How is your vocal image?
Do you really know how others hear you?
And do you know what they think or feel about you, as a result of listening to your voice?
Their response is your voice image.
It's well known that how we dress and present ourselves has an almost instant impact on the people we meet. In some situations, for example, job interviews, work presentations and special social occasions, that impact is critical.
We are judged on our appearance and those initial judgments form the basis of how we are perceived. At a job interview a crumpled shirt, scruffy trousers and scuffed shoes say to a prospective employer: 'I don't care enough to make an effort.'
What's less well known is that voice or voice quality has a similar impact.
Voice image is the 'secret' of people who use their voices professionally. Actors, radio broadcasters, television presenters, politicians, tele-marketers, professional speakers, all of whom depend on the impression their voice makes for success, know its importance.
What you do with your voice, how you speak, matters.
In your mind summon up the sound of a voice making you want to put your fingers in your ears because hearing it is painful.
What are its qualities?
What personality traits have you attributed to the speaker because of how their voice sounded to you?
Let's focus now on a voice that you love listening to.
What are its qualities?
What personality traits do you automatically assume about the speaker?
Would you say they are more likely to be confident, authoritative, understanding, independent, attentive, interesting, energetic, dynamic, mindful of others, warm, caring, respectful...
The easiest and most effective way to do this is to record yourself.
Merely listening to yourself inside your own head won't give you the clear feedback you need.
There can be a vast difference between what we think we sound like and what we actually do. I know because I've experienced it. Hearing myself on tape let me know exactly what I sounded like and where I needed to put the effort in.
Ideally what you want is a 1 - 2 minute sample of your normal speaking voice - the voice you'd use naturally without self-consciousness.
Play back the clip and listen as objectively as possible to what you hear.
If you were somebody else, what would you think about the speaker?
What aspects of delivery do you need to focus on if you want a confident dynamic voice image?
Voice image ...
... is a collective package made up of equal parts of breath control, articulation, volume, pitch, tone, pausing and speaking rate. A great voice image is strong in all of them.
- Breath control is essential for flexible voice production. If you are holding your breath or breathing from the top of your lungs the quality of your voice will reflect that. You'll find some useful breathing exercises here. They are the same ones for reducing anxiety. In doing them you'll receive a double benefit - a better voice and lowered tension.
- Articulation is how you pronounce your words. Are they clear? Are the endings as well as the beginnings audible? If you mumble or drop off starts and finishes of words, you'll find these old-fashioned tongue twisters useful as well as fun.
- Proper pronunciation is knowing 'how' to say a word. It is different from articulation in that you can mispronounce words but still be speaking clearly! You'll find some commonly mispronounced words & phrases on this page on proper pronunciation as well as a useful link to a larger list of frequently muddled words.
- Volume, pitch and tone is how loud or quiet your voice is, as well as the range it travels through (high to low), and its quality.
Exercises to develop flexibility in all three aspects of vocal variety are here.
- Pausing in the right place for the right length of time gives your speech emphasis and definition. Silence can speak louder than words. To learn how to make effective use of pausing check out the exercises here.
- Speaking rate refers to the speed your words come out of your mouth at. Speaking either too fast or too slowly is a problem. You'll find exercises to help you achieve a variable and appropriate speaking rate here.
If you need more than is available here (for instance, help with modifying a strong accent or a stubborn stammer), do seek professional advice. You'll find qualified voice coaches or speech therapists in your local area. They'll be listed in the business pages of your telephone book.
"It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him."
George Bernard Shaw, 1856 – 1950, playwright, socialist and critic.
Or if you'd like to better your vocal image in the company of others dedicated to improving their public speaking, try Toastmasters International. Toastmaster clubs are all over the world. There's bound to be one near you. Check on the website.
If you speak in any way professionally, please do not ignore voice image.
It may not be talked about openly in the same way that dress or body language is but it is equally important. Your voice can either aid or hinder successful communication. Make it work for you.
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