‘no’ in as many ways as possible. Excited, happy, sad. Quality equals emotion.
A high performance sports car needs regular maintenance as well as being driven and enjoyed. Your voice should be natural, expressive and clear. Become conscious of your voice and develop it with exercises. I have a selection of exercises which I will share in a later blog article.
Here is a video of one of my favourite Australian newsreaders Richard Morecroft. I read his memoir of being a newsreader, titled “20 Years from the waist up”. I like Richard’s calm, controlled and clear voice.