Your voice has the power to completely change what others think of you.
Case in point: When Susan Boyle performed on Britain’s Got Talent in 2009, she transcended preconceived notions of what a good singer is supposed to look like. Her voice created a personal brand that became iconic.
While speaking is obviously different from singing, the sound of your voice remains an important part of effective speaking and can have a significant impact on how others view you. By focusing on four key elements, you can use your voice to help build your personal brand.
Resonance is defined as “the quality in a sound of being deep, full, and reverberating.” Reverberation is important to your voice because at its root, your voice is a series of vocal-cord vibrations. The way your voice sounds is going to depend on a number of factors, but where you resonate your voice is one of the most important. If you resonate your voice in your throat, you will sound muffled, gravely–think of this as the bass. If you resonate your voice in your nasal passages, you will sound “nasally”–think of this as the treble. Ideally, you resonate your sound primarily in your mouth, balancing bass and treble. Just as you can adjust your sound system to add a little bass or a little treble, you can adjust your voice based on where you resonate your sound.
As a way to hear and feel how you resonate your sound in your mouth, make an “mmm” sound. You should feel your lips tingling. When you feel the tingling, say “my” or “me” and think of discovering your center–your ideal balance point.
As you might expect, being too tense can have a significant effect on the sound of your voice. When you are tense, your throat becomes tight. When your throat becomes tight, your vocal cords get taut and vibrate with a different quality–like when you push up hard against something and your muscles become strained. Your voice becomes thin like a thread instead of rich like a ribbon. Your sound will be raspy and constrained, and your tone will be flat instead of round.
One of the most common pieces of advice you’ll get from supporters to help you relax is to take a big breath before you speak. If you want to relax your voice, you have to disregard this advice. What happens when you take a big breath? You hold your breath. What happens when you hold your breath? Your voice gets tight. So forget about taking a big breath–just take a sip. Think of exchanging 10%-15% of your oxygen, not empty to full.
Good rhythm is an essential part of a great voice. Simply put, you want to sound smooth, not choppy. One of the best ways to sound smooth is by extending your vowel sounds and sliding your words together. For instance, when you say “bus stop,” it should sound more like “busstop.” Sliding sounds and words together is more pleasing to the ear than a choppy, staccato sound pattern–particularly to the American ear.
Rhythm is one of the biggest issues facing my clients who speak English as a second language. The sound patterns of English are quite different from the sound patterns of Chinese, for example. Chinese is a tonal language, therefore each sound needs to be sharp and disconnected. When I work with Chinese clients, I spend a lot of time working with them to smooth out and connect their vowel sounds. By smoothing out and connecting sounds, my Chinese clients are perceived as speaking more clearly, with more presence.
To develop rhythm, move your arm across your body in a smooth manner as you speak. Focus on connecting your speaking with the flow of the movement. Notice how your vowel sounds extend naturally. Notice the full, rich sound you make as you concentrate on connecting.
Pacing is critical to add depth and dimension to your voice. You have to speak in short sentences–not long, complex sentences. When you speak in long, complex sentences, you tend to cram more words into one breath. It’s like that advertisement for putting more clothes into a suitcase by sucking out all of the air. When you compress your sounds, you are fitting more words into a breath and sucking out the tone and color of your voice. So remember, pace yourself. Speak in short sentences supported by small breaths.
By focusing on resonance, relaxation, rhythm, and pacing, you will be able to develop the voice you want to reflect your personal brand. While you might not create a signature as iconic as Susan Boyle, you will create a rich sound that will contribute to your personal and professional success.