“Eww! I don’t like the sound of my voice!”
If you’ve ever said this, either out loud as one of my clients recently lamented to
me – or to yourself, dear readers, this column is for you.
Each of us has a voice. But how your voice sounds to you (and others) today is not
how it needs to sound tomorrow. You can heighten your awareness and develop
skill to play your voice with purpose like the instrument it is. This is a
communications skills area I am particularly passionate about. Because you will
not be surprised to learn that as a little girl growing up amidst the cornfields and
soybean fields of my hometown in Farmland, Indiana, I spoke with a strong
For instance, the name of my favourite teacher back then was spelled like this:
“Mrs Washler”. But I pronounced it like this: “Mrs. WORsh-ler”. And yet, I also I
dreamed of becoming a TV journalist. I wanted to travel and report from the
places where headlines were made. It was about that same time, when we were
visiting my mom’s friend Sharon who lived near the big city of Chicago, that it
dawned on me that to achieve that dream, I might need to change and develop
Sharon owned a hair salon and when we would travel there to get our hair cut,
she would make fun of my accent.
“Oh, that’s a cute little country girl you adopted,” she would always say to my mom.
My mom would always joke back with something like, “Oh, you think? Ha. Ha.”
And I would always think, “Thanks a lot, ladies. I’m standing right here. I can you
But I also realised that I would never be able to become a television reporter if I
was standing in front of the White House and pronouncing our nation’s capital in
much the same way I described my teacher: “WORsh-ington, D.C!”
I needed to grow. To develop. To change.
They say you can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country
out of the girl. So, while I went on to college and worked at softening my accent, I
am also proud to say that many of the core values I acquired from my small town,
I still hold dear. When my dad died in a plane crash when I was 11, I learned that
bringing over a warm casserole to a grieving family is a nice thing to do. When I
snuck out to the disco at 14 when my mom told you not to, I learned other
parents can rat you out because it takes a village.
I’m not suggesting you affect an entirely fake accent like American singer
Madonna infamously did when she was married to British film director Guy
Ritchie. Ouch. Instead, whether you focus on your accent, elocution, or any other
form of paralinguistic refinement, I’m suggesting you can take steps to adjust the
quality of your voice to be better understood and better connect to others while
still remaining true to the identity of you.
1.) Record yourself speaking for a full minute
Grab a book or a magazine and record yourself reading a selection aloud
naturally. Don’t think about it. Just read. Next, play it back and listen to yourself
carefully. Make a list of everything that jumps out to you in the following order of
importance. One attribute at a time, you can track your changes. Remember,
development is about progress, not perfection.
2.) Check your clarity
The first area I concentrate on with clients is the ability to be understood. This is
particularly important if you have a very thick regional accent or dialect or you are
a second language English speaker. Are there important words you have trouble
pronouncing properly? Isolate these and practice a few at a time. Go very slowly
and over-enunciate syllable by syllable. Build speed as your tongue and lips get
used to the modification.
3.) Gauge your emotion and energy levels
Imagine the emotion behind the nouns, verbs and adjectives as you read. Does
your voice reflect the intent? Record yourself adding more emotion and energy in
an emphasized and intentional manner. Play with the range by emoting in a
variety of intensity levels. You may be surprised that what your thought seemed
like a high-level of emotion when you read it, only sounds mildly interesting when
you play it back. The more you practice, the more fluidity and natural intonation
you will be able to apply. Your aim is to match your voice to the appropriate level
of emotion intended by the copy.
4.) Pay attention to pitch, pacing and projection
Taking control of the “P’s of Progression” as I like to call them, is essential to
getting in the driver’s seat of voice control. Projecting your voice combined with
deploying your natural lower range of your speaking voice will carry more
gravitas, so explore that. Also, be mindful of phrasing so you pause to allow
listeners to decode and digest what you are saying.
5.) Warm your sound
This is master-level stuff, but worth a mention. By rounding and elongating your
vowels a bit and even smiling as you read, you can warm-up the sound of your
voice which increases your listenability.
Ever hear someone be described as a being a “mellifluous” speaker? It means
delivering in a rich, smooth, easy-to-listen to manner. I am pleased to say that
once I had achieved my goal as a television reporter, I overheard an elected
official in WASHington, D.C. describe me that way. What a thrill for that little girl
So, if you’re ready to become your own paralinguistics master, please follow the
tips I’ve provided today to get started, sign up for my Language of Leadership
learning platform (www.languageofleadership.org) or reach out to me directly.
Speaking of speaking, I can think of a couple of local radio presenters and
politicians who could benefit from my assistance. You know who you are. Call
me. I can help. Your audiences will thank me and I won’t write about the
experience for an upcoming column. Promise.
You’ve got a voice. Let’s amplify it more purposefully. Together.