Consider this: your voice is an instrument of expression, and serves you to communicate with others. Yet your voice can be impeding your ability to be understood and, even more critically, to advance in your career.
An unpleasant or troubled voice can be a turn-off for your listener. Consider some of the following points and habits:
1) Do you speak too quickly, and slur your words, making it difficult to be understood?
2) Do you speak too softly, so you are asked to repeat yourself?
3) Is the quality of your voice too high, too grating, too nonchalant?
4) Do you pause too often using “uhh”. or repeatedly clear your throat, making people wait for your next thought?
5) Do you speak carelessly, or overuse expressions such as “like -” or “ya know”?
The best way to listen to yourself objectively is to record yourself speaking. You may be surprised at hearing how you actually sound to others.
If you have any of the above negative habits of voice and speech, some vocal therapy can be helpful. All voice and speech patterns can be trained to work in your favour.
Beyond habits, there is a more important idea to consider about your voice. Do you speak authentically, from your inner self – your own integrity?
Consider how from birth we know how to make our needs known. A parent learns how to analyze a baby’s cries and sounds to respond to his needs. We communicate right from the get-go, even without words.
But over time, this “authentic voice” can be eroded. A small child may often be made to keep quiet – “don’t be so loud – no laughingt”! In school she may be instructed not to sing with the rest of the class, to just mouth the words. In one’s teens the voice changes and there may be embarassment over that. Perhaps English is your second language and you are cautious of making mistakes in your speech. These situations are all quite real.
Criticism or abusive relationships of any kind can “de-voice” a person, so that the authentic voice becomes subdued and has fears attached to it.
I am often surprised by the extent to which individuals have become de-voiced. How do you know if this is you? Do people often ask you to speak up? Are you extremely fearful when you need to speak in a group? Perhaps you have a difficult time expressing yourself, and that becomes an ongoing worry.
One way to address this problem is the concept of generosity. You can show generosity to others by letting them hear clearly what you have to say. It’s not about projecting your voice, or simply being louder. Think: I want to contribute generously. I deserve to be heard, and others deserve to hear me. Therefore, I need to be generous with my voice!
If English is your second language, you may be concerned about your accent. Having an accent due to your mother-tongue is a wonderful part of our Canadian culture. It adds to the richness of our diversity.
However, your accent may be quite strong, preventing you from articulating your words, and having others understand you clearly.
Again, some vocal coaching may be in order. And to be frank, clear speech is not just a problem for those with an accent – it can be a problem for all of us. A voice and speech coach can help you learn to pronounce your words more clearly, despite having an accent.
If English is your second language, or if you slur your words, what you say may be unclear. Try to focus on the consonants in your words. Consonants are the hard sounds, vowels are the softer sounds usually in between. Consonants help one hear the beginning and ending of a word. Just to be clear, in the word “clear”, the consonants are the c, the l, and the r. Focus on sounding those letters to create the word ‘clear’.
D’s and t’s and other letters often need work, as well. Try saying repeatedly: Ta-ta-ta, duh-duh-duh, ta-ta-ta, duh-duh-duh…getting faster and faster, but maintaining the clear sounds. Then practice words like ‘and’, ‘downtown’, ‘against’ or ‘demonstrate’, while clearly sounding the consonants in those words.
It is all a matter of practice, and having someone patient enough to correct your pronunciation. Do as much reading aloud as you can, to continue clarifying your speech, and ask for feedback from a coach or someone you trust.
Your Voice is Your Right
I once had a voice coach who had his students lie on the floor in a fetal position in a dim room. Then he had us make whatever sounds came to us in that position – – a cry, a moan, any emotional or gutteral sound we felt like making. He did this to help us connect back to our early days when our voices were authentic. This is a somewhat extreme method, but it is definitely effective. You can try this on your own, in privacy.
Having a voice is a God-given right. It is wrong for anyone to shut another down, to de-voice another. With guidance and encouragement, you can be helped to find your voice again – – to learn new habits, to find your authentic self and to have the courage to speak from your place of integrity.
The voice is an instrument of expression. What does yours say about you?
If you would like help with your voice, look to BERTEIG’s Compelling Communication workshop.