Are you voice-conscious? I don’t necessarily mean of your own voice, but of other people’s voices? Think of a pleasant-sounding voice of someone you know or of a public figure. How does that voice make you think of them? What about someone else’s annoying voice? It may not matter much to you what they say; all you know is that their voice drives you nuts. I think voices go a long way in either attracting us to people or repelling us away from them.
Perhaps you don’t feel you have a good sound that proceeds out of your mouth. It is true that there isn’t a whole lot we can do to change our inherited genes. But there is a lot more we can change about our voices than many people realize. I’m not a professional voice coach, but there are skilled trainers who specialize in helping actors and ordinary people work on breathing, control, posture, etc. that can help them improve the sound of their voice.
Our voices tell a lot about us. Our personality and what we believe about ourselves is on exhibit when we talk. Some people are outgoing, bubbly, love people and their voices are often filled with loud laughter and enthusiasm. Other people are more introverted and when they speak their voices may be quiet, reserved, or inhibited. I realize these examples are stereotypical, but you catch my meaning.
Voices can also signal to others our emotions, whether we say what we’re feeling or not. Most people’s voices tense and get higher up in their throats when they’re nervous but come down to the chest area when relaxed. You can audibly hear the smile in someone’s voice when you talk to them on the phone. There are other vocal queues, such as sharp defensiveness, loud anger, quiet fear, and quavering, raspy sadness. A good writer will include these clues in a story to enable you to ‘hear’ the characters’ dialogue. How a person says something usually will affect us more than what they said, whether that is a good thing or not.
Voice atmosphere affects us even when we’re not aware of it. Whenever I hear someone talking who sounds like they have a clogged, froggy throat, I instinctively start clearing my throat! People who have no interest in painting whatsoever often watch Bob Ross reruns just to listen to his soothing voice (I’m not making that up!). A salesman’s excited voice can persuade us to buy something we hadn’t intended to. It sounds like the opportunity of a lifetime! I tried watching a PeeWee Herman movie one time and didn’t make it through the first 5 min. before I turned it off. I knew I couldn’t put up with the unsettling laughter for an hour and a half.
There is something about a voice that is a very powerful thing, and it’s a shame so few of us are aware of it. I watched an interesting conference featuring several professional voice coaches who made an interesting observation. In the Golden Days of Hollywood, actors were trained how to speak. Nowadays, only a small number of actors realize the importance of voice on their performance. Think of some of your favorite actors, and then think of their voices. How many of the greatest contemporary stars have excellent voices that draw you in and make you believe their performance? These are the great storytellers of our time. I may do a series of posts that study some of my favorite voices.
Voices can have a sentimental value to us as well. Of course much of it has to do with the relationship we have with them. But because of connection, we cherish their voice. What we wouldn’t give to hear our loved one’s voice after they’ve passed. One of my favorite voices is my Grandpa’s deep bass, which has slowly mellowed as he’s gotten older. I remember often sleeping late in bed in the mornings while he talked to my mom out in the kitchen. His voice has a rainy day effect, in that I would doze back to sleep better just hearing him. I also remember him reading books to my sister and I when we were little. It wasn’t so much the story itself that we loved to listen to. It was Grandpa’s voice that made it special. I’m glad I’ve recorded him recounting family history for my genealogy project because hearing him tell the stories is priceless.
It’s funny how a voice you haven’t heard in a while brings back a lot of memories, too. It’s been 8 years since I’ve moved away from my home state, and the people sound differently where I now live. Several years after I’d moved, I wanted to make a call to someone from my home church. As soon as his voice came on the phone and I heard his “Pixburghese” accent it brought me back to Pennsylvania! It also brought back fond church memories, and since the man was a good friend of my dad’s, it reminded me of when I was little as well. The sound was very comforting and at the same time brought a feeling of homesickness I didn’t know I had.
There are voices that annoy as well. One of my favorite programs has several hosts and each of their voices are very different from the others’. Some of them are warm and enjoyable to listen to. But some of them talk high up on the edge of their throat and it makes me want to hand them a cup of honey-lemon tea for their poor, abused voice! They have good things to say but again, voice is quite a powerful tool many of us take too lightly.
How can we develop our own voice? A good first step is to learn how to breathe properly from the diaphragm, not the chest. Of course, that’s best achieved with good posture. Get adequate sleep and drink the proper amount of water daily (which, among other things, should help with the ‘phlegm’ sound in the throat). Be attentive to your own sound and when your voice sounds high and tense. One way to develop awareness to your voice is reading aloud and learning to use modulation and inflection. Here is a good video on the subject as well.
*A bit of trivia: Did you know that Nat King Cole smoked three packs of menthol cigarettes a day in order to achieve his rich, husky sound? He eventually developed lung cancer and died at the early age of 46.
What are some of your favorite voices (public, celebrity, or otherwise) and why?