As a speaker, your voice is important. Speak too weakly and no-one will pay attention to what you say. Speak too forcefully, and you’ll push your audience away. Although it is wise to get professional advice about your voice from a trained vocal coach, there are things you can do on your own to help improve your vocal image.
Get a Baseline
There are two ways you can get a truer image of your voice. The first is to record it and then listen to it. You can easily do this with video or audio. More than likely, your computer or smartphone will have options for you to record either or both.
Another way, which Feature Speaker Nancy Daniels suggests, is to go to a corner of a room and talk directly into the corner. “Then the voice will bounce off the walls and back at [your] outer ear,” she says, “which is why deejays wear headphones, for instance. They are then hearing themselves exactly as their audience does.”
You want to look at the following things about your voice:
- Volume: Too high or too low?
- Pitch: Shrill or full, monotonous or varied?
- Vocal Quality: Nasal or full, breathy or clear, lifeless or enthusiastic?
- Articulation: Muffled and hard to understand, or crisply articulated?
- Pace: Too slow or too quick? Hesitant or deliberate?
Control Your Breath
How much air you are pushing through your vocal cords affects the quality of your voice. If you are not breathing properly, you can sound tense, or worse, like you’re lying.
“Learn to breathe,” says Daniels, “because one of the great problems in public speaking is breathlessness.”
You want to breathe deeply from the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a sheet of muscle and tendons located just below your lungs, about level with the top of your stomach. You know you are breathing from your diaphragm if your stomach moves in and out. If you are breathing from your chest, your stomach barely moves, but your chest does.
Breathing from your chest rather than your throat, lowers your voice making it sound more relaxed. When you breathe from the diaphragm, you are using your chest to vibrate, power, and amplify your voice, Daniels says.
For a clear voice, you need to keep your throat and vocal cords lubricated and flexible. Drinking water is your best option. You especially want to avoid soda, coffee, and alcohol because they can dehydrate you.
“The vocal cords need to be fairly pliable because of how fast they vibrate,” Kate DeVore, founder of Total Voice, a Chicago, Illinois-based speech coaching firm told Fast Company. “For women, they vibrate an average of 200 times per second, and for men, it’s about 120 times per second.”
Muscle tension in your body and throat can have a negative effect on your voice. I experienced this first hand. I have recordings of my voice when I was living in a very stressful environment and recordings of my voice after I left that environment. It was amazing how high and shrill my voice sounded when I was stressed!
Breathing exercises can help calm your body and mind, so you can relax your throat, as well. Breathing exercises include yawning, humming, consciously relaxing your jaw and more. You can find plenty online by searching for “breathing exercises” in your favorite search engine.
Maintain good posture
Your voice is affected by the way you sit or stand. When you sit or stand straight, you are better able to breathe and this gives your voice greater clarity and strength, says DeVore.
Featured Speaker Cindy Ashton has a very helpful article on her website about various postures and how they can affect your voice.