Have you ever noticed your voice changing depending on who you are speaking with, it may be higher, squeakier, lower or a deeper quality?
In conversations, does your voice suddenly become louder or softer, or it just fade away?
Research tells us that vocal tone matters because it creates perceptions about you. In business it affects how much money you make and how important you may be. In relationships, if you speak with a high-pitched voice, it’s because you think the person you’re talking is more important than you.
But here’s the good news. After comparing measured frequencies, cadences, intensity and duration of voice qualities with the meaning of the words, UCLA acoustic scientist Dr Rosario Signorello says, “You have the capacity to shape your voice in a way that makes people perceive you as a leader.”
Most people are unconscious about their voice and don’t feel they can control their tonality. Everyone has their own unique vocal tone; but the question is, does it suit the intention of your communication? Are you being heard and is your message being understood?
Using the tone can be problematic, and sometimes even devastating. For example, doctors who use the wrong tone get sued the most.
The ability to adjust your voice tone to any conversation is paramount to the success of business influence. You can only do this when you listen back to your voice and understand the differences, and then apply smart voice techniques that give you greater access to your whole voice. If you sound monotonous, unemotional, annoying (squeaky) or lifeless, you may be boring and switching off your potential client relationships. If you sound angry or bullying, the aggressive style can intimidate your client. When you’re able to be flexible with your voice tone you’ll have more influence. As you gain more control over your voice you can modify your tone to sound passionate even if you are not feeling excited.
Have you ever heard the sayings:
“Don’t use that tone of voice with me” or
“I never meant it that way”?
I learnt a while ago that my emotions could colour my tone of voice. What that means is the quality of pitch and volume, harshness or warmth in my speaking would fluctuate depending on how I felt and what I thought about the conversation or song. Most of the time now, understanding and practicing good voice technique saves my voice from being influenced by my emotions and thoughts. I am fully conscious of my environment and how I am feeling each time I use my voice. I adjust the way I use my breath, larynx, mouth, tongue, jaw and lips. All of these critical aspects that make the voice work must be managed to avoid the fluctuation in your tone under different circumstances and control the signals it ends up sending to others.
“The voice is the organ of the soul”Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Vocal Tip – Improve your vocal range to speak higher and lower pitches
If you want more control over your tone you must improve your voice range. This avoids you remaining stuck in one frequency only. You can improve this by exercising your voice and doing vocal scales that help you access higher and lower frequencies allowing your sound to have more variety. Unless you are a singer you will only ever use a very small range of your voice and this limits the resonance and pitch choices you can have when speaking. Doing vocal glides from your lowest sound you can make to the highest can help you expand your vocal range enabling greater control over your speaking expression. Check out this video on 5 tips to improve your voice.
“The voice is a tool that can be trained” he said. “Singers and actors train their voices to reach higher or lower frequencies. A leader-speaker should do the same.”
Thoughts can affect voice quality
I was invited to speak and sing at a festival in Kununarra. That particular day I was feeling nervous and initially my voice was feeling like usual, strong and healthy. Suddenly just before I had to get on stage my voice started to fade. I had no volume and resonance. I was completely dumbfounded, really afraid about what this could mean which only made my voice feel worse. I did everything I could do technically but still could not get my voice out. Long story short, I went on and as I proceeded with what I had prepared I was able to finish my presentation but I was not very comfortable and had plenty of new questions that needed to be answered. I later learnt that cortisol (stress hormone) had created swelling of my vocal cords and this made it difficult to use my voice. Having some understanding about voice technique gave me the chance to make adjustments so that I could finish my gig.
“The only reason to master technique is to be sure the body does not interfere with the soul’s free expression.”La Meri A
The limbic nerve causes our voice to bare our soul to the world
Vocal cords (folds) are affected by the limbic nerve pathway and this is a nerve that sends signals to change the tone of your voice depending on your feelings and environment. This vocal change is activated unconsciously by the nerve, the same way a sudden yell or scream or cry comes out of you. So unless you are conscious of how your thinking affects your voice, you may end up with a crazy, trembling, sudden quietness, huskiness, lump-in-the-throat feeling that causes grief. We cannot hide what we are really thinking because your voice will expose your feelings by either making you sound higher or deeper, softer or louder.
Tonal changes affect how you are perceived by others and ultimately how well you relate in conversation and negotiations.
Nerves tighten the Jaw, Mouth, Tongue causing your tone of voice to change
Most of us keep our lips too close together and it makes us look fearful and defensive. Our tone of voice changes when we are nervous. It becomes squeaky and higher pitched, it reduces the space in our mouth and limits our volume. The jaw is the most complex joint in the body; it has 56 moving parts and is capable of many thousands of pounds of force per square inch.
When we keep our lips tight it sends the wrong message of not wanting to engage. So our mouth needs to be open as we speak and not locked or tight and you can do this by opening the jaw softy and not stiffening your lips, keeping your tongue soft and agile. Your voice will sound deeper when your jaw is more relaxed and open. Tightness in the mouth restricts free flowing sound and instead it becomes forced. When sound is forced it comes out sounding unnatural and not relaxed.
The tongue is a very large muscle in your mouth and is the strongest muscle in our body per diameter. In speech and singing it is responsible for articulating words. Sometimes when the tongue is too tight it scrolls to the back of the throat making your voice sound muffled and harsh.
Voice Tip – check your tongue position
Check in the mirror while you are speaking to see if your tongue is pulling to the back of your throat. Change this by resting the tip of your tongue at the bottom of your teeth and keep the tongue muscle soft. Notice if you see any signs of tightness in the jaw, lips and mouth.
Your Breath and Your Vocal Cord Coordination may be just right
Your voice tonality can change when your vocal cords close too much or not enough, affecting the quality of speaking and the meaning it gives. When the vocal cords are closed too much there is less breath flow and that means the person is holding back; on the other side it also makes your voice sound deeper and assertive.
When the vocal cords are not closed enough the breath is flowing too much making you sound softer and higher pitched, resulting in a less assertive however more nurturing sound.
Research tells us that the ability to make more money is usually associated with those who have deeper voices and this is associated with having more authority and assertiveness in the voice. A command tonality is a leadership skill and women, in particular, who have higher-pitched voices naturally struggle to create this quality.
Watch a video on how to use your vocal cords well HERE.
Margaret Thatcher was an example of how her leadership became stronger after taking voice lessons to improve her tone. Click here to watch the before and after.
You cannot assess your own tone of voice because what you hear inside your head is not actually what everyone else hears and it’s your skull that’s to blame. More specifically, it’s the way your skull vibrates. So you can either record yourself and listen back or, if you consider yourself to be a professional voice user, have a voice coach who is trained to listen and adjust specific nuances in tone assist you. They can help create a quality that is best for the style of speaking you would like to deliver.
Voice exercises can be practiced to gain greater control over your voice. Click here to find out more about business voice coaching.